How to treat other people - Matthew 7:1-12
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How to treat other people
One of the popular misunderstandings about the Christian faith is that it doesn’t really make any practical difference to our daily lives. Yes, it might be intellectually stimulating for an hour or two on a Sunday, and perhaps the whole church experience might be a welcome sanctuary from the stresses and strains of 21st century existence. But does believing in Jesus actually change anything in our lives? For example, does it help with my stress at work? Does it deal with the anger that is bubbling up inside me? Does it make me a better husband or wife or mother or father or son or daughter or friend or whatever? Does Christianity actually do anything? Because if not then what’s the point?
The first thing I need to say is that Christianity is not about what we do but about what Jesus has done. The eternal Son of God came on a dramatic rescue mission to pay the price for human sin. And he did this as he died on a Roman cross. Our salvation is not based on what we do but on what he has done.
But what next? What is the mood of the Christian life? Is it passive listening followed by inactivity? No. Far from it. It is to be active listening followed by active service.
So far in the Sermon on the Mount we’ve seen how the loving rule of Jesus is to transform us as individuals and as a community of believers. We’ve seen many different areas where the commands of Jesus are to impact how we live.
This morning as we reach Matthew chapter 7, we’ll be focusing on the attitude that Jesus wants us to have towards different types of people.
- Our attitude towards other Christians (Vs 1-5)
- Our attitude towards some non-Christians (Vs 6)
- Our attitude towards everyone (Vs 7-12)
First of all, our attitude towards other Christians (Vs 1-5)
This is communicated to us in verse 1. Read verse 1.
This verse is easy to misunderstand. The meaning all hinges on what the word judge means. The original word is the Greek word krino and this can have a couple of meanings. For example, it can mean condemn, as in do not condemn someone’s life choices as either right or wrong. Instead see them for what they are, their preferences. But krino can also mean judgemental, as in do not have a judgemental attitude towards others. This would still leave open the possibly of referring to something as right or wrong but would address the attitude of the person who was commenting on another’s behaviour.
Which one is it? Our culture wants it to be both. It wants people to be allowed to make pretty much any lifestyle preference they want under the belief system that it’s our life and we can choose to do with it whatever we want - as long as we don’t harm anyone else. And so it wants everyone to live without condemning someone else’s choices and without harbouring a judgemental attitude towards them.
Is this right? The context is key. We must read on to discover the meaning of words.
This is not radical theology, this is just sensible reading that any primary school kid would tell you about.
Let me show you the surrounding context. Look at verse 3. Read verses 3-5.
Three things to point out.
First, three times there is reference to your brother. This means the relationships in question are those within local churches.
We long for perfect community. That’s called heaven. Before then Jesus graciously commands us to be committed to a local church. But we must get our expectations right. Although the penalty of sin has been dealt with by the cross and although the Holy Spirit is a reality in our lives, sinful attitudes and sinful actions are still a feature of a Christian’s existence.
Secondly, the priority is not to quickly go and sort out another Christian’s sins but to ensure we are exposing and dealing with our sins.
Jesus gets his point across in a very funny way. Trying to take a speck of sawdust out of a brother’s eye when all the time you have a huge plank of wood protruding from yours. You can’t do it properly.
So Jesus counsels us to work on our own sin first. This is essential so that a generous and gracious attitude towards others is worked within us by God’s Spirit. This way of life keeps us relying on grace ourselves and so therefore forms within us a gracious attitude towards others.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Thirdly, there is an expectation that when the plank has been taken out that you will then be able to remove the speck from the brother’s eye.
How does the context help us understand what it means to not judge our brothers and sisters? It doesn’t mean that we should just accept other choices are different preferences. We are to recognise there are such things as right and wrong. But the context demands that we do this with the right attitude.
So in summary when we read in verse 1 that we are not to judge, it means that we are not to exercise a judgemental attitude towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What might this look like in practice?
One of the temptations of Christians who are passionately trying to pursue godliness and service is to get frustrated with another believers lack of zeal or interest.
Throw into the mix a bit of conflict avoid and this is a receipt for an explosive or bitter conversation at some point down the line.
How could you respond if you are trying to live passionate for the glory of Jesus? Apply this command. Rather than gazing first to others look again to those areas where you need the grace of God to work. Thank him for the work so far. But pray for exposure to other areas and pray for effective change. This will produce a tender attitude within you.
One of the beautiful descriptions of Jesus’ ministry is that “a bruised read he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Matthew 12:20)
There are many bruised reeds in the church of Jesus. All of us need the attitude of Christ. We need to be simultaneously committed to the commands and committed to compassion.
If we live like this towards others then one of the likelihoods is that people will behave like this towards us. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Secondly, our attitude to some non-Christians (Vs 6)
Our starting position is that we are to be salt and light. We are to be a community where the great news of Jesus is lived out and spoken out to the world around us. We have good news to share. We want to share it with as many people as we possibly can.
But there are sometimes when we will need to actively stop sharing the gospel with some people. I think this is what Jesus is referring to in verse 6. Read verse 6.
What is Jesus talking about? Let’s answer two questions.
- What is the thing that is thrown?
- Who is it thrown to?
What is thrown? Later in Matthew 13 Jesus refers to the great news of him as the promised King as a priceless pearl. This is the message of the gospel.
Who is it thrown to? The dogs in question are not cute pets but dangerous prowlers. The pigs in question are similar. So don’t think Peppa Pig. Think of a wild bore that could do you damage. This is a way of describing a person who is particularly hostile to the gospel in some way.
The point of this verse is that on some occasions Christians are to stop holding out the gospel to some people at some points.
This is a rare decision but not an impossible decision.
John Stott, “This teaching of Jesus is for exceptional situations only; our normal Christian duty is to be patient and persevere with others, as God has patiently persevered with us.”
Don Carson, “Over the years I have gradually come to the place where I refuse to attempt to explain Christianity and introduce Christ to the person who just wants to mock and argue and ridicule. It accomplishes nothing good, and there are so many other opportunities where time and energy can be invested more profitably.”
Do not confuse such a person with someone who seems disinterested and apathetic. In that case, don’t give up. Keep praying. Keep inviting. Keep sharing.
But there might be some who love to argue and ridicule and who show no signs of listening at the moment. In that case, we may stop making time to share the gospel with them. God may change their hearts at some point. But it would be foolish to keep on spending time with them with their current attitude.
Acts 13:44-46, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city [of Pisidian Antioch] gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”
Acts 18:5-6, “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Thirdly, our attitude towards everyone (Vs 7-12)
Much of this section is taken up with prayer. But the reason I think it helps us with our attitude towards everyone is because of how verse 12 begins. Notice the connecting word: So. We will discover something in verses 7 to 11 that will motivate us to live out verse 12.
What do we discover in verses 7 to 11? We are reminded of how generous and loving our Heavenly Father is towards us, his children.
This is all set in the context of asking for things in prayer. We are encouraged to ask our Father for godly things with the assurance that he will provide them.
And to make his point, Jesus gives us a very easy to understand set of examples. So verse 9.
Read verses 9-11.
In summary, do we realise how we are treated by God? He is amazing generous and kind to us.
What’s the application of this? In this case, look at verse 12. Read verse 12.
We have experienced this generosity from God and we love it. Let’s model this to everyone around us.
Of course we will want other people to treat us likewise. But here’s the deal. We don’t stop until they start. No we get started now!
This teaching of Jesus is commonly known as the Golden Rule.
The negative form is known in many other religious. “Do not do anything to anyone that you would not want him to do to you.”
The difference between the negative way of phrasing it and the positive way is huge.
The negative form would teach things like this.
Don Carson, “If you do not enjoy being robbed, don’t rob others. If you do not like being cursed, don’t curse others. If you do not enjoy being hated, don’t hate others. If you do not care to be clubbed over the head, don’t club others over the head. However the positive form teaches behaviour like this, “If you like being loved, love others. If you like to receive things, give to others. If you like being appreciated, appreciate others.”
Increasingly we are to take on the family image.
Does Christianity make any practical difference in our lives? Yes!
Let’s pray that God will give us the right attitude towards other Christians, towards some non-Christians and towards everyone we meet.
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