A Study in Matthew 7.13-29
The previous verses dealt with unloving judgment of our brothers and sisters in Christ and with our relationship to God. Judgment may be good if not injuring another's reputation. We may use our judgment in selecting for a particular job. Sound judgment is required in our choice of close friends and in the use of time. These things demand that we seek God's will to reach a decision through the Holy Spirit. Now we examine briefly relationships believers and unbelievers, to false believers to our Lord Himself.
Verses 13-14 discuss the 'Narrow Gate' or door that opens up to us the Narrow Way. The AV uses the word 'strait' that translates from the Greek word 'thlibo'. Vine refers this word to a narrow gorge, hemmed in by rocks. Elsewhere it has been translated affliction or persecution, as pressure coming from without. It can even describe the pressure of the crowd as Mark 3.9 speaks of Jesus being in danger of the 'crush'. So where does the pressure come from in the gate and the way? It may come from the world but that is under God's control.
Not everyone recognises the need for a Christian to take a specific course that is very different from the world's way. It is not everyone who has an opportunity to discover the Narrow Gate. In any event most men and women would rather take the easier way in life. They do not want, nor can they see the purpose in, the discipline that Christ demands from a disciple. The Narrow Way is for those who follow Jesus in total self- surrender. It is for those who are prepared to give up what comes naturally. They will take the trouble to discover what God wants them to do and then do it. Jesus warned His disciples as He approached the Cross that they too must be prepared to deny self and take a similar course to Himself. But God's will does not always imply physical suffering. Various followers of Jesus may have quite different experiences. This was clear from what Jesus said to Peter when they met in Galilee after the Resurrection. Peter asked Jesus "What shall this man do?' Jesus, in effect, told Peter to mind his own business. There was an interesting contrast between the two brothers James and John. James was one of the earliest martyrs but John lived to the end of the century. Many followers of Jesus have suffered at the hands of all kinds of people including some who claimed to be doing God's will when they tortured and killed fellow Christians. Others lived long active unhindered lives, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ The common factor among all who enter the 'Strait Gate' and travel the Narrow Way is that they follow the way that God, in His wisdom, marks out for them. He chooses the experiences and provides the needed grace to do what He wants. Even so, there are relatively few that give up all that they naturally would want to do in order to walk with Him. God reveals Himself and His purpose sufficiently for each one who passes that way. Knowledge is not the key to the Narrow Gate. Verses 15-20. There are some who appear to be on the Narrow Way that leads to life but who are there by false pretences. They claim to be 'prophets', God's servants. It is important that God's children should recognise and avoid them. Such allow themselves to be deluded into becoming servants of Satan and enemies of God and His people. It is for those who follow Jesus to be guided by God's Spirit and clearly recognise those who are not mellowing in their Christian growth and do not produce the fruit of righteousness. Such are not real branches of the Vine. They are not living in Christ and cannot bear the fruit of the Spirit. It has always been so among God's people if we look through their history in the Old Testament. Hypocrisy and arrogance mark their character growth and selfishness is the fruit of their lives.
In verses 21-23.we come to our relationship to the Lord in doing His work and in obedience to Him. Firstly, we need to discover what he wants us to do. The Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that we are to do good works when it exhorts us to "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify God." (Matt.5.14-16). It is so easy to get excited when our own plans appear to work out right and we apparently accomplish much for Him. We get excited too in the Scriptures and discover a teaching that had never been clearly before. But what has that teaching done for our Christian life? Has it brought us nearer to the Lord and made us become more like Him. Do our brethren, friends and neighbours see a difference in our behaviour as a result of the 'new revelation'. If so, we have gained mightily and can give thanks to our Father in Heaven.
We may do many wonderful things in Christ's name but doing what God wants us to do is really the key to becoming like Him in thought, word and action. It is possible to 'enjoy' our privileges in Christ but not come to know the Lord, as He tells us in this chapter (v 23). In fact those that accomplish so much yet are not doing God's will, are classified as 'evil doers'. Jesus told His listeners in the first century that those who heard His Word and did not obey it were like a man who built his house upon a poor foundation. The foundations are the part of the house that we don't normally see and may not be aware of them. But this is not a story of two foundations, but a story of two builders. Matthew tells us that the wise man placed his foundation upon rock and the foolish man built his on sand. However Luke records for us that the unreliable building had no foundation at all. (Luke 6.46-49). Travellers tell us that this scenario actually occurred in the Jordan flood plain. In Summer the river would dry up to leave a broad expanse of shore upon which a strange to the place who was unfamiliar with he River Jordan, might actually build a hut on the soft ground, ignorant that the area would be flooded in winter. The fabric of the house is like the fabric of religion ‑ a good outward show perhaps but of no 3
serious consequence in the storms of life. Paul said something about the building process in the Christian life when he wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor.3.10) "…like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Christ Jesus." Outward religion is a shell concealing what is not good inside. It is so important that we are not just hearers of the Word but doers. Young and old, we are building day by day and we build well if we not only hear or read what Jesus says but take His instructions to heart, making sure that they become an integral part of our lives. Our human nature is so used to having its own way, and we are so ready to tear off and do something without proper reference to the Lord. Over the years and the centuries, many times God's people have 'learned half the story'; they have seized upon some isolated text or found some 'undiscovered truth' and acted impulsively to accomplish a great work. Doing God's will demands long hours in prayer and meditation so that the Lord can work upon our consciousness and convict us of what He wants us to understand. As we contrast scripture with scripture, and as we compare what the Word is actually saying in context, the real light dawns and we are aware that other Spirit-filled believers have come to the same conclusion about God's will.
Jesus, and His servants who wrote for the Early Church, had in the nature of their task to enunciate principles and give examples appropriate for the time and place to which they were writing and speaking. That fact does not provide us with an excuse to go off and 'do our own thing'. It does, however make us look carefully at what was said and written so that we understand the great principles of the Holy Word and make sure that they are really behind all that we say and do. Long years of deep spiritual thinking with the Lord in prayer, should make it possible for mature brethren to come to right conclusions. They may not at first totally agree with each other but they will discover enough of the Christian Path to proceed cautiously until the Lord makes His purpose clearer. Such can also be the experience of those who unavoidably travel a more lonely experience. The key is 'waiting on the Lord', praising Him for the way He has led us till now and trusting Him whatever the outward circumstance may appear to be. But we must lift up our hearts in praise, in appreciation for what He continues to do, counting our blessings as the days and years pass swiftly by, assured that He does know our plight and is really only waiting to be gracious ‑ full of His grace.- His faithful love.