As members of the Messianic kingdom we now have some practical applications of our new way of looking at life. On the one hand there is the hazard of constantly finding fault with others, but on the other hand there is a need for wise discernment. The good news is that we can keep asking and receiving what we will need, searching and finding solutions to what seem insoluble problems, knocking and finding the doors opening into effective service.
7:1-2 There are ordinary judgments that we need to make about others who are teachers, doctors, close friends, employers and employees, candidates in an election, etc. (as in 7:6). But Jesus warns us about condemning anyone. Like God, we may have to assign consequences for unacceptable behavior, but we never entertain murderous thoughts, write off anyone, or treat them as complete idiots (see the comment on 5:22).
7:3-5 Often we are most upset by the very faults in others which we fail to notice in our own behavior. It is only when we have admitted our faults to God, and asked him to change us, that we might then be of some help to others.
7:6 But before trying to solve the problems of others Jesus again warns us with a strong metaphor. It is not that we should treat people as dogs and swine, but the metaphor warns us of the danger of trying to give of ourselves to people who have no intention of being helped or changed. Attention to this principle would save many from getting burned and burned out in social service.
7:7-8 What is always safe is to ask God's advice before rushing in to serve others. Those who look for his solutions are the ones who find them. God opens doors for us, but he appreciates it if we knock at his door first.
7:9-10 Many are hesitant to pray in case they ask the wrong thing. Others are afraid God might take away their pleasures, or give them some unpleasant task. The faith we need to pray effectively is not being particularly good, or believing a vast system of theological facts, but boldly chatting to God like a little child with loving parents (see 6:9).
7:11 In the parallel verse in Luke's Gospel the Father gives "the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Luke 11:13). But the meaning is the same. The good things that the Father gives us are not goodies and pat solutions. Rather than solve all their problems for them truly loving parents want their children to grow up. That means learning to find the wisdom, power, and inspiration that they need to enjoy life to the full (see the conclusion of Paul's explanation about the power of God in Romans 15:13).
7:12 By far the most important thing in life is learning to love. But God's kind of love is not to be confused with sexual attraction, or sentimental feelings, paternalism, or possessing others. It is learning to put oneself in the shoes of others and see things from their point of view. That is the diametric opposite of selfishness.
7:13-14 Entering into this messianic way of life has a narrow gate of looking to God, and a narrow way of looking to the power and wisdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount has explained what this means from many angles. It is pursuing the Messiah's definition of happiness (5:1-16) and his new perfection of loving (5:17-48). Religious observances will require a heart for God alone (6:1-21) and disciples will learn the Messiah's radically new way of looking at life (6:19-7:12).
As a great rabbi Nicodemus had taught his disciples to interpret and obey the Old Testament laws. But he needed to be born again to begin living by the power of the Spirit (John 3:1-8). We can imagine his astonishment when he saw the implications of Jesus' words when he was introduced to the Messiah's style of teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Evangelists often define salvation as accepting Jesus as one's personal savior from the penalty of sin, and that often meets the needs of people who are loaded with guilt and afraid of damnation. In the Sermon on the Mount the invitation is to become a disciple of the Messiah (see note on 11:28-30) to learn God's kind of perfect love (5:48). In that sense the words of Jesus speak powerfully to people in our day who long for love, but find themselves unable to enjoy it.
Once we engage in the Messiah's narrow way we will find false prophets who will try to turn us aside into their attractive agenda. In this final section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus will teach us how to recognize false teachers and prophets, and how to make sure our house is built on a safe foundation.
7:15 The Messiah does not mince his words, and as the Gospel proceeds Matthew will collect more of Jesus' strong teaching concerning false teachers and prophets. Disciples need to avoid Pharisaic legalism on the one hand and political expediency on the other (16:6). Pharisaic legalism and hypocrisy is ruthlessly exposed (23:1-36). And the Messianic ending of the Jerusalem religious establishment is announced (21:37-41; 23:36; 24:1-34).
7:16-17 The easiest way for ordinary people to recognize false teachers is by the fruits in their life and in the lives of those who learn from them. That is why Paul teaches the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).
7:18-20 It is also possible to recognize the source of the inspiration for any false teaching. The good tree and the good fruits that it will yield are set out in the parable of the Vine (John 15:1-16). As opposed to abiding in the Messianic Vine, and living by the Holy Spirit (the sap in the Vine) false teachers will always recommend some kind of human manipulation or self-help program rather than the power of God (see 12:33; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 1 John 4:1-3) And usually they will expect to get paid for the favor (1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Peter 2:1-3). 7:21 Many have taken this verse to question whether they will be accepted in God's kingdom, but the next two verses make it clear that Jesus' tough words in this context are for false teachers, not ordinary followers of Jesus (James 3:1).
7:22-23 When it suits them false teachers will claim to be Christians, and will teach in Jesus' name, but their aim is to turn their hearers towards another gospel (see Galatians 1:6-9). It is not using the name of the Lord that makes teaching Christian, but communicating God's kind of love as explained in the Sermon on the Mount.
7:24-27 People have all sorts of foundations for their life. Some trust in education, some hope that popularity will see them through, and others think money is the only real foundation for life. None of these will survive the storms that will inevitably descend upon us. Only God's appointed Messiah can claim that he and his words are the sure foundation for all the storms that will come our way, including the final flood waters of death. That is why ordinary Christians are wise to make sure that they have their foundation firmly based on hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them. Based on that foundation we have great freedom to build in many different ways.
7:28-29 If we could hear the words of the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus taught them, we too would be astonished. Jesus' authority was that of the King of the Messianic kingdom. The scribes were the religious teachers of that day, and like those who keep serving up advice for improving this or that in our lives, they lacked the authority that can only come from God himself.