By Stephen Matthews
To whom should I listen and follow after? I’ve been confused by the blizzard of voices and examples out there during my week. But Pastor Tyler Johnson, in his sermon on Matthew 7:15-23, pointed us to how we can answer that question. Now, a word of caution here. In this passage, Jesus is not telling us whom to pass judgment on, but instead whom we are to imitate. He is very specific about this. This is, as Tyler pointed out to us, because Christians were given their moniker by those outside the community of faith as they were mimicking Christ. They were “little Christs.” What’s important here is first the whom YOU will act like and what YOU will do—rather than first thinking of what you want to preach to someone else.
The first five verses of our passage point out that we need to be looking for certain types of fruit that should be produced in those whom we are mimicking. Here they are:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (ESV)
We all have people that we try to glean from, whether they are other parents, classmates, co-workers, leaders in the field we love, spiritual guides, siblings, social advocates, caregivers, or good friends. At work, I’m careful about whom I mimic. Some are better at making deals and knowing how to sell an idea. Some keep a fiscal focus with data and figures. Some keep calm under pressure. Some are always learning more about their discipline so the job is done scientifically. However, we have to be careful whom we mimic. I have had to distance myself from those who take things way too personally and even lash out at others, even though they are focused on doing the job right and as such, get promotions for being effective. But they can lose sight of people. This leads us to another issue: broken relationships. Some people get the job done without regard to what it might cost relationships.
The final three verses, 21-23, remind us that a relationship with God is what makes the difference, which reminded me of a previous passage, in verse 12, which is known as the “Golden Rule.” Both not only say that the end-all is treating others as we wish to be treated, but our recent passage also says that in doing this, all of the law will be fulfilled. Let’s take a look:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (ESV)
The law was all about restoring the lost relationships you and I have with God and other people. As a plug for the True Story Project, hopefully we all understand the Old Testament’s first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and the law that they contain, a lot better, now that we have walked through each with SQUID together. Those laws were revolutionary, not because they transformed the nation of Israel’s morning devotional times, but because those laws were cutting edge spiritual and social reform for a time and place that devalued God as a tool and devalued people as a commodity. Which is not much different than the ideas that persist today.
God has lifted up humanity’s chin to see our place before the Creator God and called us to do the same for others around us in a massive chain reaction. This is God’s will for us. This is when heaven is felt on earth.
At the risk of flattening out a multi-faceted passage of Scripture by not walking through its surrounding verses, let’s consider Paul’s understanding of the law and how it affects people. In the Romans 13:10 he said, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” The Creator God is taking wrong away through the law—it’s reversing the effects of the fall and the brokenness in the world. As we look at how the laws given to ancient Israel revolutionized the way God and other people were treated, we see this.
So, I’m going to do all I can this week to bring heaven into my world by finding an opportunity each day to show someone that I value them like God does. But I’m going to need a reminder, so I’m going to tape a forgotten prayer of mine next to my bed and have a goal to pray it each morning. Here’s the prayer I’ll be praying: Heavenly and holy, God of love, may the Father be glorified, may the Son be incarnated, and may the Spirit not be quenched. May my neighbor be loved. May the whispers of adultery be hushed. In all love, thankfulness, grace, and peace.
Let’s all produce fruit rightly.