A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:1-12. A Christian’s relationships: to his brother and his father.
Matthew 7 consists of a number of apparently self-contained paragraphs. Their link with each other is not obvious. Nor does the chapter as a whole follow on from the previous chapter with any clear sequence of thought. Many commentators conclude, therefore, that originally these blocks of material belonged to different contexts, that Matthew himself assembled them, and that he perhaps did his ‘scissors and paste’ work a trifle clumsily. But it is not necessary to reach this conclusion. The connecting thread which runs through the chapter, however loosely, is that of relationships. It would seem quite logical that, having described a Christian’s character, influence, righteousness, piety and ambition, Jesus should concentrate finally on his relationships. For the Christian counter-culture is not an individualistic but a community affair, and relations both within the community and between the community and others are of paramount importance. So some account is given in Matthew 7 of the network of relationships into which, as the followers of Jesus, we are drawn. These might be set out as follows:
1. to our brother in whose eye we may discern a splinter, and whom we have a responsibility to help, not judge (1-5).
2. to a group startlingly designated ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’. They are people all right, but such is their animal nature that we are told not to share God’s gospel with them (6).
3. to our heavenly Father to whom we come in prayer, confident that he will give us nothing but ‘good things’ (7-11).
4. to everybody in general: the Golden Rule should guide our attitude and behaviour towards them (12).
5. to our fellow pilgrims who walk with us along the narrow way (13-14).
6. to false prophets, whom we are to recognise and of whom we are to beware (15-20).
7. to Jesus our Lord whose teaching we are committed to heed and obey (21-27).
1. Our attitude to our brother (1-5).
Jesus does not anticipate that the Christian community will be perfect. On the contrary, he assumes that there will be misdemeanours and that these will give rise to tensions, to problems of relationships. In particular, how should a Christian behave towards a fellow member who has misbehaved? Has Jesus any instructions about discipline within his community? Yes, in such a situation he forbids two alternatives, and then commends a third, a better, a more ‘Christian’ way.
a. The Christian is not to be a judge (1,2). Jesus’ words *Judge not, that you be not judged* are well known but much misunderstood. To begin with we must reject Tolstoy’s belief, based on this verse, that ‘Christ totally forbids the human institution of any law court’, and that he ‘could mean nothing else by those words’. But Jesus’ prohibition cannot possibly mean the one thing Tolstoy says it must mean, for the context does not refer to judges in counts of law but rather to the responsibility of individuals to one another.
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:1, 2. a). The Christian is not to be judge
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.