The Sermon on the Mount: Reflections
Jesus lists a series of observations that he sums up in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The way you treat other people is generally the way they treat you in turn. The application of this idea is sometimes subtle, appearing in places we might not look to find it.
Liberalness (Luke 6:38)
We expect fairness when we buy or sell. When we purchase five pounds of flour, we expect to receive exactly five pounds. People get upset when they receive anything less, and rightly so because it would be deceptive marketing. God demanded such of the Israelites (Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; 20:10). But Jesus pointed out that we should go further than mere preciseness.
Precision can be an accurate fulfillment of God’s law, but it can be done with a stingy heart. God also expected His people to be generous (Proverbs 22:9; 11:24-25). Paul expressed it well, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:6-7). Thus when selling five pounds of wheat, the seller should not just give five pounds, but go a bit beyond. If it is a volume measurement, press out the air, shake it down, and then round it up a bit.
Why? Because your treatment of others will be reflected back to you. If people know you aren’t stingy, when they have opportunity to give or sell something to you, they will do so in a similar manner.
Guidance (Luke 6:39-40)
In the realm of advice people give freely and more than is expected, or even wanted. Here Jesus draws a negative application of treating other people as you want to be treated. Good advice is invaluable, but bad advice is worthless. But few people consider the quality of advice they give to someone else. If you are unfamiliar with an area and someone asks you for directions, what value would be your instructions?
We see this all the time, people selling financial advice to others while having no experience or track record in the field. The result is often financial ruin for both the listener and the teacher. Thus the mistreatment of our fellow man by offering advice without knowledge is reflected back toward us.
The Pharisees were guilty of this, offering religious advice while not knowing God’s Word themselves (Matthew 15:14; Romans 2:17-24). They enjoyed the respect of men, all the while they and their followers were religiously lost. They weren’t the first to do this (Isaiah 9:16), nor will they be the last (I Timothy 6:3-5).
When we need guidance, we want good advice. Therefore, when others come to us for guidance, we need to know our limits. If we have something to offer, give our very best. If not, do not let pride cause us to give bad advice. It is a matter of respect toward the life of our fellow man.
Similarly, we cannot expect more from a person than they themselves have to give. If you want financial advice, does it make sense to talk to the person who is barely making ends meet? If you need help repairing your car, should you seek the advice of a person who drives a clunker? You cannot learn more from someone than they themselves know (Matthew 10:24; John 13:16). It has amazed me how often people get religious advice from their co-worker who hasn’t gone to a service in ten years and marriage advice from a person who is one their third marriage.
Correcting Error (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:41-42)
If you were about to take a road that would send you over a cliff, would you want to be warned? Most would, though some let pride interfere with admitting they need help. Still, people are quick to judge others because it seems to cost them nothing. It is easy to condemn someone for doing wrong. But condemnation is not for what people are looking but sound advice for improvement.
This section is a continuation of what Jesus said previously. How we judge others will be reflected back on us. If we are quick to condemn and show no sympathy toward a person struggling with sin, what can we expect when we too stumble? If we try to pull a person out of sin, but we ourselves are deeper in the quagmire of sin, can we reasonably expect to improve another person beyond what we were able to accomplish?
Matthew 7:1 is often quoted by people caught in sin in an effort to turn the tables on the messenger of bad news. The attempt is to say that no judgment can be made about anyone, but that is not possible. Think about it: the person say “Do not judge!” has made a judgment concerning the one who said they were wrong. Thus their application is unequal. They are willing to condemn another who is trying to help, while simultaneously excusing their own behavior.
Matthew 7:1 is only properly understood in light of Matthew 7:2. How we approach judging others will be reflected back on us. If I want fair judgments, where a person looks at all sides, tries to learn the motivation, and looks for all the facts before coming to a conclusion, then I need to do this for my fellow man. Too often we decide a person’s spiritual condition based on incidental things that are actually not relevant. Consider the accusation the Pharisees made concerning Jesus associating with sinners in Matthew 9:10-13. Or, how we might treat a brother in Christ by the way he dresses (James 2:1-13). Or, how “important” people are treated differently (I Timothy 5:21).
Equally bad is when we use different standards for our behavior than we insist others meet. Paul warned the Jews that one day they would face the same Judge as the Gentiles (Romans 2:1-3). The Jews were willing to condemn the actions of the Gentiles, but refused to see their own guilt. How they judged others would come back to haunt them (Romans 2:5).
I’ve seen Christians fall into the same trap. “You’re not friendly enough” is thrown out by people quickly leave after services, never staying to talk. “You’re not hospitable enough” is said by those who rarely accept invitations to dinners, are too busy to come to gatherings, and only have personal friends over to their own home. “You’re not loving” is the accusation given by those who don’t visit the sick in the hospital and who don’t offer aid to those whose life just took a nose dive. What is not realized by people quick to condemn is that if they can see such lack in others – whether it is actually there or not – then they have no excuse for any lack in the same area in their own life.
Effort (Matthew 7:6-11)
A person who doesn’t want help will not appreciate help that is given, even if it is needed (Proverb 9:7-8; 23:9). To expend energy on such people is a waste of time. There must be some desire on the part of the person who wants aid or needs advice; it cannot be force on an unwilling recipient. We can see this in Paul’s life. He preached to everyone he could, but when his audience rejected his teaching, he merely moved on to hopefully more productive ground (Acts 13:45-46; 19:9).
We should see the flip side of this as well for our own lives. If we want improvements in our lives, no one is going to force feed sound advice into us. We must actively desire and actively pursue what we need. When a person shows interest enough to work at what he wants, few people will reject him. More importantly, Jesus reminds us is that if we actively seek God, He will not neglect us.