“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24 (CSB)
As a summary to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates the difference between those who merely hear his teaching and those who actually put it into practice. The assumption is that followers of Jesus who have rightly understood his words will integrate them into their lives. It is important to note the order. We are to hear and then do. This is a principle seen throughout Scripture. We listen to the Word of God and respond accordingly.
In response to those who are all talk and no action, it is sometimes said that what you do is more important than what you know. That’s not entirely accurate. Spiritual maturity is more than just hearing – but it’s never less than that. Our actions must be driven based on what we have heard in the Word of God. Otherwise we risk doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. And if there is anything we learned from Jesus in his sermon, it’s that the inside matters just as much as the outside. To be his follower means that we are completely and totally transformed from the inside out.
“Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (CSB)
We all want justice, mercy, kindness, and grace for ourselves, especially when we are in the wrong. We want people to give us the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the motives and reasons behind what we say and do. It sounds simple because in one sense it is. I am to treat you the way I would want to be treated. What’s so hard about that? Yet our inability to actually live this way shows how difficult it is.
The ethical vision in the Law and the Prophets is beautiful. It points to a world where total peace and harmony is the norm. This is the Hebrew idea of Shalom. Israel failed to live out this vision. The incredible news for us is that we are not left to try and live this out on our own. We have the indwelling Spirit who convicts, reminds, and enables us to treat others the way they deserve to be treated. We continue to stumble and fall but by God’s grace, we do so in a forward moving direction. What’s more, we look forward to day when we will fully and completely experience Shalom.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.” Matthew 7:1-2 (CSB)
No statement from the Sermon on the Mount is quoted more often today than “do not judge.” What is viewed by many as a prohibition – an absolute one no less – is actually more sobering than that. Jesus is issuing a warning to his followers. To judge is to pronounce one guilty before God. This is more severe than identifying sin and inviting someone to repent (something Jesus graciously did and expects his followers to do). This is about putting ourselves in the position of God in relation to others. When we do this, we are violating the first commandment and making ourselves worthy of judgment by God.
Most of us don’t think we do this. It’s an unconscious process. But if we examine the beam in our own eye long enough, we will see it. Every time we think, “I can’t believe a Christian would do that,” or “there is no hope for him,” we are playing the role of God. We are deciding how far his mercy and grace is allowed to extend. That’s not to say we affirm or overlook the sin of others. We should always graciously invite repentance for that which God has clearly revealed as sin. More importantly, we must model repentance in all areas of our life.
“So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Matthew 6:31-32 (CSB – emphasis mine)
Not only are Jesus’ followers invited to call on God as their heavenly Father in prayer, they are invited to escape the worry and anxiety that plagues the rest of the world. Jesus makes no guarantee that life will be simple and free of pain nor does he say we will get what we want (or think we want). The guarantee is that our Heavenly Father knows what we need, period. In his way and in his time, he will provide for us. Which begs the question, why do we worry? After all, what loving father – especially a perfect one – doesn’t have the best in mind for his children?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21 (CSB)
Every culture has a few key snares that pull our affections away from Jesus. As Americans, the chief competitor for our heart is our stuff. Whether it’s the money we save or the goods we buy, the temptation is there to let what we have define us. We find our significance and meaning in what we own. Our happiness is tied to our portfolio or lack thereof. Living that way pulls our attention off of Jesus. It shifts our heart toward the things of this world. The antidote is to prioritize our resources around the things that matter most. When we sow into what is eternal, our heart is sure to follow behind. Then we will be in position to seek first his kingdom.
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.” – Matthew 6:9 (CSB)
Of all the remarkable statements Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount, none are more important to our growth as his disciple than the invitation to address God as Father. To approach a holy God in such an intimate, relational way is no small matter. Jesus’ audience would have been floored by his statement. Yet this kind of access is precisely what is available to those who follow Jesus. Because we are in Christ, we can relate to God as our Heavenly Father.
Viewing God as a loving Father can sometimes be difficult. Especially if our relationship with our earthly father was troubled or non-existent. But through God’s amazing grace, all of us can learn to do it. And when we do, we will see more clearly that he loves us, delights in us, and genuinely wants the best for us.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (CSB)
If someone does a good deed and doesn’t post about it on social media, did it really happen? That may not be exactly what Jesus had in mind with his statement but he’s heading in that direction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to look spiritual in front of others. We may do it sub-consciously yet the tendency is still there. We want them to know what we have done. The sacrifices we have made. The people we have helped. The ways we have given of our time and money. How often we read our Bible and pray. How long we fasted. But like everything else we do, the internal motivation matters just as much as the external actions. And when the external is all we have, the best we can hope for is a pat on the back from others. That’s our reward – all of it.