Some thoughts on Matthew 7

Many people enjoy citing Matthew 7:1

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (NIV) Matthew 7:1-2

Apparently it is one of the most cited passages in the Bible and some people have blamed it for destroying America. I think that last part is a bit of a stretch, but I do feel we should examine it in the greater context because pull-quotes out of context are dangerous things. I’m a huge fan of Bible commentaries and learning about scriptural and historical context. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary reminds us:

We must judge ourselves, and judge of our own acts, but not make our word a law to everybody. We must not judge rashly, nor pass judgment upon our brother without any ground. We must not make the worst of people. *emphasis mine*

While that is a nice message to walk away with, and I agree “we must not make the worst of people,” (that isn’t very charitable), I find it interesting that after telling us not to judge people Jesus goes on to warn us about True and False Prophets in Matthew 7:15-20. He takes a rather judgmental tone, I suppose this is forgivable, as Jesus is the son of God (or at least the son of a big booming voice from the sky).

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible informs us these “false prophets” are

… teachers of erroneous doctrines, who come professing a commission from God, but whose aim is not to bring the heavenly treasure to the people, but rather to rob them of their earthly good.

Jesus is being judgmental, but it begs the question, how is one to know what the teacher’s motives are? Are Jesus’ motives pure? What is he really trying to do? He certainly talks a lot about rendering unto Caesar, being meek, and not storing up earthly possessions. Wait, maybe they are… but what about those who claim to follow Jesus’ teachings, like the ministers of mega churches, or “Christian” news networks and organizations. Do they get a pass because their material wealth is simply a by-product of their godliness?

Jesus answer[s], “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (NIV) Matthew 19:21

Sorry mega church pastors and news networks, just because you can preform “miracles” (raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for your new building/network/pet project/”charity”) does not make you necessarily make you worthy. Jesus points out that when the end is near:

22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (NIV) Matthew 7:22-23

Jesus wasn’t the only one in Biblical times preforming miracles. Apparently God dishes out the ability to work miracles regardless of piety or moral fortitude. This strikes me as rather sadistic of God, giving false hope to those who prophecy in his name, but God isn’t known for being nice. As Barnes Bible Commenter points out:

The power of working miracles [raising money or getting a large congregation] had no necessary connection with piety. God may as well, if he chooses, give the power of raising the dead to a wicked man, as the skill of healing to a wicked physician. A miracle is a display “of his own power” through the medium of another. An act of healing the sick is also a display of “his power” through the agency of another. In neither of these cases is there any necessary connection with moral character. So of preaching or prophesying. God may use the agency of a man of talents, though not pious, to carry forward His purposes. Accordingly, many may be found in the day of judgment who may have been endowed with powers of prophecy or miracle, as Balaam or the magicians of Egypt; in the same way as many people of distinguished talents may be found, yet destitute of piety, and who will be shut out of his kingdom. *emphasis mine*

So while we should give a pass to our fellow man, it seems to okay to be critical of those who claim to teach in Jesus’ name? I’m not totally sure that’s the message that Jesus wants us to walk away with, but Jesus does have a history of holding people involved with temples and churches to a higher standard, and rebuking them with common sense.

Then there is the big question: how does any of this apply to me? I don’t believe in that God any more.

Not assuming the worst about people in day-to-day life is one of those universally good ideas. I don’t think it’s exclusively Christian.

I’m also going to be kind, and not going to hold everyone to the same “laws” that I abide by. I choose not to eat cooked spinach (it is a texture thing), but I’m not going to hold everyone I come into contact with to such an arbitrary “law” based on my preferences. Beyond cooked spinach, I don’t want to marry someone of the same gender, or have an abortion, but I’m also not going to say that you can’t. I can see this leading to some moral grey areas, but as long as people are being kind toward one another I suspect they wouldn’t be an issue.

I think it is OK to be skeptical about religion. To ask questions, to see where the money is actually going – is it going to the poor as Jesus instructed in Matthew 19:21, or is it going to further the material possessions of the movement? If someone is going to preach that they too are inspired by Jesus, then I think they should follow that Jesus’ teachings: give to the poor, love your neighbor, and don’t stone people.