December 5, 2010

Sermon on the Mount (9) – Kingdom Righteousness Lifestyle (Matthew 7:1-12)

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

[iframe 500px 500px]

The Sermon on the Mount’ standard gets higher and higher. When we have achieved a certain standard, the Lord will give us a higher standard, and the purpose is so that our spiritual lives will improve more and more. In Matthew 7:1-12, the Lord Jesus raised the standard even higher. Today, let us reflect on kingdom righteousness living. Matthew 7:1-6 reminds us we must not judge others; in Matthew 7:7-12 the Lord prompts us to pray without giving up.

I. Do Not Judge 7:1-6

In commanding us not to judge, the Bible is not telling us to cease from using our ability to discern, on the contrary, Christians must exercise discernment. We must know what is right and wrong. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus wants us to distinguish true from false prophets. 1John 4 tells us `do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God’. We must distinguish between various spirits. There are times we see something wrong and we point it out, but others would caution us: `Do not judge.’ Actually, that is wrong. The word judge has a negative meaning, it means to intentionally malign someone, to backbite or condemn someone. But when we point out a wrong, we are not judging, we are simply giving warning or suggestions.

In saying do not judge, Jesus was cautioning us from maligning, backbiting or condemning others. He was not forbidding us from making correct assessments or constructive criticisms. Let me remind you that when we are tempted to judge others, we must learn to stand in their position and apply those words of judgment on ourselves first. We must ask ourselves: `If others say that of me, will I be able to accept it?’ If you say you cannot accept it, then please cease from judging the same of others.

Rev. Morley Lee said every one of us has weak spots and blind spots, but we must be careful not to have dirt spots. Weak spots are areas where we are weak, blind spots are aspects we fail to see, dirt spots however are sin. We have blind spots, that‘s why it is easy for us to judge others. May the Lord help us because we do fail to see what others can see. When others do things differently than we do, we must not judge too quickly. In vv.3-5, the illustration about the plank and speck aims precisely to instruct us regarding having proper perspectives.

This parable teaches us that all of us have blind spots, aspects of our lives that we fail to see. When David committed adultery and murder, he seemingly did not realize his sin at all. When the prophet Nathan rebuked him, the prophet narrated a parable: “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” David was dumbfounded. He rebuked others but couldn’t see his own sin. Isn’t this our very problem, even of our nation? We accuse others of corruption, but we ourselves are greedy for money. We condemn corruption but we ourselves engage in corrupt practices.

When I was preparing this message, I asked for the Lord’s mercy upon me. Often, I stand on this pulpit teaching others, but many times, I am rebuked by my own messages. When we demand justice of others, we must examine ourselves, too! We must remember that we are more similar than different to our fellowmen, meaning, the problems we have are more or less similar to that of others. Your problems are also other people’s problems, your struggles are also the struggles of others. When we see the weaknesses of other people, do not be quick to judge, because before long, you too will be judged.

Verse 6 tells us that though we are not to judge others hastily, we must exercise discernment. The truths in the Bible are comprehensive. The Lord said do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs, because not only will they fail to show gratitude, they may even turn and bite you. The dogs referred to here are not the domesticated ones, but wild savage dogs, and the pigs refer to wild pigs. They embody wicked people who not only refuse to listen to the truth, but even oppose the truth and persecute those who preach the truth. The Chinese say, “People of different inclinations cannot work together.” Of course, people with dissimilar aspirations will take differing paths. They cannot work together. We must have discernment. On one hand, we must not judge hastily, on the other hand, we must not easily compromise; instead, we must establish clear positions of our own.

II. Persevere in Prayer , Do Not Give Up 7:7-12

This passage is about prayer. The main thought running through these six verses is `persevere in prayer, do not give up’. Let us first explain the composition of this passage: Verse 7 is an invitation. The Lord said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Verse 8 seems like a repetition, but it actually is not; it is a promise. Verse 7 is an invitation, verse 8 is a promise and here lies the power of prayer. We pray because the Lord had promised us that if we ask, he will give to us; that if we seek, we will find, and if we knock, the door will be opened. The Lord for fear that we will not believe, gave us verses 9 -11. He explains this truth through an illustration about children asking for bread. Verse 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Verse 10 “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” 11 “If 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!”

Earthly fathers are not perfect, yet they do their best to grant their children’s requests; how much more our Father in Heaven who is perfect and all-powerful, won’t He help his children? When we study this passage in parts, we begin to understand its structure. Verse 7 is an invitation (to pray); verse 8 is a promise (the power of prayer); v.9-11 is a guarantee (assurance in prayer). The Lord will certainly answer our prayers, but the way he answers may be different from our expectations. How does the Lord answer our prayers?

1. In His Time

God is God, He is in absolute sovereign control of everything. He has his own time frame. When we pray, the Lord answers us according to his own good time; even if it may seem like bad timing in the eyes of men. The story of Lazarus is a story that portrays this truth clearly. Lazarus fell ill and was about to die. Martha and Mary asked Jesus to come but not only did Jesus fail to go to him immediately, he in fact arrived two days late. When he arrived, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. However, Jesus said that it was so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. God’s glory was powerfully manifested in the resurrection of this four-day old, dead and decomposing man.

Do you believe that God’s timing is the best? In Genesis, when Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream, he asked the cupbearer to remember him and help him get out of prison, but the man totally forgot. As a result, he remained for two more years in prison. Such injustice! However, after two years, he was summoned to meet Pharaoh, and ended up becoming the prime minister of Egypt. If he had left prison two years earlier, would it have been easy to find him then? Thousands of years ago, there were no TV’s, no telephones, no internet, it would have been extremely difficult to find a person. The Lord let him linger in jail for two more years and in the end, the Lord demonstrated His glory.

2. In His Way

We may pray, but the Lord alone is the God who does marvelous things. He answers our prayers according to his ways. Sometimes, his ways may be totally different from our expectations, because the Lord’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, the Lord’s ways are higher than our ways. Paul prayed that he might travel safely and smoothly to Rome, but he went there in chains. Sometimes we want to have a son, but we give birth to a daughter instead. Sometimes we want a daughter, but then we get a son. Let us simply believe that the Lord’s ways are best, accept it by faith!

Joseph was sold to Egypt by his brothers, but after 13 years, he became the prime minister of Egypt; not only did he save the whole of Egypt, he even saved his whole family. When his brothers sought his forgiveness, he said, “Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” The way God works is totally different from our way. He doesn’t work according to our ways, He answers our prayers according to His way.

3. God Uses the Method of “No but Yes”

Sometimes God uses the method of ‘No but Yes’ to answer our prayers. What does ‘no but yes’ mean? Paul said there was a thorn in his flesh. What was this? There are many interpretations, but this thorn brought Paul much suffering. Paul prayed and prayed. He prayed three times that the Lord may take it away, but the Lord seemed not to answer. In the end, God told him, `No’, but added, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The Lord meant that He was not going to take away the thorn but He would give Paul enough strength to cope with it. And so, the thorn no longer became a problem for Paul, because the Lord’s grace helped him overcome the difficulty. This is the meaning of `no but yes’. Sometimes, it may seem as though the Lord does not answer our prayers, but in its place He grants us grace to be able to face our problems.

4. God Makes Use of Your Obedience

Some people say: `Prayer will not change God’s will, it will only change the person who is praying.’ Let me modify it this way: `Prayer will not change God’s eternal, predestined will, but it can influence the time frame for God’s fulfillment of his will.’ In the Bible, we see that because of men’s prayer, God delayed the execution of his plans. Jonah’s story is the clearest example of this. The Lord wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and announce that after 40 days the Lord was going to destroy the city. But Jonah was not willing to go and seemingly it was because he hated the Ninevites since these people were Israel’s enemies. However the fact is Jonah wanted to see Nineveh destroyed. Then, why wasn’t he willing to go? Jonah knew the Lord all too well, he knew that the Lord was a God full of mercy and compassion; he knew that the Ninevites had only to repent, and the Lord would postpone his judgment. That is why Jonah headed for Tarshish instead.

And Jonah was right, for after the Ninevites repented, the Lord heard their prayers and put off the destruction of Nineveh. Prayer will not change God’s eternal, predestined will, but it can influence the time frame for the fulfillment of his will. However, it is vital that the man who seeks the Lord in prayer be obedient to His authority, acknowledge His sovereignty, and seek His grace and mercy, just like the people of Nineveh did. Simply put: `God answers the prayer of a man who is obedient to Him.’ Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane can be called the best example of a prayer of obedience: `Not my will, but yours be done.’ What great obedience this showed! The Lord Jesus was Almighty God, did he have to obey? He was equal with God, did he have to obey? But the Lord said: `Not my will but yours be done.’ Can there be any prayer more submissive than this one?

May the Lord help us. Let us not be quick to judge. Let us persevere in prayer, and not give up.