Text: Matthew 7:12-14
Title: A Choice to be Confirmed
Theme: Since the
him have chosen a path that is less traveled
Several years ago I saw a small card in a Germany Hotel with these words: Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the cooks are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, the police German, and it is all organized by the Italians.
Every nation and culture has its own unique characteristics. During the last few months, I trust that our study of the Sermon on the Mount, had left an indelible mark on us. God has high standards and expectations for those in his kingdom, for those who have chosen to follow him. Jesus clearly expresses what kind of personal character he expects of us. He explains that we are to live before the face of God, being transparent before him. With this as the foundation, he then spells out guidelines we are to live by when we relate to people around us. He wants us to be perfect, complete like our heavenly Father.
As he approaches the end of his Sermon on the Mount, the tempo seems to have quickened. He begins to teach about 2 gates, 2 roads; 2 trees, 2 fruits; and 2 foundations. It is about decisions and choices. As if he were saying, you have heard the Magnum Charter of God's Kingdom, now, what are you going to do about it?
As we now come to the passage we read earlier, we ask, where does v12 fit? Some commentators place v12 together with vs 7-11. So v12 is a reference to being judgmental. Others, such as Matthew Henry would place this with vs 13-14, thus referring to chapters 5-7. It is like a concluding remark for the Sermon on the Mount.
I. As followers of Jesus Christ, our lives are to be governed by God's law.
Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” He has come to fulfill the OT laws, not to replace them with new. Then in 7:12b, “……….., for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This suggests to us that everything he has taught between , are God's law. He has been explaining the intent of and applying OT laws to his followers. They are to be governed by his Law.
Then he summarizes the teaching this way, vs12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-39, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
What is the Law? Love God and Love men. We love God by obeying his commands. How do we love men? By doing to others what we would have them do to us.
This vs.12 is probably most widely known as the Golden Rule. There are many negative versions of this saying by Jesus' time. In China, about 450BC, Confucius said, “己所不欲勿施於人”. Also around the same time, the Athenian orator, Isocrates made similar statements. If I don’t want to be cheated, therefore I will not cheat you. This is reasonable and logical. This is a good basis for establishing laws in a society. It will be fair, peaceful and orderly.
However, this negative attitude will only lead to inaction. If I don’t want to be treated this way, then I won’t treat you this way. In a community, this will result in isolation. It will become “各家自掃門前雪”, which is so ingrained in the Chinese culture.
This is not what God has in mind for his kingdom. He wants us to do to others what we would have them do to us. He wants his followers to be outgoing, have that dynamic concern for others. Not that I want this, therefore I’ll do this for you. This is selfish motivation, not what Jesus has in mind. He wants us to be assertive, taking initiative. I am to take the initiative to “掃你門前雪”, to help you start your car in a cold morning. To Jesus, the law of love is the ultimate expression of his ethical teaching. Let’s see how this applies to what Jesus had taught till now.
Living in a community of believers, or as a member of this society, we are to be discerning persons, not being critical and cynical towards others. We are to be generous towards those in need. We don’t just give what is needed, but also what is good. Just as our heavenly father always give us what is good, including his only son, Jesus Christ. We are to be men and women of integrity. As I learn to be transparent before God, I also take the initiative to be transparent with you. Yes, it is risky, but it is the right thing to do.
What to do with those who have mistreated you? Love them, forgive them and pray for them. Be discerning when individuals are wrong, but we don’t have to be critical and judgmental. When I am wrong, I want you to tell me in love, and not with a condemning attitude. When a marriage relationship hits a wall, I am to take the initiative, even though it is difficult, to be faithful to my marriage vows and my spouse.
This is God's law. Do to others what is good and right. This is very different from our society. Our society has a tendency to take advantage of the poor and weak. We want to be on the receiving end. We gripe and complain when others mistreat us. But as citizens of God's kingdom, we are to take the initiative to do what is good for them; just as God has taken the initiative to love us. He took the initiative to come into the world while we were still sinners, still his enemies. He reached out to us, loving and accepting us as we are. He wants his followers to do the same. Our lives are to be governed by his Law.
II. As followers of Jesus Christ, our governed life is different from the rest.
Even as Jesus was speaking, he was engaged in some kind of a dialogue. The listeners may have been responding that this is too difficult. Humanly speaking it is impossible to keep the commandments and do to others as we would have others do to us. To this, Jesus in vs.13-14, teaches about 2 doors and 2 roads. “你們當進窄門，因為引到滅亡的門是寬的路是大的，進去的人也多；但引到生命的門是窄的，路是小的，找著的人也少。” One is with a wide door and a wide road and the other is narrow door and narrow road. One leads to eternal life, the other to death. Let’s take a closer look at these two doors and two paths.
1. The wide path with a wide door
you’ve been in
In the 60’s we engaged in a free life-style, doing whatever we want. We tried sex and drugs. We wanted total freedom.
In the 90’s we still live a free life-style, but now we are told of the consequences of certain behaviors and life-style. Therefore, watch out. We are motivated by fear. We are motivated by the fear of contracting sexual diseases and the fear of being caught. The adults tell the children don’t do as I do but as I say. We live by the principle that if I feel good, then this must be good for me.
In this wide road of life, there is plenty of company, for many will find this path. We are in the company of the crowd, the majority. This can bring us a sense of security and safety. We don’t have to stick out like Waldo. We are one of them. We look around and see so many people in it, we say to ourselves, with so many people doing it, how can it be wrong?
2. The narrow path with a narrow door.
summer we visited the
Isn’t this also true with life? When we entered into God's kingdom, we begin to see the boundary he puts around us. Yes, we are not to murder, but Jesus would go further in saying that we are not even supposed to hate others. Yes, we are not to commit adultery, but Jesus would not let us off the hook that easily. He says when we see someone with sexual lust in our minds; it is the same as committing adultery. This means that we are to stay away from movies and shows that will take us into sexual fantasy. Does that mean that even though everyone is doing it, I can’t? This is a narrow road.
When we reach out to help those in need, we are not even supposed to make it known to others. We have to do it in secret. Every year the Chinese community will promote and select , “好人好事”. Does that mean Christians will never get nominated because we do good in secret? Does that mean the “慈濟” will always get the credit for doing good in the society? This road is narrow.
He wants us to live a life that is consistent in both public and private. We are to live before the face of God. But this is so against the society. People around us are telling us that what you do in private is none of others’ business. As long as you perform well at work, your private life, no matter how immoral your private life may be, will not matter. Why can’t I, like others compartmentalize my private and public life? If so, life will be so much less stressful, right? This is a narrow road.
Our society teaches us that enemies are meant to be punished and hated. Last week one individual was executed for the murder of a young girl. The mother wrote the murderer the following note: “I want you to know that my daughter has a name, not just a disposable thing. Her name is….., ……. She is a real person. I hate you and I curse your soul. You deserve to go to hell.” This is natural and easy to hate and curse our enemies; we don’t need to discipline ourselves to hate and curse, right? But Jesus says, you are to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. Bless those who curse you. Are you kidding? It’s so against human nature. This is a narrow road
there is the issue of worry. Who doesn’t worry? It’s easy and natural; I don’t
have to tell myself that it is time to worry. It’s easy to say not to worry
when things are under control. When the economy is booming and jobs are plenty,
it’s so easy to tell others not to worry. But with the present economic down
turn, and the news of further cutting of the number of high tech visas granted
How about not being judgmental? With the election year coming, all we hear are judgmental attacks. If we work in a research and academic environment, isn’t this what we are trained for? When we review other lab’s grant proposal, our objective is to find what is wrong in that paper. We do our utmost best to put down others, saying how bad the idea is, of course, unless it is our own grant proposal or paper. If I live in that kind of environment, and you expect me to be different when I am in a relationship or when I come to church? Its kind of asking too much, isn’t it? It is hard to take that hat off. Yet the teaching is so clear: Yes, don’t be judgmental, but be discerning. This is difficult, it is narrow.
It’s already difficult enough in not doing this and that. And now, on top of this, I am to take the initiative to do good to others. No wonder this is a narrow road.
Not only is this a narrow road, but also few find company here. When we go to work and school, we feel like Waldo, sticking out like a sore thumb. I don’t know about you, I don’t like to stand out like that. I want to be able to blend in with the crowd. (saying grace before meal in the public can be a real challenge with some Christians, right?) Followers of Jesus Christ will always be in the minority. This is the price, the consequence of being in God's kingdom.
No wonder this is a narrow road with narrow gate.
At first glance, this passage seems to be presenting us with 2 choices. Do you want to be in the wide road or the narrow road. If indeed this is a choice, I don’t think too many people in their right mind will choose the narrow road with the narrow door. Jesus is not giving us a choice. He is teaching his followers; affirming them a choice we made. You see with the help of his spirit, we have chosen to follow him. Yes, it is grace, but our decision is also meaningful. Responding to his call, we have made a decision to be in his kingdom. This is not an ordinary kingdom. It is high and lofty. The creator of the heaven and earth, the almighty God is the king.
At the end of his sermon on the mount teachings, Jesus wanted to impress upon us what it means to be in his kingdom. He wants us to have that indelible understanding as his followers, we are to let his righteousness, his law to govern how we live, how we relate to others. Its not enough just by not cursing, not stealing, or not hating others. But to reach out and do good to others. He also wants us to know that following him, is not an easy, go with the crowd attitude. It is narrow, and at times one may feel restrictive and lonely. He is affirming our decision of following him.
But, he didn’t stop here. He says, the wide road leads to death. It is fun now, with plenty of liberty and in a good size crowd. Everyone is doing it. You are a part of the majority. How about the end? It is death, eternal death, meaning eternal alienation from the eternal God.
How about the narrow road? It leads to life. It is the abundant life Jesus explains later in the gospel of John. Yes, there are restrictions and boundaries and at times they may seem to be binding. Yet by living according or within such boundaries and guidelines, it will bring meaning and fulfillment in present life. And moreover, the Holy Spirit is with us daily, helping us and encouraging us to travel down this narrow road. This life will find its ultimate fulfillment when we see Christ face to face.
Because we are in this high and lofty kingdom, because we are followers of this king almighty, we are also walking down a path that is less traveled.