14th February 2023
Read (Matthew 7v15-29)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
The Christian preacher John Owen once said "The rule and method of the gospel is, that the tree be first made good, and then the fruit will be so also." Do you see his point? Good works don't make us good only the Gospel can do that. The Gospel is preached, the Spirit causes us to be born again and then we freely call upon Christ and are saved. The tree is first made good and then good fruit follows.
John Owen wasn't the first to promote such teaching. Jesus warned His followers of false prophets who would come among them acting like sheep in an attempt to hide the fact that were really ravenous wolves (v15). How can we recognise such wolves among the people of God? Jesus says you will recognise them from the fruit they display.
We have already discussed that judging the actions of others is not off limits to the Christian and so if someone comes among us displaying bad fruit then we have every right to question the legitimacy of that person's faith. We must admit that every Christian is a sinner saved by grace and every Christian is at the same time justified and sinful. But with that stated we must guard the church against those who pretend to be saved but in reality are unrepentant wolves.
Diseased trees bear bad fruit (v17) and ultimately every bad tree will be cut down and thrown into the fire of judgement (v19). Therefore we must be discerning about who walks through the doors of a local fellowship. This isn't a call to remove everyone from our fellowship who we don't like and it isn't an excuse to refuse mercy to a Christian who has messed up. Instead we are to be wise, discerning and we are to consider the fruit that is on display from those around us.
Consider two imagined examples.
Think of Martha. She attends church every week but everyone knows that Martha delights in gossip and if you cross her then you will face her wrath. She hasn't spoken to some members for years and had major arguments with at least two former ministers, one of whom was clear that he left the church after Martha's persistent opposition. Martha's behaviour has caused several others to leave and one woman was reduced to tears after Martha tore strips off her because the harvest display didn't meet Martha's standards. People say "That's just Martha. She's always been like that. Just ignore her." But is that good enough? How should we respond to the bad fruit that has been evident in Martha's life for generations?
Think of William. He served on the church committee for twenty years and successfully stopped every initiative that he didn't like. He didn't do this by debate and reasoned discussion, he did it by threat and by striking fear into his fellow committee members. William's younger brother left committee to avoid any confrontation with his older sibling and at one particularly tense meeting William made a threat to speak to his solicitor. Eventually William became an elder and after several disagreements with the new minister told him "I'll make you regret this." What does the persistent bad fruit in William's life tell us?
We must be wise in this wicked age. Christ is clear that not everyone who says to Him "Lord, Lord" will enter heaven (v21). There will be many who on the last day will tell the Lord that they did extraordinary things in the name of Christ (v22), but amazingly Jesus will tell them "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." (v23). Again I'm not saying that we denounce everyone who has ever made a mistake but persistent rotten fruit could well suggest that there is a wolf among the flock. Sadly the mistake of the modern church is to tolerate wolves and allow them free reign in the sheep pen.
The sermon on the mount is extraordinary and worth studying for the rest of our lives. Christ teaches us as One with true authority (v29) and therefore we must listen to and act on what our Lord commands.
Hearing Jesus and doing what He says makes us like the wise man whose home was built securely on the rock (v24). No storm can shake the Christian from such firm foundations (v25). Others who reject the teaching of Jesus are like a fool who builds on the beach (v26). The foundations are not secure and when the inevitable storm comes they will be swept away (v27).
Brothers and sisters, may we heed the sermon on the mount and may we bear good fruit in keeping with our repentance. May we be charitable to those who stumble and a challenge to those who are ravenous wolves. Christ is coming again and blessed are all of those whose feet are planted firmly on the rock.
Q76 Which is the ninth commandment? The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.