Real relationships - Matthew 7:1-12
At the end of a week where we have had much news about the NHS let me tell you about some recent medical research.
Leonard Syme, a professor of epid-emiology at the University of California at Berkeley has argued that Japan is number one in the world with respect to health because of the close social, cultural, and traditional ties in that country.
He believes that the more social connections, the better the health and the lower the death rate. Conversely, he indicates that the more isolated the person, the poorer the health and the higher the death rate. He concludes that social ties are good preventative medicine for physical problems and for mental, emotional & behavioural difficulties. Martin & Diedre Bobgan, How To Counsel From Scripture, Moody Press, 1985, p. 18
Such research provides quite a challenge to our age with its growing human isolation & individualism. And yet it's no surprise to us as Christian believers.
The Bible makes it clear that we have been made social creatures. We are, as men & women, made in the image of God & God is himself as Father, Son & HS in a profound set of relationships within himself. It's no surprise then, that we need each other relationships are of the essence of what it is to be human.
It is this subject of relationships that seems to be the linking theme in the next part of Jesus famous "sermon on the mount" that we've been learning from over recent weeks.
Jesus teaching in Matt 7 touches on the 3 basic relationships the Christian is involved with.
1Relationships with our Christian brothers & sisters.
2Relationship with God our heavenly Father &
3. Relationships with all people.
1. In your Relationships with Christian brothers & sisters. Avoid disparaging judgmentalism V1-5:
Have you ever played the rather dubious game of taking a Bible verse out of its context to make it into a joke or a story? It's not something to be encouraged, but if you'll forgive me on this occasion, my favourite having a 12 week old baby is 1Cor 15:51 "I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep but we will all be changed!"
The 1st verse of our passage is open to a rather more serious mischief making. 71"Do not judge."
Surely we have here a verse, which, if dragged out of context would be a candidate for the most popular Bible verse of our day. It seems to justify the superficial relativism that is characteristic of so much of contemporary life. "What's right for you is fine, all beliefs and values deserve to be treated as if they were the same. Who am I or you to judge?"
This can't be what Jesus is commanding the whole of Sermon on the Mount involves discerning comparisons with those not living as God wants, so Christians can be different. We'll see later in v6 discernment is called for to avoid inappropriate sharing of the gospel & next week we'll see there is a need to recognise truth from error with the reality of false prophets. Here is no justification for anything goes post modernism.
What is he getting at then?
Taking the paragraph as a whole Jesus is talking about attitudes to fellow Christians v3, 4 & 5 speak of "brothers" & he has a strong, challenging command for us: 71"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Avoid disparaging judgmentalism.
What is wrong is an unloving, condemnatory, ungenerous attitude towards Christian brothers & sisters. A spirit that is quick to see faults in others & quick to think & speak badly of them.
Can I say this is particular danger for Christians like us who are concerned for truth, who get (rightly) frustrated with the way others calling themselves Christians seem to cavalierly set aside the clear teaching of God's word. It's a danger for us who are concerned for living God's way & see others who seem to flout God's word & encourage immorality, for us who are concerned for the spread of the gospel to the world & see churches & others failing to prioritise this & focusing elsewhere.
Do you see the challenge? It's right to be passionate about God's word & ways & that will mean recognising others are wrong at times. But will we allow this to become a disparaging attitude to others that usually assumes the worst about them, that often questions their motives, that frequently focuses on the negative never giving due to the positive & seldom generously recognises that everyone makes mistakes?
Attitude is key in this difficult area. Moral apathy is no Christian virtue so when we see that there is something in another Christian's behaviour, belief or teaching that is not right we should discerningly recognise it. But we need to ask ourselves do we need to talk about it to others?
If we do (which at times we will to warn or to encourage a right discernment as particularly needs to be done from the pulpit from time to time) are we going to do this maliciously? Are we going to do this in a way that rather than building others up instead enhances our own reputation or encourages others to look down on the person being criticised rather than the ideas or behaviour they encourage? 71"Do not judge, or you too will be judged
Jesus forbids harsh judgmentalism 71"Do not judge, & he adds that our attitude to others will affect how we shall be treated; "(Do not judge), or you too will be judged. V2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
A judgmental attitude towards fellow Christians, will prevent us from receiving God's forgiveness when we deserve judgement & being sinners that will be many times. So if we set ourselves up as judges we should expect to be judged by the same law we claim to stand for & being guilty rebels we shall certainly be found guilty!
Leads us to the eg Jesus gives of relationships with fellow Christians the famous parable in v3-5.
3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
Here is a larger than life comparison which makes the point powerfully. Here's a Christian with sin in their life which is figuratively like a railway sleeper coming out of his eye & they're trying to correct a brother or sister who's failure is equivalent to a tiny particle in theirs!
Does this not make it clear why we are not to disparagingly judge other Christians? We are all on a level we are all guilty of turning from God & failing to live his way - it is only because of the generous love of God through what he has done in Jesus, that any one can be his child & know him.
We are so often unfit to be judges of others because of the aspects of our own lives that are worthy of the judgement of Christ.
All of us, even those with a relatively low self esteem, so easily have a rosy view of ourselves & underestimate our own sinfulness & tend to overestimate the sins of others. So be warned; don't be disparagingly judgmental.
But before we make Jesus say more than he does there is a place for responsibility one to the another. When we face up to our own sins & failings & are not trying to cover them up by focusing on others, we will at times as Christians have the loving brotherly duty to help another believer realise something needs to be addressed. v5 "first take the plank out of your own eye & then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers' eye" When we have recognised our own sin there is a right place for loving challenge & admonishing.
In this way our relationships are not disparaging but loving, not judgmental but generous, not damaging but healthy.
So we are not to judgementally condemn. But to keep us aware of the balance Jesus shows there must be discernment & distinguishing in the Christian life there is good to embrace & evil to avoid.
6"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Jesus is saying that sacred things like pearls term used later in Matthew's gospel to describe the good news of the Kingdom sacred things are of supreme value & are not to be shared with Pigs (unclean animals to those Jesus was addressing) or dogs (the wild scavenging dogs living on rubbish dumps). Here figuratively are people who will definitely & decisively reject Jesus message, who will ""trample [it] under foot". If people have had many many opportunities to hear & respond to the gospel & they stubbornly turn away from Jesus sometimes probably very rarely we shall have to go no further with them danger may be involved if we do they may "turn & tear you to pieces". Not being judgmental should not lead us to the opposite mistake of naive acceptance of everything; We do need to discern & distinguish.
In your Relationships with Christian brothers & sisters; avoid disparaging judgmentalism
2 In Relationship with God our Father: Keep trusting His goodness v7-11:
One writer has said the Sermon on the Mount is "probably the best known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably the least understood & certainly the least obeyed"!
Indeed it is very demanding; to come close we need the help of God. And yet it's very easy to be very low on confidence when it comes to addressing God for help in other words to pray. We can feel timid or unworthy to ask God for help, we can have a view of God that discourages us from prayer; after all He has so much on his plate upholding the universe why would he be bothered with me?
We can even doubt that God is really committed to us in love for these & other reasons we need the wonderful promise of Jesus that we have here in Matt 7 & holding on in faith can build our convictions & be the foundation of our trust.
These are familiar words to many of us V 7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
Have you noticed what Jesus encourages as the unashamed content of prayer?
There is a strong emphasis in some Christian circles on prayer as silence, prayer as listening for an inner voice. This can of idea can discourage us from asking. We can feel it is rather vulgar to ask, the impression is given that asking is an inferior even unspiritual form of prayer. "Perhaps it is acceptable as prayer for the immature" it is implied, "but a deeper approach to prayer should be learnt."
But what does Jesus say? "Ask, Seek, knock". Literally "Go one asking, go on seeking, go on knocking" He wants us to ask God the Lord's prayer as we saw a couple of weeks ago in ch 6 reminds us we're to pray with adoration, praising God & we're to confess our sins, but we are without fear or shyness to ask God that he would be glorified in this world & that our needs & the needs of others would be met. And what reassurance we're given here as we pray.
Asking according to Jesus' promises will lead to it being "given to you" seeking results in "finding" & knocking on the door leads to the door "being opened".
There's a real challenge to our faith in prayer here & not just to go through the motions. How often do we pray individually, in groups & together as the church family & later realise we have had an answer to our prayers - & yet we are genuinely surprised!! There is a wonderful encouragement here & elsewhere in Jesus teaching on prayer to be bold, to persevere & to be expectant the grounds for this? Jesus own promise.
Jesus promise is based on the character of God himself. He makes this clear in his illustration of a father & his child.
9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone (which is useless though might look like a loaf)? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake (which is dangerous)? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Let me confess to you something tonight. I am often a selfish, sometimes lazy father God has blessed me with 3 lovely children but I don't always give my full attention to my children when they need it, I sometimes prefer the easy option rather than helping them& yet even I would never want to give one of my 3 daughters anything that would harm them, even I would never want to fail them by not providing for their basic needs for food & shelter & indeed far more than their basic needs.
Jesus says this is basically true of most parents we are inherently sinful, "evil" v11, yet even sinful parents give good things to their children.
How much more then can we be confident that God, our good, perfectly loving heavenly Father will give good things to his children who ask him?
We can be very confident!
And don't we need to be reminded of this? It's remarkably easy for us to allow our own temperaments, our disappointing human family experiences, or what we pick up from the world around us, to pervert our view of God.
Paul Little who was a well respected Christian student worker in America in the 60s & 70s wrote about how he had regularly encountered such wrong views with those amongst whom he worked & he went on "We [so often] see God as a celestial scrooge who leans over the balcony of heaven trying to find anyone who's enjoying life, & says 'now cut that out." That type of concept of God should make us shudder because it's blasphemous
God is no "celestial scrooge", through Jesus God has revealed himself as our loving heavenly Father - so generous, so loving, so open hearted. He is the one who has made us his children though we don't deserve it how much more can we trust him now to answer our prayers for the good gifts we need to glorify him in our lives?
Knowing this is such a great encouragement to pray & to trust God.
But someone may say "I don't always seem to get answers to my prayers". Someone else "We prayed for such & such as a church & we didn't get it. How do we understand Jesus' promises?"
God may have things to teach us we aren't aware of that means we don't see the answers to our prayers when or in the way we have asked for them, he may be training us to persevere & hold on in faith after all these promises are "Keep on asking, keep on seeking .." we need to keep trusting. But it may also be that part of the answer to this common experience of apparently unanswered prayer lies in Jesus illustration here.
My children sometimes want things to play with or to eat for eg that if I were to give them would damage them. In their limited understanding of the world they don't realise this but with a little bit more wisdom, I do! So there are times actually quite often, when I have to say "no" to them.
God is our loving heavenly Father, he is also our wise heavenly Father. It may be we're asking in prayer for what we think is good for us; what we think is bread or fish - but actually God knows it would be useless (stone) or bad for us (snake). God would not then be a loving Father if he gave us what we asked for on those occasions.
But do you see God's concern it is to love us, he wants to give us "good gifts" v11. He wants to give according to Jesus promise as we persevere in asking, seeking knocking because he is good.
Sometimes one of our 2 eldest children comes up to me & gives me a hug (Naomi only 11 weeks so she can't do this yet!) Do I respond by saying "Ah children, that's what I've been waiting for now I can make your lives a misery bread & water only for 3 weeks?" No, just the opposite. Even as a sinful human father I want to give to them & help them. How much more our perfectly good, loving heavenly Father, especially when we keep trusting his goodness.
Having taught about relationship with God & God's Family Jesus instructs us about relationships with all people including those currently outside God's family whom we long would become part of it.
3. In your relationships with all people: Treat others as you would like to be treated v12
Jesus summarises what should guide our relationships with others in what has become known as the Golden rule for life & living v12: "do to others what you would have them do to you."
In some ways this guiding principle is similar to advice given by great thinkers & philosophers down the ages There's an old Jewish saying "Do not do to anyone what you yourself would hate" (Tobit 4:15.), Confucius is said to have written something very similar. But there is a vital difference in Jesus statement. Do you see what it is? The other rules are negative & rather grudging "don't do to others what you yourself hate" Jesus is positive & means us to take initiative "do to others what you would have them do to you".
Do you see the difference? The negative version is something like; "If you do not enjoy having your house broken into don't break into others houses" or "if you hate being lied to, don't lie to others". Jesus is positive: "If you like being appreciated appreciate others", "If you like to be taken seriously, take others seriously", "if you appreciate being forgiven when you make a mistake, forgive someone when their mistake affects you."
This is a brilliant realistic, flexible guideline for behaviour in life. We are all motivated by self-love it's how we are - we know how we like to be treated well, seek to treat others in that way. Put yourself in the others' shoes. Ask; how would I like to be treated? And seek to do that for the other person.
This kind of behaviour is not just to be practised because it will benefit us but rather v12 because "this sums up the Law and the Prophets (the OT)". Living like this, treating others, as you would like to be treated, is what God wants for us if we're to live life his way in his Kingdom his loving saving rule which fulfils the OT.
So what God wants for us in relating to others, says Jesus, is summarised in this principle: "do to others what you would have them do to you". Learn it & consciously try it out this week in the situations you face!
I wonder if you've heard of the rather crude and cruel experiment which was carried out by Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. He wanted to know what humankind's original language was: Hebrew, Greek, or Latin?
He decided to isolate a few babies from the sound of the human voice. He reasoned that they would eventually speak the natural human tongue.
Wet nurses were recruited & were sworn to absolute silence, and though it was difficult for them, they kept the rule. The infants never heard a wordnot a sound from a human voice. Within several months they were all dead.
We can live, only in relationships. Human beings need each other & have responsibilities to each other. And for Christians seeking to live under the loving rule of God's Kingdom we recognise it is a kingdom that is not just about individuals but about individuals together in community.
Jesus makes clear God's Kingdom involves relationships of non-judgmental loving responsibility within our Christian family, it involves persistently trusting in our good God himself & positively seeking to do to others what we would have them do to us.
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