After having spent the last several months reading, studying, & now teaching through the Sermon on the Mount, I have drawn a couple of conclusions for myself that I don’t think I had before (or at least hadn’t identified.)
In this passage of Scripture, Christ defines exactly what it means to be His disciples:
- in how we relate to & obey God & His commandments.
- In establishing our priorities & values from which we live our lives.
- in how we worship Him, not merely with our outward actions, but from the bottom of our hearts, with all that we have.
- In how we interact with & care for other people.
Matthew 7 concludes with Jesus telling His disciples they have 2 choices: follow Him & walk in His ways, on His terms, or do anything else. He does this comparing:
- 2 gates, the narrow and the wide. The narrow gate leads to life; the wide to destruction.
- 2 types of trees, good & diseased, the good, which produces good fruit, the diseased which brings forth bad fruit.
- 2 types of disciples – the ones He knows (those who do the will of the Father,) & those He doesn’t know, regardless of what they think they’ve done in His Name.
- 2 foundations – Rock & sand, with the foundation of rock representing the person who hears & puts into practice His words; sand is the life foundation of the person who has heard His words, yet ignores them.
To me, the entirety of Matthew 5-7 can be summed up in Matthew 7:13,14 – the only way to experience God’s life & purpose is to enter through the narrow gate (Jesus) & to walk the hard road of obedience to God’s word, humbly choosing to do His will over our own. After re-reading this over & over, what stands out to me is that I cannot “self-define” where & how I will be Christ’s disciple. He’s already done that, & my choice is to embrace that & start walking with Him, or to choose the lesser (& easier) wide gate through which I can do what I’d like, how I like it… sifting through Christ’s commands & picking up those that are palatable, while leaving behind those that I deem are not.
Following Christ is hard – Jesus said it would be, because it involves denying our own selfish ambition, picking up Jesus’ way, & moving forward WITH Him.
“Judge not, that you not be judged. ”
When Jesus made the statement quoted above, what did He mean? The following verses give us much clearer understanding – they say, in essence:
“In the same way & with the same measure you judge others, you will be judged. Before you try to take the speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye, take the 2×4 out of your own.
Jesus challenges His disciples not to take a harsh, critical, nitpicking attitude towards others, especially if they haven’t first examined themselves to address & repent from the sin, wrong attitudes, & behaviors in their own lives. And if the time comes to address an issue of wrong in someone else’s life, it has to be done in a manner that reflects Christ: with great love, compassion, humility, & mercy.
Something else that can help us get what Jesus meant when He said, “Don’t judge” is a better understanding of what “passing judgment” means: Passing judgment involves making a final pronouncement of “guilty” on another individual/group – think: a judge in a courtroom smashing his gavel down while saying “GUILTY”. In that situation, it’s over. It’s done. All that’s left is the sentencing. That role, ultimately, belongs to God (see Revelation 20) & “Judgment Day” isn’t here yet – now is the time for healing, restoration & salvation (2Corinthians 6). So, if we pass judgment on someone, we are, in essence, writing them off as hopeless cases. That’s not how God sees them (or us).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged those that wanted to follow Him to recognize that God’s peoples’ priorities, values, thought processes, & actions run completely counter to those of the prevailing culture. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the passage we’ll be exploring this week, Matthew 6:19-34.
Here’s what I mean. The desire to acquire MORE – money, possessions, & stuff is a part of the human condition. From the time we’re toddlers we learn that MORE is better. Jesus, however, encouraged His disciples to consider a new type of value system. He said:
“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
In essence, He is reminding His followers to remember that we’re living in a different way by different values – rather than investing ourselves in acquiring treasure here on earth, treasure we could only have temporarily – by following His example & applying His way of thinking/acting, we can do something that will have an eternal impact.
I’m challenged to continually review my own priorities & values (especially in this area) & to ask the Holy Spirit to help me discern where I’m on/off track so that I can realign myself with Jesus’ way.
When I was younger, I equated much of Christianity & my relationship with God to “the Rules:” things I was supposed to do, & things I was NOT supposed to do. If I followed “the Rules,” I was doing good with God, & if I didn’t, well, I was doing bad. Over time, I got pretty good at keeping “the Rules” & if I would admit it, I was pretty proud of myself. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Because I was good at keeping the Rules I measured myself against other peoples’ abilities at Rule keeping… & , to me, it seemed like most people weren’t as good at me at keeping the Rules. Which made me a ‘better’ Christian. Just about every aspect of my life reflected the fact that I was religious. Went to church & youth group (rarely missed.) I was known for my good behavior.
Except I was mean to people. Judgmental. Arrogant. Unfriendly. I could go on…
My life didn’t reflect Christlikeness – the “God-family traits” that show up in His kids were glaringly absent from most of my interpersonal interactions. I was well on my way to becoming a Pharisee: great at keeping ‘the Rules” while at the same time completely missing the heart of the matter.
The point of following Christ is to become LIKE Christ in how we think, how we act, & how we interact with each other & the rest of the world. It means digging deep into Scripture to allow it to be planted deep in our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can work to apply it & transform our hearts & minds from being selfish, self-focused, self-righteous people to being people who reflect Christ’s love, mercy, compassion, & justice.
Several times in the Gospels, Jesus declared Himself to be the light of the world… He usually made this declaration as He was interacting with the Pharisees/other religious leaders, or to the curious crowds that followed Him around, wondering what He was going to do next.
But to His disciples, those pledged to follow Him, learn, & become like Him, He said the following: YOU are the light of the world – a city set on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works & give glory to your Father who is in heaven…
With those words, Christ declared one of the core identifiers that would mark His followers – we are LIGHT in a dark world. Meaning, we’re here on earth, created in His image, to do good in His Name. As a result, people notice, & give glory to God our Father.
When we first came to Reno, these verses were at the forefront of what we believed our mission (& the mission of our church) was supposed to be. These verses are the inspiration of the name of our church, Hillside.
Our church community is dedicated to being LIGHT, & to living as a city on a hill overlooking Reno/Sparks, doing what Jesus would be doing if He were walking in our shoes every day.
Let’s let our lights shine today.