Monday, July 12, 2010

Matthew 7:24-27 - "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine..."

To recap, back in verse 13 Jesus began by warning us that there is a narrow path that leads to the narrow gate of life, and few are those who find it. From there he warns us about the false prophets who will seek to lead us astray to the broad path of destruction. We can identify them by observing whether they bear good or bad fruit in their lives. Many of these false prophets will be so convincing, they will even perform apostolic signs and wonders like healings, prophesying, and casting out demons, but it's important to remember that on the Day of Judgment they will be judged by whether they did the will of the Father, not by these impressive displays. Finally, we come to our current passage in which Jesus instructs us how best to stay on the narrow path and avoid being led astray by false prophets. We must take care to act upon his words and not just passively listen to them.

Jesus says the difference between hearing and acting upon his words, versus only hearing them, is the difference between survival and destruction, between a house built on solid rock and a house built on collapsing sand. To me this is a frightening warning because it is not easy to tell the difference between one way of living and the other. The fact is, much of our modern Christian activity revolves around hearing the word and maybe even talking about the word, but not so much around acting upon it. Going to church, singing praise songs, listening to the sermon, then fellowshipping afterward are all activities that fall into the hearing/talking category. None of it necessarily involves doing any of the things Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. Actually, a Christian who just shows up at church regularly to worship and fellowship is usually considered to be one of the more mature members of the congregation. And sadly, since so few churches even preach and teach Jesus' word to begin with, a Christian who simply chooses to attend a Bible-believing church in the first place is commended on the basis of that alone.

What I'm saying is, when you get right down to it and analyze your own activity as a Christian, you realize that you can rack up plenty of brownie points in the eyes of other Christians for doing a whole lot of nothing. I love singing praises to God, especially when the music is inspiring. I love hearing an uplifting sermon and thinking deep thoughts after God. I love talking with other Christians and finding out what's going on in their lives. It seems like I'm doing well. Other Christians will tell me I'm doing well. Up to this point it all feels really good.

But here's what I don't like. As soon as the rubber hits the road and I have to obey Jesus' direct teaching, the good feelings stop. For instance, tithing when the budget is tight ("Do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink..."). Forgiving the people who have hurt me and, as far as I'm concerned, will continue to hurt me in the future ("But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions"). Serving and sacrificing for people who seem to take advantage of me ("Love your enemies"). Taking time with the children when I have pressing things I need to do ("However you want people to treat you, so treat them...").

As soon as you actually have to be a doer of the word and not merely a hearer, life starts to suck. First you are blocked by your own unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifice. Then even if you manage to push beyond your feelings of revulsion, you feel like a half-hearted hypocrite even while you're obeying Jesus' command. Giving away badly needed money. Forgiving undeserving people. Serving the ungrateful. Meeting the petty demands of little kids. These things are so far removed from the romantic feelings I experienced at church when I heard that powerful sermon or sang that inspiring worship song. All the feelings that come with being a passive listener are uplifting and beautiful. All the feelings that come with being an active doer are mixed with bitterness, frustration, and a keen sense of personal failure.

Welcome to the Christian life. You can see why Jesus gives such a stern warning about the difference between hearing and doing. Hearing is fun, doing is not. You can spend your entire life as a Christian being a great non-doer: going to a Bible-believing church and talking lot of spiritual talk and cranking up the CCM in your car and taking on a leadership position so you can go to all the important church meetings and do more hearing and talking. It's so frighteningly easy to feel like you're doing so much and not actually do any of the things Jesus has specifically asked of you.

What's even more frightening is that the wake-up call might not come until it's too late. The building has already been built up so high for so many years on the sandy foundation, you don't realize it's coming down with a crash as soon as rain, wind and floodwaters arrive. We know this in our heads, but the feel-good Christianity we're addicted to naturally carries us away from the responsible work of building on the rock.

I can only conclude from everything Jesus has talked about in the Sermon on the Mount that being a true follower of Jesus does not make you feel good at all. The personal sin, selfishness, bitterness and anger you have to overcome just to obey these commands is daunting enough, not to mention the abuse, manipulation and ingratitude you open yourself up to once you start reaching out to others in this way. I keep coming back to what Jesus said in verse 13. There's a reason why the path to life is narrow and so little trodden.

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