Sermon on the Mount (Part 5): A Just Life

Sermon on the Mount (Part 5): A Just Life

In this lesson, we are going to consider how the life of a disciple is a just life. The word just means to be fair. As we will see, this does not mean that we treat everyone the same. This may sound surprising, but misunderstanding this about “justice” is common. Politically it is seen in systems like socialism. Culturally it is seen in the acceptance of sins like homosexuality. Jesus was not advocating some sort of “social justice” or instructing us to be tolerant of sin and error. Instead, He taught that we should be just in our lives. This passage explains what that means.

Do Not Judge Hypocritically

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way that you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

It is important to note that Jesus did not say that we are not to judge. Many claim this. They take the first part of the first verse (“Do not judge”), ignore the context, disregard related passages, and then insert their own interpretation – one that prohibits us from condemning anyone’s choices – into Jesus’ statement. However, Jesus said elsewhere, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Clearly, He expects His disciples to judge; but they must not judge hypocritically.

In this passage, Jesus issued a strong warning that if we judge others unfairly, God will hold us accountable: “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). He made this same point earlier in teaching about prayer: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). If we refuse to show mercy to others, we cannot expect God to show mercy to us. If we judge others harshly, we can expect God to do the same with us.

It is also important that we understand the scenario that Jesus described in this passage. He made a contrast between “the speck that is in your brother’s eye” and “the log that is in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3). He used this to illustrate the fact that our brother may have a problem in his life that needs to be addressed, but we have a larger problem in our own lives.

For example, suppose your brother has a habit of driving 45 miles per hour through a school zone. Driving at that speed is both illegal and unsafe during normal school hours. We might confront our brother and explain to him how he is not to be driving that fast through a school zone. However, suppose we have a habit of driving through the same school zone at 70 miles per hour. We might try to rationalize our actions and make excuses – maybe we think we drive better than our brother or maybe the brakes on our car work better. Regardless of what “excuse” we use, we are still driving in a way that is illegal and unsafe. Yes, our brother may need to be corrected, but we are not in a position to do it because our actions are more severe than his.

Jesus taught that we cannot help our brother as long as “the log is in [our] own eye” (Matthew 7:4). So He explained what we should do: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). First, we must address our own shortcomings. Then, we should not ignore our brother’s sin; instead, we should provide help so that he can make the corrections that he needs to make. We are able to help more effectively when we can “see clearly” and our sin has been removed from our own lives.

Once we understand the scenario that Jesus gave, we can then make the application to our own lives. We must first examine ourselves – “first take the log out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:5). Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We cannot be content with sin in our lives. Instead, we are to “abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). If we have sin in our lives we must correct it. Then throughout our lives we are expected to continue to grow and improve: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

After we examine ourselves and correct sin in our own lives, we can then help others correct their sin. This is what Paul told the Galatians to do: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1-2). Jesus did not teach that we are to ignore someone’s sin for fear of being “judgmental.” Jude instructed us to do just the opposite: “Save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). Rather than ignoring someone’s sin, we should try to save them from their sin. Also, it is important that we are using the right standard in our “judgment.” Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). The only way we can do this is to make judgments according to the word of God. Expressing this “righteous judgment” will be done through teaching and admonishing others from the word of God.

Do Not Give What Is Holy to Dogs

Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

Before we can apply Jesus’ proverb, we need to understand the point He was making. In using dogs and swine in His illustration, He was speaking of animals that were both viewed negatively by people in that time (very different, particularly about dogs, from how people today view them). They were discussed in contrast with a “brother” in the prior verses (Matthew 7:3-5).

Jesus specifically commented on the expected behavior of these animals because they were used to represent the behavior that people often exhibit when they are taught the truth. The dogs and swine in Jesus’ proverb are symbolic of people who trample over the truth and viciously attack those who teach it. That which is “holy” refers to the teaching, correction, or help that we might give to others who need to make changes in their lives (cf. Matthew 7:5).

As we apply this proverb, we need to understand Jesus’ underlying point that we cannot treat everyone the same. This may sound shocking for some that Jesus would teach this. But as we look closely at what He said, we can plainly see that this was what He meant. He said we are “not [to] give what is holy to dogs” because we need to give that to others. This is not possible to do if we try to treat everyone the same. We must exercise good judgment if we are to be just.

The sad reality is that not everyone will respond positively to our help that we offer them in their spiritual lives. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he wrote, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). Though we might speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), many will not take it that way. They will reject the truth, attack us for “judging” them, question our motives, and hate us despite our efforts to show them the path that leads to life. In our efforts to teach others, a time may come when we will have to “shake the dust off [our] feet” and move on (Matthew 10:14).

Failing to do this deprives others – those who could be receptive to the truth – of the help that we could provide. By continuing to try to teach those who have demonstrated a willful rejection to the truth, we are taking time away from potential opportunities to teach others who might be open to the truth.

Furthermore, we have certain responsibilities that God has given us – family, work, church, etc. If we fail to follow Jesus’ instruction to “not give what is holy to dogs,” we may neglect our other responsibilities. Notice what Jesus said in a similar passage: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). In context, He was speaking with a Canaanite woman who had come to Jesus to heal her daughter. He explained to her that He was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He was not going to allow Himself to become distracted from His mission by going off and healing people from all the other nations. In the end, He did heal this woman’s daughter when she demonstrated her great faith (Matthew 15:27-28), but His initial point stands. We cannot neglect the primary responsibilities that God has given us. This of course does not mean that we cannot do more – in many cases we certainly can. But we must not neglect our responsibilities because we fail to exercise good judgment and refuse to move on from those who prove themselves to be “dogs” and “swine.

God Shows Kindness to Us

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know hot to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11).

In treating others justly, we are also to do so with mercy. This is based upon how God treats us (cf. Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus said we can ask, seek, and knock and we will receive, find, and it will be opened to us (Matthew 7:7-8). This does not mean that God will give us everything we want, but He does provide what we need (cf. Matthew 6:8, 32-33).

Jesus then cited a parent’s care for his child as proof that we can trust in God (Matthew 7:9-10). He said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11). If children can trust their parents, how much more can we trust God. He is perfect (Matthew 5:48); therefore, He will not lie to us or fail us.

This passage is often used in reference to prayer. The application can certainly be made, but Jesus’ point goes beyond that. In context, Jesus was talking about the way into the kingdom and eternal life (Matthew 6:33; 7:13-14). His point was that the way of salvation is available to everyone. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). But in order to take advantage of the salvation He has made available to us, we must ask, seek, and knock to enter His kingdom. How do we do this? We ask by inquiring what we must do in order to be saved (Acts 2:37). We seek by examining the Scriptures to find the truth or to confirm the message we have heard (Acts 17:11). We knock by making an appeal to God for a good conscience, which is done in baptism (1 Peter 3:21). Those who do this are added by God to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:41, 47) which is His kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19).

God has shown kindness to us by making salvation available. He has also shown fairness in making this path open to everyone.

Practice the “Golden Rule”

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

This verse is commonly referred to as the “golden rule.” Stated differently, it is: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Nobody likes to be treated unfairly. In our dealings with others, we should put ourselves in their shoes.

Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Rather than focusing only on what they believed was in their own best interest, they were to be concerned with the needs of others. This is the same as what Christ did for us: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

However, if we do not treat others in this way, we should not expect the Lord to save us. Remember what Jesus said at the beginning of this passage: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). Also consider the fact that Paul listed “unloving” and “unmerciful” among the sins that cause one to be “worthy of death” (Romans 1:31-32). If we want the Lord to reward us in the end, we must we willing to practice the “golden rule” and treat others with fairness and mercy.

Conclusion

We are to live a just life as a disciple. This means we are to treat others according to the Lord’s standard. We must not go beyond or fall short of this. Not only will our failure impact others, but it will also affect our standing before God.


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