The Result (Matthew 7:28-29)

Photo by M. Monk on Unsplash

Matthew is detailing the impact Jesus’ sermon has had on those who heard Him, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

This might be the single kindest thing that Matthew says about the teachers of the law. That through all of their misunderstanding of the purpose of Scripture, the scope of Scripture and the power of Scripture, they did not also misunderstand the authority of Scripture. So when Jesus teaches as someone who has the same and even greater authority as Scripture, He clearly stands out from them. The teachers of the law never put themselves on the same footing as the Scripture. 

Rightly so, for everyone in Jewish society knew that Scripture had authority. The very first chapter of Genesis tells us that God spoke all things into existence, so the Jews knew that God’s Word had and has power! Indeed, the One who speaks it has all authority and all power! So His written word must be understood as having much more authority than the written edict or law of any earthly king or government, and it must be treated accordingly. 

The teachers of the law knew they had God’s Word and so could speak for His Name, but they also knew that they should not misappropriate that authority. To speak from His Word with the authority of God is to speak in His Name, not merely for His Name. That may be a subtle difference, but it is a most profound difference. It is not something to take lightly. Indeed, to speak in His Name without first hearing directly from Him would be a misuse His Name: something God specifically warned His people about, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” It was the third commandment, and all Israel knew it. Indeed, how could God hold them guiltless, if they would claim to speak in His Name and then speak even the smallest thing in error? To speak in the Name of God but not speak rightly is to be guilty of contempt in God’s court. At least the teachers of the law understood that fact. They may have shared ‘learned opinions’ of His Word, but they did not share them as through they were God’s own opinion. 

To be a teacher you only need know more than your students know. To be an expert you only need to know more than the teachers of the subject know. To be an authority you need to be the creator and sustainer of the subject you have authority over, or have authority imparted to you by the creator and sustainer of the subject. Only then can you say, “It is like this,” and never be wrong. 

This is something Christ can do with confidence. So He teaches with authority. He shares His opinion of how to understand God’s Word as though it was God’s opinion, and He does that without inconsistency, because Christ is God. To that end He has said repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago […], but I tell you…” The only other people who ever spoke with that kind of authority were the prophets, who heard directly from God and only then said, “Thus says the Lord…” Jesus is clearly also a prophet, who also says prophetic things, fore-telling as well as forth-telling. But He is more than a prophet. He created all things (John 1:3) and He sustains all things (Heb 1:3). He is literally THE authority, and all who hear Him speak are not the authority. 

Every preacher and teacher of the Scripture must surely know that, and every disciple of Christ and witness of Christ must know that too. Amen.

Christian teachers and preachers must not rule by authority, but guide and direct by the power of truth and love and the force of example. Let no pastor be a pope.

Jean Paul Friedrich (aka Richter)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Teaching the authoritative Word of God should never be taken lightly. It is an honor and a privilege, but it is also a test. A test of our ability to discern between our own thoughts and the Spirit’s leading, “for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” 

The Crowd (Matthew 7:28-29)

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Jesus has just finished His Sermon on the Mount. Matthew – who is writing   this account with thee hindsight of time – now details us the impact His sermon has had, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

The goal of any opportunity to teach, preach or expound God’s Word is to accurately reflect something of the Lord to the people you are influencing. Only then will then have something of true value to add to themselves, and/or hear something that will have power to change them more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. That might amaze, but the goal is never to simply amaze. That is the objective of the secularist in speaking to crowds. That is the objective of the entertainer, the objective of the proud and haughty. To speak so that people will be amazed is to purpose that they should focus on the speaker, not on the truth of God. The result is wonder and delight for yourself as a speaker, not wonder and delight in God. 

For all but Jesus, that is nothing short of idolatry. A normal speaker – a regular teacher or preacher – who amazes the crowd at the exposition, interpretation or application of God’s Word – is taking glory that belongs to God and depositing it to their own credit. That is not a small error to be casually overlooked. Jesus however, is not a regular speaker. He is the Son of God, very God of very God. He is God. To worship Jesus is to worship the Father, for “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” So, He is not a regular teacher, nor is He a regular preacher. So when Jesus amazes the crowd, He does so righteously. He also does so easily. 

Jesus has just been explaining God’s Word. He did not have the benefit of a microphone or a loudspeaker or a sound system. He did not have powerpoint, or slides, or photos of any kind. He did not have a whiteboard, a chalkboard or even a pulpit. He did not have a prop (aside from the birds of the air and the flowers of the field). He did not have the benefit of a worship band to help prepare the crowd’s mindset. He did not have the benefit of advance notice of the opportunity to speak, so He had no time to first sit down and do an exegesis or time to practice. He just had what He knew of God’s Word and a crowd in front of him. 

Of course, amazing a crowd is no guarantee that they will leave permanently changed. We know that because ultimately, many of these same people would be part of the crowd that demanded His crucifixion and jeered at Him hanging on the cross. Even though they were amazed at His teaching, and even though they recognized His authority, they did not rise to defend Him en mass when He was brought out to be crucified. These facts tell us that all who witness for the Lord must know that it is not merely the skill, knowledge and craftsmanship of the speaker that affects change in the congregation. It is the willingness of the people to hear from God. If they are willing to hear from God, then when they hear from God they will not be merely amazed, but changed. If they are not willing to hear from God, even if God Himself speaks to them, they will simply leave amazed instead of changed

That is a freeing principle to know. For if we know His Word, and we know Him, we can simply and faithfully speak of our experience of both Him and His Word, and know that it will be fulfilling to those who hear it. Actually, that is all Jesus ever asks of His people; To be faithful witnesses of Him, to bear testimony of His Word and how He has spoken to us – that is enough for any crowd. Better still, such testimony brings much glory to God. For instead of God speaking directly to them, those who are being saved still find wonder and delight in what God is saying through You, to whom He has already spoken. Our witness results then in much fruit.

If however, we faithfully witness to those who are not keen to hear from God, we find that at most they find wonder and delight in the way we speak, not in God who is speaking through us. They leave amazed instead of changed. Our witness has nevertheless been effective, but instead of a harvest of changed lives the result is a congregation of hardened hearts. The fruit we harvest then, is their accolades and appreciation instead of changed lives. Either harvest is to the benefit of the faithful speaker, but only one is to the benefit of the crowd.

It is natural that the preacher should wish to please his hearers, but it is spiritual for him to desire and aim at the approbation of God.

A.W. Pink

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Let our witness be faithful. Let the result be entirely God’s doing.

The Sand (Matthew 7:26-27)

Photo by John Middelkoop on Unsplash

One of the great things about ultimate reality is that living your life in accordance to it   will yield exceedingly positive results, even if it results in short term difficulty, and even if that difficulty is severe. The people of eternal God should surely know that. One should never sacrifice the eternal on the altar of the immediate. Yet unfortunately, that is exactly what many do. They choose to build their lives on what is not ultimately true, even when they’ve been exposed to what is ultimately true. That’s not merely unfortunate. It is the very definition of foolishness. 

Jesus has just given us a positive analogy of what it means to put into practice the ultimate reality of what He has just said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Now He provides the counterpoint. The other side of the equation is that a foolish response to reality is also possible, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Both houses are built, and remarkably, nothing is said of the construction of and by itself. The assumption is that the construction of both is adequate. One expects that both houses look perfectly fine for a period of time. The problem is that the one house is set on a substrate that can easily be washed away. Like a beautiful home built over a sinkhole, it stands until the ground beneath it fails. Like a home by the sea that sits on the sand, it is lifted by the flood and demolished. Destruction comes not at a point during construction, but at a point in the future – after the house is finished, and after the owner makes it a home. This is the crux of Jesus’ point; Fault inevitably shows up. An incorrect worldview will not persist, because the supporting substructure is unstable. Lies always get found out. Misunderstandings eventually get set right. Truth always wins in the end, no matter how many lies are spoken against it, or how long those lies are repeated. As sure as the weather erodes that which can be eroded, reality eventually exposes untruth

Sadly, the world is full of such foolishness. Broken worldview abound. Most people are building their hopes and dreams on what is effectively sand. Sadly, many have heard the words of God, but they do not put them into practice. The result is that initially, their lives may look as beautiful and secure as those who did put Jesus’ words into practice. Perhaps even better. But like a house whose foundation is suddenly washed away, their lives eventually collapse into utter ruin. We can read about such people almost every day. Famous preachers and people of faith who are found out to be far less than what they presented to the world. But it isn’t only the famous who are found out. Countless are the nameless individuals who’ve disregarded Christ’s exhortations and lived to regret it.

It is the nature of life that storms come. It is the nature of storms to blow down and wash away that which can be blown down and washed away. The storm cannot stop to think of the damage it does anymore than the truth can stop being true. This is fact. Either we have well prepared for that day, or we have not. Either we are prepared for the storms of life and the eventual judgment of God, or we have not. 

Too often our trust in the Lord is based on our own understanding, or only engages part of our heart. When the storms of life come, faulty foundations are destroyed.

Steven E. Runge

APPLICATION: Intentionality

It is not that the foolish builder did not know what to do. It is that they made a conscious choice to ignore good instruction. What good instruction are you tempted to ignore? 

The Foundation (Matthew 7:24-25)

Photo by Fritz Anuth on Unsplash

Jesus is almost done His Sermon on the Mount. He has spoken about   everything from a basic understanding of how to live a satisfying life (the beatitudes) to better understanding of the Law of God (murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge & giving). He has given instructions for holy living (prayer, fasting, giving), advice on right living (worry, judging others, seeking God) and warnings (the narrow gate, false prophets). All through His sermon the focus has been on the application, because Jesus knows that what He is saying is both immediately applicable and highly practical. He concludes with the same focus – a pointed analogy about the application of the total, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”   

Everyone – whether they realize it or not – builds their life on a philosophy. Some would call it a worldview. It is the largely unconscious substrata of your mind that informs and supports your everyday decisions. Your understanding of what is real, what can be ultimately trusted. That is what Jesus is seeking to change. Jesus is not trying to change the beliefs of His hearers. They are Jews who believe in God and both believe and know their Scripture. Their beliefs are honest, so rather than try to deconstruct and rebuild them, He is trying to change their understanding of what is real, because the reality of God is very different than what they had been taught. That reality will forever change them. 

They had been told all their lives by the teachers of the Law that God was most concerned with whether or not they had been completely obedient to everything they interpreted from His Law. The reality is that the Law was there to reflect God’s character to His people, so that His people would and could seek Him in all they did and thought. The human interpretation they had been handed by their teachers was pedantic and small-minded at best. The Law was not there to micro-manage people God already endowed with self-awareness. It was there to spur people toward loving Him. Him who not only made and provided for them, but also chose to reveal Himself in a way they could understand, and in a way that enlightened them to live very differently from the cultures around them. It was there that His people would know God is far above them in thought and act, but loved them as His people and blessed them as His people – all so that they could demonstrate Him to others who did not yet know Him. The reality is so much vaster, more wonderous and more fulfilling then what they had been led to believe. Reality always is.

Jesus’ analogy about a wise builder is a pointed reminder that times will come when what you base your life upon is assailed by that which is completely out of your control. When that happens – and it happens to everyone at some point, as surely and as often as the storm comes in season – then only those who have a philosophy of life based on ultimate reality can stand. The worldviews of others may collapse, but the one who puts into practice what Jesus teaches is secure. Their life is built on on the rock of God – unchangeable, immoveable and forever!


The power to change the lives of people comes as the Spirit of God applies the Word of God to the lives of those who listen.

Charles B. Bugg

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Foundation work is difficult, often exhaustive and expensive. But it is necessary and even critical to avoid catastrophic damage. How have you prepared your heart for the coming storm(s)? 

The Judgment (Matthew 7:21-23)

Photo by Andrew Coop on Unsplash

The Psalmist wrote, “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your   wrath. Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.”

David wrote that Psalm as both a piece of music for His court and a reminder of his sorrow and faith in God in the face of many enemies. But it is also a prophetic Psalm. It speaks of David’s grief, and it also speaks of Christ’s anguish and sorrow at His people’s sins, and of His ultimate victory. His victories actually, for there are more than one. “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.” Christ was victorious on the cross over His people’s sins. He was victorious over death and our spiritual enemies in rising from the dead. He will be victorious over all His enemies on the day of His return. It means more still, for in the last line you can hear the voice of the Lord condemning evildoers for the evil they have done.

The scene brings to mind what Jesus said in Matthew 7. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”  Christ’s enemies are those who claimed to belong to Him but did not act according to His will. They pretended to know Him and so prophesied in His Name. They believed they had driven out demons. They wholeheartedly saw their work as miracles. Yet they will be turned back in sudden disgrace. Some translations say, “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” The intention of the words is the same. Although Christ’s hearers and Matthew’s readers may not perceive themselves as evil or lawless people, Jesus’ statement communicates that failure to take His words most seriously is both evil of itself (for inattentiveness is rebellion) and evil in act (for blatant disregard for God’s Law – which Jesus has been teaching about for some time – is the very definition of lawlessness). For Him to therefore summarily dismiss evildoers from His presence is more than understandable. It is expected of God, for He is just and fair and holy. 

The disgrace His enemies must shoulder in their dismissal is unimaginably heavy. They thought they were in His inner circle. They presented themselves as His friends. They ministered in His Name. Yet they are not welcomed or accepted or even tolerated. They are condemned. They bear the responsibility for His tears. They are the ones who caused God in the flesh to weep. They are the ones who have brought pain and misery on Him who is holy and perfect – the creator of us all, the only one worthy of glory! Not only that, but Christ’s dismissal of them forces them to bear responsibility for the accusations against His people, upon which God has heard Christ’s plea for mercy. What then shall be their lot? How terrible it will be for them to hear those words on “that day” – “Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Our Lord is full of loving-kindness. He receives the repentance of sinners.

Theodoret of Cyrus

APPLICATION: Intentionality

“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” 

(2 Pe 1:10).

The Work (Matthew 7:22-23)

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Jesus has just said that not everyone who knows He is Lord, and not   everyone who calls Him Lord, and not everyone who even insists that He is Lord, will gain entry to the Kingdom of heaven. Now He elaborates on that point, seemingly making it impossible to get to the Kingdom at all; “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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” 

Surely to prophesy is a good thing. Is it not better then, to prophesy in Jesus’ Name? To drive out demons is a good thing. What then of those who drive them out in Jesus’ Name? To perform a miracle qualifies you for canonization in the Catholic church! To do so in Jesus’ Name, and to do ‘many miracles’ must be a very good thing. Yet in His books, not only is it not good enough to know Jesus’s Name and to call Him Lord, it is not good enough to do good things. Not even very good things, and not even very good things in His Name! In fact, although Jesus’ has already said that entrance to the Kingdom of heaven depends on doing the will of God (v21), His distaste for those who merely do things – even very good things in His own Name – is such that He calls them, “evildoers”. 

The people in Christ’s prophetic vision of “that day” are clearly in trouble, and they’ve obviously appealed to Jesus to help them. Yet He says to them, “I never knew you.” “What is meant by ‘I never knew you’?” [Jesus]..uses the language of origin because origin was so important for identity in the ancient world, but fundamentally it is a denial of relationship: no link of any significance exists.” Effectively, Jesus is declaring that although they knew He was Lord, and although they knew to call Him Lord (even to insist on it through repetition), and although they had prophesied in His Name, driven out the demonic in His Name and performed miracles in His Name, they obviously misunderstood Him. They may be aware of who Christ is, and keenly aware of the power of His Name, but there was no true knowledge of the other. They may have even thought they had that, but Jesus certainly had no relationship with them. What a horrible realization to come to on “that day”! 

Family members understand each other because they have a kinship relationship with each other. A son of the Father knows the Father, and the Father knows him. A son of the Father must know The Son, for “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Those who are God’s children hear His Voice in the Gospel call to repentance. They become aware of their true identity through the preaching of the Gospel, they grasp that identity through faith in Jesus, and they live out that identity through obedience to the Word of God. In all these ways and more, they demonstrate a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Son, because they are related by faith. Therefore, they do not try to accomplish their own admission to the Kingdom of heaven through works. That admission is already (and can only be) accomplished by means of family ties.

If there was ever a condemnation of salvation by works alone, this is it; “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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Spiritual works done of and by ourselves are dead works; they are seen by the Lord as works of evil, for their motivation is not bringing the Kingdom of Christ to others, but our own selfishness. Moreover, their result is not the glory of God, but our own pride. How could God ever reward that? 

Only the work Jesus does through us by His Spirit matters. As the cliche goes, “Know Jesus, know salvation. No Jesus, no salvation!”

I dare not think of standing without Christ for even an instant. I am a poor sinner and nothing at all, but, thanks be unto God, “Jesus Christ is my all and in all.

Hannah Whitall Smith


All of salvation and all of the Christ-life God has appointed for us to live after meeting Him are due to the presence and work of God in us. Celebrate that work today by honouring God through worship. 

The Lord (Matthew 7:21)

Photo by John Price on Unsplash

Having warned His followers about false teachers, Jesus moves to the subject  of  qualification. He begins by making a statement that should trouble many, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This is perhaps the most difficult thing Jesus has ever taught. 

Those Jesus speaks of, know who Jesus is. They understand that He is Lord. They even call Him Lord. Actually, in saying it twice, they are insisting He is Lord. But Jesus says that they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is not knowing who He is that saves us. It is not knowing that Jesus is Lord that saves us. It is not calling Him Lord that saves us. It is not even insisting that He is Lord that saves us. It is honouring Him as Lord that saves us. We are saved by obedience to God’s will

The thing about that is that you can only be about God’s will if you really do know Him. For when you meet Him, you are immediately aware of not only His holiness, but your lack of holiness. That fact fills you with the sorrow that leads to repentance. Not a sorrow for sins as regret only, but a sorrow for sins infused with a godly ambition to not repeat them. As Paul wrote, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.” For this reason repentance is always the first word of the Gospel. 

Jesus Himself preached this point, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Repentance is key. Without repentance you might call Jesus Lord, and even insist that He is Lord, but you will never be about God’s will. Being about the will of God means you are set entirely apart for His purpose. As Paul wrote, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” Only God can sanctify (set apart for Himself), and God only sanctifies those who love Him. 

Sadly, many who know His Name and know who He is do not love Him. Instead, they love what He is capable of doing for them. They love the benefits of the Kingdom of God. They might even love the church of God, with all its traditions, ceremonies, structure and art. They may well know the Word of God – even to the point of teaching it as the Pharisees did. But if they do not love Him to the point of repentance, they are going about their lives entirely on their own effort. Human effort might look like sanctification, but it is just legalism all dressed up. It is just filthy lives clothed in their Sunday finest. Such is not the will of God, but the purposes and plans of man. It is hypocrisy instead of salvation and a subtle lie instead of the honest Gospel.

The will of God is repentance for sins. It is an honest evaluation of our lives that drives us to come to God and bow before Him regularly – if not daily – in prayer, and finding Him ever faithful to wash us clean of our sins, to come to Him in thankfulness, purposing to live by His will for His will. Such a life produces joy, is centered in prayer and is verbalized in thankfulness. As Paul exhorted, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The disciple of God might be known in the community as upright, moral and God-fearing. But in their heart they are not marked by such things. In their hearts they are marked by personal repentance and commitment to Christ as surely as the homes of Israel were marked by the blood of lambs on the night of Passover.  Amen. 

Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith.

Anthony A. Hoekema

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What drives you to God today? 

The Fruit (Matthew 7:16)

Photo by Lāszló Glatz on Unsplash

We all know what a detective does. The proliferation of movies and  television about  investigative police work has brought the concept into the public eye, world over. Determining to find out the truth about a matter, detectives listen carefully to what is said, as many do. But then they also look for evidence of what was actually done, something most do not. The best detectives persist in that, until they perceive the truth in looking at the gap between what was actually said and what was actually done. 

While telling us to avoid false teachers, Jesus gave us a very sound principle to judge character. He said, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” This is a spiritual principle with universal application – our character leaves something of us behind, readily visible in the trail of our lives. Some people leave a trail of disappointment and hurt, some leave a trail of ambiguity and some leave a trail of blessing. While that is a very practical point to consider when choosing to follow a teacher, the same principle can and must also be applied to our own lives

It’s a bit more difficult to do that of course. When considering what someone else has done and taught, you have opportunity to look with a level of objectiveness. Their past record is a matter of public history. People gain reputations, and those in their circles of influence have memories of them that can be unearthed in a simple conversation. But when considering what we ourselves been saying and leaving behind, our emotions and worldview frame us into the subjective. It becomes impossible to objectively perceive what and who we really arre. More often than not, what we remember is the intention of what we said and did, but not what we actually communicated, and not how our actions were actually perceived by others – and much are must be taken to avoid unhealthy self-absorption in trying to honestly dig down. All the same, a prayerful reflection on the fruit of our own lives can yield most helpful insights.

We all have gaps. There is what we say – about what we believe, about what we value, about what we hold dear. Then there is what we actually do. What we actually spend our time on. What we actually spend our money on. What we actually spend time thinking about. Often there is a significant gap between the two that the Lord sees plainly, even when we do not and even if we’ve come across as ambiguous to our close friends. That means that the Lord truly can give us objective feedback. If we ask for it. 

Better yet, God is for us and not against us – so we can know He will not use the opportunity for feedback to gaslight us. And, as “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God,” It is a very easy thing and natural thing for Him to search us. The reader of Scripture then can know that all we need to do is ask the Spirit of God to shine His light into our souls, and show us what we’ve left behind as we ponder each ‘season’ of our lives. Even if we cannot readily see how we’ve blessed or mistreated others, He can show us how we truly are. His feedback then allows us to see both the fruitfulness and the thorns. 

Of course, that takes time and intention. One has to be in a particular frame of mind and have a place and space to spend extended time in deeply personal prayer. Yet when we do, we find that He opens our eyes to who we really are with grace and love and tenderheartedness. Those things we’ve been doing well he encourages, and those thing we need to change become clearer. 

We must search our souls about the things that trigger our prayers. What values shape our requests? Are our motives honoring to Christ? To what degree are “earthly treasures” and the “god of mammon” infecting our prayer life? Amid all our worries about our health, finances, family, job, education, and ministry concerns, are we seeking first His kingdom and not our own?

Daniel Henderson & Jim Cymbala

APPLICATION: Intentionality

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Does our past demonstrate that?

The Tree (Matthew 7:16-20)

Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

Trees play an important role in the Scripture. From the tree of the  knowledge  of good and evil in Genesis, to the palm trees of Elim, the cedars of Lebanon, and the rows of the tree of life in Revelation – trees are majestic living parts of creation – past, present and future. From Scripture we learn that trees are meant to be God-given useful blessings to God’s children. And in Scripture, they are also sometimes used as metaphors – because like people, a tree has both life and purpose. 

Both Assyria and Egypt are likened to trees in Ezekiel 31. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is seen as a tree in Daniel 4. Israel is an olive tree in Hosea 14. The righteous anointed are olive trees in Zechariah 4. In Psalm 1, the godly man is likened to a fruitful tree, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Scripture notes that Godly people are a blessing to all who encounter them, just as a good fruitful tree is to all those who come across it. 

Of course, not all trees produce fruit that is helpful to others. Some produce fruit that has poisonous seeds. Some produce fruit that is inedible altogether. Every tree is useful, but not every tree is useful for food. From a distance it is very hard to tell if a particular tree will be helpful to you in your present need. It is only as you get closer that you can recognize if it’ll be useful to you for food or not. 

Some are not helpful for food, but are helpful for shade. Some are helpful for neither, but yet produce wood that is long lasting and particularly useful for structures or furniture. Yet others are covered in thorns, and some are largely useless for anything other than firewood. Jesus used the metaphor of such trees to warn His followers about following false prophets, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Those who study trees can tell them apart just by looking at their shape from afar. The rest of us have to get a bit closer to see what kind of tree it is, but even the most uneducated child can tell the difference between a thornbush and a grapevine, and even those of us who’ve never seen a fig tree can know that it is a fig tree when we see figs on it. 

So it is with people. This is a spiritual truth that cannot be avoided. People can be recognized by their fruit. Those who are given over to selfishness and unkindness leave a trail of hurt behind them. People who are given over to God’s love and His purposes leave a trail of blessing behind them. The godly can say with David, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” The ungodly cannot say that – the fruit that they’ve produced is unkind, foul and reeks of uncleanness. Any who get close can perceive these things, and determine what kind of person they are dealing with. 

Jesus means to teach His followers this highly practical truth. Those who purpose to follow anyone – political leaders, business leaders, social influencers and especially teachers of God’s Word – do well to look into whom they are following. Look at the fruit they’ve left behind. Listen to those who sat under their teaching in the past. Consider the long term reputation they’ve gained for themselves among others in their field. Are they about blessing those who come to them, or are they about taking from those who come to them? Those who’ve consistently yielded good fruit may not be the biggest or the most impressive  when viewed from a distance, but they are worth following. Those who’ve consistently yielded bad fruit must be avoided, even if large crowds follow them. 

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Solomon (from Proverbs 11:25)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What does the trail you’ve left behind you look like? Is it full of goodness and blessing, or  have you left something else as a legacy?

The Wolf (Matthew 7:15)

Photo by Jeroen Bosch on Unsplash

Jesus defined Himself as the good shepherd, and His people as His sheep. A  good  shepherd is most concerned with those under His care. In fact, in John 10 we read Jesus expressing just how far he’ll go to care for His own, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Having such care, and knowing He would not walk with them in the flesh for long, Jesus gives His sheep a warning, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Jesus gives this warning after a lengthy discourse on a right understanding and application of the Law – a discourse where He redefined how the Law ought to be taught. 

Taken in context, what Jesus is now warning His followers about is not limited to those who stand up and say, “Thus says the Lord…” After all, prophesy is not only fore-telling. It is also forth-telling. When a preacher gets up to expound on the Word of God, they are disseminating the Word of God for God’s people. Such must only be done after the preacher has first heard from the Lord. To preach the Word without first hearing from God about and through the Word of God is to put on display one’s own cleverness and wit. That may be very engaging and educational to the spiritually immature, but if it isn’t what God has for that group on that occasion, then it is unhelpful at best. It may grow one’s reputation as a great speaker, but how will it grow His church? It may even grow a large congregation, but how does it further the Name of the Lord, if it isn’t His work? The preacher must be diligent to study the written Word (aka the Law) and to dialogue with God through prayer before daring to get up in front of His people to share what God has for them! To do otherwise is to lead people down the broad road of destruction instead of the narrow road to life, and it is certain to lead to the Lord’s wrath for having misspoke in His Name.

All the same, the responsibility to avoid the wrong path does not rest solely on the shoulders of those who preach and those who shepherd. In telling us to “watch out”, Jesus is saying that congregants also have a role in ensuring they are not being misled. God’s people must be sure to do due diligence. Due diligence before calling an individual to shepherd them, and due diligence to ensure that the shepherd they have over them is not taking speaking pretentiously. For false prophets will come to them in disguise, looking to capitalize on the innocence and willingness of the sheep to follow.

Jesus likens false prophets to a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a monstrous beast pretending to fit in among the innocent. Today that phrase is so commonplace that we tend to overlook the danger it conveys. False prophets are not mere inconveniences or adolescent troublemakers.  They are monsters in disguise. Truly the devil’s handiwork, for “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Like the devil, their inward thoughts and character are not consistent with how they present themselves. They are the very epitome of dishonesty, void of integrity and overflowing with selfishness. Such people are not true shepherds, for they see the sheep only as a means to better themselves. Like wolves among sheep, they will destroy other’s lives to further their own careers and prosperity. Indeed, they do so gleefully, as a wolf is glad to rip apart and consume the unwitting and helpless sheep. 

To that point the wise among the sheep must “watch out”. We must practice wisdom by carefully observing those in spiritual positions over us. This is the hope we have, that Christ allows us a way to spot such wolves before it is too late.

Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.

Charles Spurgeon

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Who are you following? We sharpen our skill in observation and in discernment the same way we sharpen our skills in any discipline; learning from those who are wiser in these matters than us, and by careful and consistent practice.