Sunday 2 October – Matthew 7

Tree with ripe mandarins
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit…

Matthew 7 from The Open Bible

13. Take the narrow gate, for wide, and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and there are many who go along there.
14. But the gate is tight, and the way is narrow which leads to life, and there are few people who find it.
15. Beware of false-prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are greedy wolves.
16. You will know them by the fruits they bear. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?
17. Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a diseased tree bears diseased fruit.

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13. “Take the narrow gate…” Jesus is the Person giving this sermon and He is the One here who directs His listeners to take “the narrow gate”. It is always easier to follow the crowd, to “go with the flow”, but Jesus here reminds us that doing this often leads to destruction. Conversely, doing the right thing might seem difficult, lonely, like walking on a steep hill, but this is what will lead to life. Spiritually speaking, there is no “safety in numbers”. If ever we would be tempted to think “everyone else can’t be wrong” – this verse shows differently. Everyone CAN be wrong.

“Wide and broad is the path that leads to destruction” – I can’t help feeling that this is as true in the modern church as outside it. There seem to be many popular principles or concepts or ideas – or leaders that people congregate around in our modern churches with a lot of noise and hype. And yet, many of these ideas – or leaders – to me seem to be spiritually unsound. In fact, I have developed a slightly cynical theory that whenever you suddenly hear lots of people coming together and shouting about how awesome someone or something is, you can almost be certain that there is great error to be found there. What about Jesus? Yes, people shouted about Him, but from the start negative reports were mixed in with positive ones. I’m talking about when something or someone receives unqualified positivity. As soon as people start shouting, I just know. On the other hand, where people are genuinely of God or from Him, because they know the path to life is difficult, in pointing you along the path to truth, they might ask you to do difficult things. They might challenge you to take decisions that will make you unpopular with your friends, or challenge your long-cherished dreams for your future, or the comfort or convenience of your life. Jesus challenged the rich young man to sell all his possessions to give to the poor. It is never going to be as easy to shout about things that challenge us. This is why, in my thinking, truth is rarely to be found where there is lots of hype.

Jesus says here that “there are few who find it”. This to me suggests that the correct thing to do, the thing that pleases God, the path that leads to life is not always going to be the obvious option or the first thing that we think of. I believe that to work out what is truly the correct course of action or plan to take, we sometimes have to stop, take time to think, reflect, pray to make sure that we are not being driven by our own emotions or other people’s opinions, and TRULY read the word of God, listen to God.

I think that even as church-going christians, if we want to find the narrow gate of life, we have to learn to drown out the noise of all that is going on around us, and everything that is promoted in the name of Christ and God, and come to God in prayer and the Bible as our source for what truly IS of God. For all we know, everyone around us might be running down the fat wide path straight to destruction – even Christians! Do we want to join them? Is it not our responsibility not only to find that path of truth ourselves, but also to draw people to the correct path of truth? Do we like the thought that even some of the smiling faces we sit next to every week in church are merrily dancing straight towards hell? If you like it, if you are comfortable with that thought, then I am not. By God’s grace and power, I want to do everything in my own power to make sure that I myself find that narrow path and stay on it, and that I direct as many people as I can onto the narrow path, so that we can find life and joy and peace together.

15. Beware of false-prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are greedy wolves.
If this was true in the time of Jesus, then could it not also be true now? Not everyone who claims to be a pastor, or a teacher, or a leader is truly working for the sake of Christ. These people look innocent. They look like sheep. However, on the inside they are greedy – in terms of very hungry – wolves. They have not come to serve you, to build you up, to patiently point you towards the way of Christ, but rather to eat you up. So to combine this with the previous verses about the narrow gate – a “pastor” or leader could come with a large following. That does not mean that that pastor is truly acting for God. These people could be heading down the broad path to destruction, as many people called “Christians” surely are. This “pastor” could be a greedy wolf wanting to exploit the people under him, not caring that he is leading them all to hell. So…..just because a pastor or a leader has amassed a large number of “followers”, this does not mean that whatever they teach about X can just be accepted. Having a large church is not necessarily a sign of a ministry that God has “blessed”. Often, it is rather the sign of a large number of people who are encouraging one another in self-delusion.

So how can we tell the difference between true leaders and false leaders? Jesus tells us that “You will know them by the fruits they bear.” A good tree cannot bear bad fruit…. So if we have good leaders on one side and bad leaders on the other, to tell the difference we have to carefully assess the fruits of what they say, their behaviour, the people that are under their ministry, or that their ministry has produced. Because it can sometimes seem hard to tell the difference, this is why we have to look, and watch, and assess carefully. Galatians 5v22-23 gives us the Fruit that we can expect to see produced by the true Spirit of God. Sometimes people can pretend, but over time, true character will come out. So the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If a Christian leader has just come from no where, and is drawing people with charisma, look out for these fruits. We know that charisma in itself is not bad, as Jesus Himself demonstrated a high degree of charisma. However, it is not part of the fruit of the Spirit. Look at the church – is this a church where character is promoted and celebrated above all else? Listen to the attitude of the pastor. That is, listen not to what he says, but how he says it. What can you hear? How does he talk about himself? Is God the central personality in his life? In the church? How much does he talk about himself compared to how much he talks about God? Does he pour out in every way a selfless desire to promote the work of God and the truth of God? If so, then this is an excellent pastor. Look also at the people coming from that church. Do they pour out in every breath a desperate desire to know God and to live for Him? This is a great thing, these are great fruits. 😉

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PHOTO CREDITS
Photo of mandarin tree with ripe fruits by Unsplash on Pixabay
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