Examining our Motives
1. “Judge not, that you be not judged.
2. For in what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and in what measure you measure, it shall be measured back to you.
3. And why dost thou look at the bit of straw in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam in thine own eye?
4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Permit [me] to cast out the bit of straw from thine eye, and behold, the beam [is] in thine own eye?
5. Hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt look carefully to cast out the bit of straw out of thy brother’s eye.
6. Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast your pearls in front of swine, lest they trample them by their feet, and turning, tear you.
7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
8. For everyone that asks, receives; and he that seeks, finds; and to him that knocks, it shall be opened.
9. Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask [for] bread, will give him a stone?
10. And if he ask [for] a fish, will he give [him] a serpent?
11. If you then, being wicked, know [how] to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father that [is] in the heavens give good [things] to those that ask Him?
12. Therefore all things whatsoever you will that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.
13. Enter ye in through the tight gate, for wide [is] the gate and broad [is] the way that leads away into destruction, and there are many who come in through it,
14. Because tight [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way that leads into life, and there are few who find it.
15. And beware ye of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s raiment, but inside they are rapacious wolves.
16. From their fruits you shall know them. Do [men] collect grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?
17. So every good tree makes good fruits; but a rotten tree makes bad fruits.
18. A good tree cannot make bad fruits; neither [can] a rotten tree make good fruits.
19. Every tree not making good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.
20. Therefore from their fruits you shall know them.”
The previous episode ended with the words, “sufficient unto the day is its own evil.” These words remind us that there is nothing more important than examining the hidden evils in our own lives, investigating our own motives, and determining to what extent we are putting God first. This is absolutely essential if we ever hope to do good towards the neighbor that truly is good. In other words, in order to do good we must first examine our deeper motives and ask God to remove any evil, selfish inclinations that might still be in our heart. This is a daily process, even moment to moment, identifying and removing one selfish inclination at a time.
If, for example, we have been highly critical of others, we are taught to examine this aspect of our nature: “Judge not, that you be not judged,” says Jesus. “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged” (7:1-2). This does not mean that we are never to make any judgments at all, for in order for society to survive, civil and moral judgments must be made. Personnel managers must decide whether a particular individual is more or less qualified for a job; physicians must decide whether or not to perform a life threatening operation; referees must make decisions about the games at which they officiate; judges must make decisions that are consistent with the law. Judgments of this nature must be made continually in order for society to properly function.
What then does Jesus mean when He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged”? He means that we should not make spiritual judgments about people. We should be most cautious when it comes to assessing the motives and intentions of others. We really cannot see into another person’s soul; therefore we do not know what drives a person, what anyone’s motivations are, or what reasons lurk behind a person’s external words and actions. Because all of this is in the realm of the spirit, we are forbidden to make judgments about anyone’s deeper motivations or essential character. 1
We are, however, strongly encouraged to judge our own motives and intentions. This is why Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank that is in your own eye? . . . Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (7:3, 5). Self-examination, as we shall see, is the key to spiritual growth. To the extent that we examine and remove evils from ourselves, we open the way for good to flow in from God.
But the process of examining ourselves, identifying evils and overcoming them, requires prayer to God for the light and the will to do so: “Ask, and it will be given you,” says Jesus. “Seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened” (7:7). Jesus’ words are filled with assurance: “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (7:8).
As the sermon continues, Jesus offers several keys for how we can go about examining our motives and intentions. Perhaps the most famous and the most widely practiced of all is the golden rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12). This universal principle of self-examination applies to all people, in all faiths, at all times. It calls us to ask ourselves, “Would you want someone to do to you what you are about to do to them?” If the answer is “no,” we should not do it. If the answer is “yes,” we should do it.
But even though the golden rule is a universal principle, it can also be a “narrow path” if we rarely walk it. If we choose instead to walk the pathway of self-indulgence and harsh judgment of others, the more we walk that pathway, the broader it becomes.
Therefore, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (7:13-14). Jesus knows that the pathway of careful self-examination and consideration of others is a narrow one. It is not well-trodden, simply because people have not walked it very often. Even so, it is the way that leads to the fullest life.
As the process of self-examination deepens, we must be especially aware of our tendency to use scripture to promote our own selfish ends. Jesus therefore warns us to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (7:15). “False prophets” are our own tendencies to use sacred scripture (“sheep’s clothing”) as a way of achieving selfish ambitions (“inwardly they are ravenous wolves”). As long as we have self-serving ulterior motives, nothing truly good can be produced. Bushes that produce “thistles” and “thorns” symbolize the barrenness of actions that have self-interest within them — the empty, fruitless efforts to appear righteous in the eyes of others, while inwardly there is no righteousness at all. As Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits; do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” (7:16).
None of us, no matter how often we read or quote scripture, is on the path that leads to life until we begin to serve others from a truly spiritual motive. Service to others and faith in God must not be separated. For example, there are many contemplative paths that focus on prayer, meditation, study, and reflection. While these faith-oriented disciplines are vitally important, they must also include useful service. If not, they are incomplete.
Similarly, there are many paths that emphasize charity and good will. These service-oriented disciplines focus on saving the environment, establishing schools, providing homeless shelters, feeding the hungry, helping the handicapped, and caring for the poor and needy around the world. These works of outward compassion are vitally important, but if they are not motivated by a genuine love for the neighbor, they have little actual good in them. In fact, they can become another form in which the ravenous wolf (desire to be appreciated, rewarded, and esteemed) disguises itself in sheep’s clothing (doing external good works for others).
Whether we tend towards the path of contemplation or the path of service, the narrow path should not be neglected, for it is at the heart of both approaches. It reminds us to stay spiritually awake and to be conscious of what is arising in our inner world. It calls us to first of all look to God in His Word, shunning evils as sins against Him (faith-oriented disciplines), and then looks outward towards the neighbor, striving to see and serve God in everyone (service-oriented disciplines). If our works are to be truly good and our service efforts are to bear noble fruit, they must flow from our highest intentions. These are the finer instincts and nobler promptings of a heart that is being cleansed through self-examination in the light of God’s commandments. 2
Whenever we carefully and honestly examine our motives, praying to God to help us remove every selfish desire and false thought, we open a way for God to work in and through us. It is at this point that our “good” works become truly good: “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit . . . a good tree cannot bear bad fruit” (7:17-18). But if we avoid the hard work of self-examination (the narrow path) we never get around to rooting out the selfish desires that will contaminate every good work that we do. In that case, the fruit of our outwardly good works will not be good, since the root of the tree is corrupt: “A bad tree bears bad fruit” (7:19).
Unless we choose the narrow path, continually rooting out and eliminating all forms of selfish concern, we will not be able to produce good fruit. As a result, we will be increasingly consumed by the flames of selfish desire: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (7:19).
In the end, the only thing that counts is our sincere desire to rise above selfish concerns so that our motives may be as pure as possible. That is why this section begins with an exhortation to first remove the plank from our own eye. When the plank of self-interest is removed, we see clearly how we can help others in the most useful and loving ways — ways that are devoid of ego concerns. Whenever this happens, we produce fruit that is truly good. This, then, is what Jesus means when He says, “By their fruits you will know them” (7:20).
Doing the Will of the Father
21. “Not everyone that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but he that does the will of My Father that [is] in the heavens.
22. Many shall say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out demons, and in Thy name done many [works of] power?
23. And then I will profess to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you that work iniquity.
24. Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a prudent man, who built his house on the rock.
25. And the rain descended, and the rivers came, and the winds blew, and they fell upon that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
26. And everyone that hears these words of Mine, and does them not, shall be likened to a foolish man, who built his house on the sand.
27. And the rain descended, and the rivers came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell, and the fall of it was great.
28. And it came to pass when Jesus had ended these words, the crowds wondered at His teaching.
29. For He was teaching them as [One] having authority, and not as the scribes.”
As mentioned in the previous section, a contemplative life, however prayerful and pious, without good works, is useless. Similarly an active life, filled with external good works, without first identifying and shunning our evils, is also useless. Both the extremely pious and the strenuously service-oriented may believe they are serving God and doing their best. But Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (7:21).
To do the will of the Father is to keep the commandments; it is the foundation and basis of everything else. 3
Without first keeping the commandments, nothing else really matters. Even if we cast out demons and do wonders, it will not help. As Jesus says “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’” (7:22). In other words, each of us is called to do the deeper work of self-examination. This involves identifying evils within ourselves and shunning them as sins against God. But if we do not obey the fundamental laws of spiritual life, which include shunning the evils of murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and coveting, we cannot claim to be followers of God. Therefore Jesus will say to us, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (7:23).
The spiritual teaching given throughout this chapter is quite clear: just to the extent that we shun evils in ourselves as sins against God, the good that we do is truly good. This is what it means to do the will of God. It is not complicated. Just keep the commandments, and pray for the power to do so.
Whoever does this is like “a wise man who built his house upon a rock.” And who ever does not do this is like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. When the storms came, the house of the foolish man, built on the shifting sands of human opinion, did not stand. But the house which was built upon the rock — faith in the Lord and a life according to His teachings — was able to withstand the most violent storms of life. As Jesus says, “The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (7:25).
In the stormy setbacks of life — represented by the rain, the floods, and the wind beating upon the house — our true motives are exposed. During these moments we can freely choose to turn to God, asking Him to help us cleanse our heart from every self-serving desire. And when we do so, the rains cease, the floods subside, and the winds die down.
As the storm clouds pass, and the sun begins to shine, peace returns and joy arises. It is then that we realize that God has been with us all along, helping us to remove evil and inspiring us to do good. In these “after-the-storm” states, we understand, more and more deeply, that God is always there, calmly leading and instructing, offering the truth that will keep us rock-solid, even in the midst of the most turbulent emotional storms.
This awareness does not come merely by hearing the truth; rather, it is a result of living the truth. Therefore Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a wonderful promise and a firm warning. First the promise: “Everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken to a wise man who built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house, and it did not fall, for it was founded upon a rock” (7:24). And then comes the warning: “Everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them, I will liken to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house, and it fell. And great was its fall” (7:27).
This was the powerful ending of what has come to be known as “the Sermon on the Mount.” It is significant that Jesus gave this sermon on a “rock” (a mountain), the most enduring symbol on earth of an immoveable, unshakeable faith.
As Jesus concluded the sermon, “the crowds wondered at His words” (7:28). That’s because “He taught them as one having authority, not like the scribes” (7:29). Jesus’ words were filled with power. He spoke with a kind of authority that was unlike anything they had heard before; it was certainly unlike anything they had heard from other religious leaders. It’s easy to imagine them thinking, Who is this man? Where did he come from? And where did he get this knowledge?
This will become the leading question throughout the rest of this gospel. Who is Jesus?