Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:1-12
A Heart For OthersRev. Philip Miller | July 10, 2022
Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:1-12
Selected highlights from this sermon
What kind of heart treats others rightly? Looking at Matthew 7:1–12, Pastor Miller walks us step-by-step through this complex passage where Jesus explains how we are to treat others.
If you want a heart for others, let the grace of God flood into your life and wash all the self-righteous entitlement and ego away until there’s nothing left but a poor, abject sinner beating his breast crying out to God, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner!”
And in your helplessness, you’ll discover how supremely helpful you are to the helpless hearts around you. For in your gentle, lowly, and humble heart, others will sense the presence of Christ through your story of amazing grace.
Today we come to one of the most difficult sections to preach in all of the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s not the content that’s particularly difficult. It’s pretty straightforward. It is the connections that are hard to find. They’re somewhat unclear, so scholars will point out how brilliantly interconnected and interwoven the themes and rhetoric are throughout the Sermon on the Mount, but many scholars, when they come to this section, sort of throw up their hands in frustration and go, “I don’t know what Jesus is doing here.” It feels like a cluster of disjointed pithy sayings without a unifying message.
Let me show you. Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Matthew 7, verses 1 to 12 this morning, Page 812 if you want to use the pew Bible. Listen to these words. You’ll see their point.
Matthew 7, verse 1: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how do you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and they you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
“Do not give dog what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn and attack you.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
(Chuckles) You see their point. Right? These verses seem like a random collection of Jesus’ wisdom sort of cobbled together, like He was running over in His sermon. He looked down at His watch. “Oh goodness, look at the time. You know I had all this stuff to cover. Well, I’ll just give you the high points, and then we’ll pray, and then I’ll go and be the church.” You know, that sort of...It feels like that’s what maybe He’s doing, but it won’t surprise you...but I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing at all. I don’t think this is random at all. I don’t think it’s disjointed at all. It does take some pondering and reflection, but I hope to show you today what I believe Jesus is doing as He purposely arranges these interrelated truths to form an overarching, united message. And I think there’s evidence that all these elements are interconnected down in verse 12.
You’ll notice that the final phrase that we read reads like this. “So whatever you wish others would do to you, do also to them.” So whatever you wish others would do to you, you do also to them. The word is “so.” So, whatever you wish...Right? “So.” It’s a concluding word. It’s a summary word. He’s wrapping up an argument here. The preceding verses have been building and leading up to this final statement, “So whatever you wish others would do to you, do also to them...” This sums up the Law and the Prophets. So this passage is concluding with an ethic of treating other people the way you would want to be treated. And everything here is building toward that point.
So here’s my thesis. Okay? What if everything in this passage is about how we are to treat other people? What if everything in this passage is about how we are to treat other people? I want to show you that Jesus is identifying in this passage two radically different ways of treatimg others, which flow from two radically different hearts that we can have. There’s the self-righteous heart of the Pharisees that can’t help but treat people a certain kind of way. And there’s the kingdom-heart that is in God’s grace ours that can’t help but treat people a totally different sort of way. And once again, Jesus is pitting two worlds, the Pharisees and its teaching: the way of the Pharisees and the way of the kingdom of heaven. He’s pitting them against each other, just like He sounds throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount. “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you.” He’s doing it again. And, as always, Jesus focuses—laser-focused—in on our hearts, because actions flow from the heart, and a good tree bears good fruit. Right? A good tree bears good fruit.
So what kind of heart treats other people rightly? That’s the question. What kind of heart treats other people rightly? We’re going to see three hearts this morning. Really two, but I’m going to press it into three. Okay?
- The Heart of Unhelpfulness
- The Heart of Helpfulness, and
- The Heart of Helplessness
Okay? The Heart of Unhelpfulness, The Heart of Helpfulness, and The Heart of Helplessness. Isn’t that good? I worked so hard on that. (laughter) Just kidding. All right. You don’t have to clap for that. Okay, let’s pray and we’ll jump in. Okay? Let’s pray.
Father, we invite You to do some heart surgery this morning. None of us are very good at dealing with other people. Oh, our friends, they’re easy to get along with. It’s the other people we have trouble with, so help us we pray. Give us a new heart, a new life, alive in the kingdom of heaven by the power of Jesus as your Spirit indwells us and leads us. Help us this morning. In Christ’s name, Amen. Amen.
First the Heart of Unhelpfulness, the Heart of Unhelpfulness! When it comes to other people we don’t need a lot of help with people who are easy to get along with. Right? Those people are easy. Anybody can deal with their friends. It’s the people that are difficult that cause us trouble. Right? It’s the people who try our patience, the people who get on our nerves, the people we just don’t get. Right? We just don’t get ‘em.
You know the people I’m talking about, the people who vote for the party you can’t stand, the people who don’t see life your way at all, the people who live in a way that is contrary to all the values you hold dear. Those people! How do you interact with those people? Some approaches are simply unhelpful.
Chapter 7, verse 1: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
The word “judge” here has connotations of condemnation, of blaming and shaming and ostracizing people. This is such a routine part of our world, isn’t it? If we think somebody’s out of line, we make sure they know it. Right? We have the glare. We have the eye roll. We have sighs of derision. (sighs)
We ignore people. We snub people. We give people the cold shoulder. We make them sleep in the dog house. Right? We push. We punish. We reject people. We unfriend them on social media. As a culture we even have a word. We “cancel” them when we don’t like them.
In Ancient Greece, if you offended a member of the community, they would vote as a community. They’d come together and they would vote whether you got to stay in the community or not. And if you lost the vote, they would write a sentence of banishment on a piece of pottery, earthenware, called an ostracon, or an “ostraca.” They would give it to you and you had to leave. You were banished. You were ostracized from the community. And the Pharisees were masters of this sort of social, in and out, shame, honor culture. They had clear lines of who was on the inside and who was on the outside. On the inside you have the scribes, the Pharisees, the righteous people, you know. They were on the “in,” and on the outside sinners, tax collectors, Gentiles, Samaritans—those people!
And in a million subtle and not-so-subtle ways, they made sure you knew which group you were in. “Thank God, I’m not like this sinner.” Right? And Jesus says, “My followers are not to be doing this kind of stuff.” Don’t go around condemning people, shaming them, rejecting them, banishing them, ostracizing them. Oh, it might make you feel better. You’ve got to make your point, like you’re just going to lose the influence you have in that relationship, and in the end, it’ll rebound in your face. If you judge them, they’re going to turn around and judge you right back. If you condemn them, if that’s the measure you’re using, they’re going to lash back and condemn you in turn; it’ll get measured right back at you.” Because condemnation, friends, provokes counter-condemnation, doesn’t it? Condemnation provokes counter-condemnation, and that vicious cycle doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help you. And Jesus illustrates this.
Verse 3: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Of how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Have you ever had a little bit of sawdust, you know, just in your eye? Have you ever had...It’s extraordinarily painful, isn’t it? And if you don’t have a mirror around, you need someone skillful to help get it out of there. Right? They’ve got to be gentle and careful and wise because they could make it so much worse so quickly.
Remember, Jesus grew up as a carpenter. I think He knows what this feels like, sawdust in your eye. Now, the imagery Jesus uses here is comical. The log He refers to is kind of a technical term. It refers to the main supporting beam in a home. So if you’ve ever been in a big log cabin or a lodge, you know that big huge beam that runs down the middle, holding everything up? Right? That’s the picture. You have this big old beam sticking out of your face. Right? [sound effects] It’s just a disaster, right? And Jesus...He’s just comical. He says, “You hypocrite!”
Remember the context. He’s taking about a condemning approach to other people. He says, “Look, if you’re condemning people, you’re blaming them and shaming them and ostracizing them in order to help them change, help them see the right way, help them, you know, figure out their mess. If that’s your strategy, you’re a hypocrite.” Now how does He know that? How does He know that? Is He simply pointing out that we’re all sinners and we should just work on ourselves first, and not worry about other people until we’ve got our stuff together and we’re perfect? Is that what He’s saying? You know, sort of “You who are without sin, cast the first stone?” That sort of thing? Well, if that’s what He meant, He would have said, “Get the speck out of your own eye, and then get the speck out of their eye,” because you both have specks in your eyes. Right? We’re all sinners. “Put on your own oxygen mask, and they assist those who are traveling with you.” Right? That sort of principle!
That’s not what He says. Jesus’ point is not that we’re all sinners, and we all have specks in our eyes, although that’s true. Jesus says if we are coming at people with this condemning, blaming, shaming, ostracizing approach, there’s something far bigger than just a speck of sin blocking our vision. We’re blinded by a log of self-righteousness. There’s something bigger in our eye. We’re blinded by the log of self righteousness, because to condemn someone is to be blinded by self-righteousness.
The only way...think about it...the only way I can condemn someone, I can blame them, shame them, ostracize them, push them away, discount them as unworthy of anything...The only way I can treat someone like that is if I feel superior to them, if I’m looking down on them, if I believe I’m in the right and they’re in the wrong. I’ve got it figured out and they’re the ones who are deceived, and I’ve got all the answers and they don’t. And Jesus is saying, “Self-righteous people with their others-condemning attitudes, are the last people who should ever be trying to “help” others deal with the harmful stuff in their lives because they only make it worse. Condemnation flows from a heart of self-righteousness and self-righteousness never helps anybody.
Then Jesus gives a warning. Verse 6: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
Sometimes we use this phrase, “pearls before swine” today, but we’re actually ripping it out of context, and using it kind of in the opposite way that Jesus is using it here. We use it to say, “You know, you have lots of pearls of wisdom, and don’t waste them on unworthy people, you know. Those swine in life! You know, they’re not worth your time. They are not worth your trouble.” That’s not what He’s saying. The whole point here is how very unhelpful it is for swine to be given pearls.
What exactly is a pig supposed to do with a pearl? What is he supposed to do with that? If you go to a pigpen, and you go like this? What does the pig think you’re scattering in the...What do you think you’re doing? You think you’re feeding him. Right? And he starts choking on the pearls because they are useless to him. Right? Pearls will only choke a pig.
What are dogs supposed to do with the Holy Scriptures? You take a Holy Bible and you throw it at a dog. What’s he going to do? He can’t read. It’s not helpful. And if you keep throwing pearls at pigs, and Bibles at dogs, eventually in exasperation, they’re going to turn around and bite you because you’re the only edible thing left.
Jesus says, “Look, this kind of preachy, judgmental, condemning self-righteousness that is trying to push wisdom and advice on other people, even if it’s the most valuable, highly sacred thing in the world, if it’s not useful to people, if they can’t swallow it, and digest it, they can’t make it useful to their lives, it’s only going to aggravate them, and you’re going to bit in the process.
Friends, you see, the bottom line here is the self-righteous heart is helpless with others. The self-righteous heart is helpless with others. Don’t you see, again, Jesus is going after the Pharisees. The Pharisees focused on all the externals of religion, keeping the law, doing good, keeping their noses clean. And they felt, by and large, they were doing a pretty good job. “Thank God I’m not like one of those sinners.”
And Jesus is saying, “Look, if that’s how your religion works, if you are trying to do good so you can impress God, so He’ll bless you, so you can feel good about yourself and look down on other people, then your heart is full of self-righteousness. And a self-righteous heart can’t actually help anybody. You’re only hurting them along the way.
So what’s the alternative? The Heart of Helpfulness! The Heart of Helpfulness! Jesus is now going to describe an entirely different approach to other human beings, which is coming from an entirely different heart.
Look at verse 7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Jesus is saying, “Look, if somebody’s bothering you, if they’re out of line, if they’re on the wrong path in life, if they’re a problem, instead of condemning them and blaming them and shaming them and ostracizing them, what if you were to try a different approach? What if you were to simply ask, seek and knock? (knocks on pulpit) What if you were to ask for their help? What if you were to ask about their story? What if you were to ask to try to understand where they are coming from?
What if you were to seek them out? What if you were seek to build a relationship with them? What if you were to seek to find a way to be a part of their lives?
What if you knock on the door of their lives? What if you knocked and asked for permission to come in? What if you knocked, and waited for them to respond, because souls open from the inside?
Souls open from the inside, don’t they? You can’t force entry into another person’s soul. In fact, if you try, you’re sure to never get in. The only way to speak into another person’s life is if they willingly allow you to do so.
Think about it. Isn’t that how your soul works? And notice this is exactly how God treats you. Do you realize God is a gentleman? He won’t crash your party. He stands at the door and knocks. He asks. He seeks. He knocks. He never overrides your will. He never forces entry into your life. He always waits until He’s welcome.
As C.S. Lewis says, “He cannot ravish. He can only woo.” The latch to the door of the heart is on the inside and souls open from within.
Remember when Adam and Eve sinned against God. They were in trouble. How did God go approach them? How did God approach them? They were hiding in the garden. Remember? They had sinned. They messed up the whole world. Did you ever ruin something? You know, you crashed your car and you have to go tell them. That’s your parents’ car and you’ve got to go tell them. You know! “Hey, I’m sorry.” You know. It’s a horrible feeling. Right? Right? Is it just me? It’s a horrible feeling.
What if you were God’s kid and you wrecked the whole universe? Right? Like this is a mess! So they’re hiding. They don’t want to fess up, and what does God do? He asks questions.
- Where are you?
- Who told you that you were naked?
- Have you eaten from the tree?
- What is it that you have done?
Ask. Seek. Knock.
It’s almost like a therapist’s session, isn’t it? What do people in therapy do? They ask questions. They know how this works. Questions—requests are hard to ignore.
Verse 9: “Or which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?”
Look, if you’re judging with someone else, it usually leads to counter-judgment. If you’re condemning, they might throw a stone at you. Right? If you throw stones at them, they’ll throw stones at you. If you shame them they might bite you back with venom. But if you ask, seek, and knock, if you honor their will and their humanity, it’s unlikely they’re going to respond with stones and snakes.
If you just simply ask: May I come in? May I have a word?
- May I help you be successful?
- May I show you another way to look at this?
- Would you help me understand?
- Would you allow me to push back just a little?
- Would you be willing to consider a different approach?
You see, a genuine request is hard to say “no” to, isn’t it?
A genuine request is hard to say “no” to.
- Demands we resist.
- Manipulation we chafe against.
- Coercion we fight.
- Sales-pressure hardens our defenses.
But requests? Requests we have a hard time saying no to. It’s how you end up at all those parties you didn’t even want to go to in the first place. It’s hard to say no to a request. Right? The request is so deeply honoring to our souls, we almost want to say “yes” by default.
Your kids know this. My kids come to me all the time. “Dad, can I have some bread? Can I have a snack? Can I have a fish? Can I have some protein? Can I eat something?” And I almost always say yes. Right? Most people tend to say yes when they’re politely asked. And by the way, that’s true of God too. Did you know that?
Verse 11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
When it comes to God, Jesus is saying, “Just simply ask, seek, knock.” Just what works in relationship with other people works with God too because God’s a person too, you know. And if you come with all your demands, and your manipulation, and your coercion and your sales pressure to try to get what you want from God...Look! Just like you, He’ll probably shut down. He’s not interested in playing all those games. He loves you. He loves giving good gifts to His kids. So just ask Him. Just seek. Just knock. (knocks) He’s predisposed to say yes.
And maybe one of the good gifts that you need most is your Father’s help with the difficult relationships with people around you. Maybe you are asking and they’re rejecting you. Maybe you’re seeking and they’re hiding. Maybe you’re knocking and they’re shutting you out. And maybe you’re tempted to throw in the towel and say, “Forget them. They’re beyond hope. I’m done with this.” You are tempted to condemn and blame and shame and ostracize. And maybe you need just a little bit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Maybe you need the fruit of the Spirit from your good Father who loves to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, His greatest gift. Your Father’s greatest gift, friends, is to make you like Himself, to fill you with His Spirit, to conform you to the image of His Son so that you can begin to love other people with the same love with which you have been first loved.
Do you notice how in this passage it just sort of blends? It blurs from...We’re talking about other people, and all of a sudden we’re talking about God. We’re talking about our relationship with other people, but we’re also talking about our relationship with God, and it’s hard to know. When did He shift? When did it shift? It just blurs the lines, doesn’t it? That’s the point.
As God has loved you, now you go love others. The way that God has treated you becomes the ethic of how you treat other people. So, verse 12, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The Law and the Prophets—all the Scriptures are teaching you fundamentally this basic truth: to do unto others are you would have them do to you. Instead of condemning and blaming and shaming and ostracizing others—you don’t want that. You don’t want that. How would you like to be treated? Jesus is teaching us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to act in empathy and love. Finally then, how would I want to be treated? How would I want to be approached? I bet they’re scared. I bet they’re afraid, I bet they’re embarrassed and ashamed. I bet underneath they’re actually hurting. If I were in their shoes how would I want someone to interact with me?
Jesus says that all the Law and the Prophets, the whole of Scripture, is about living well in relationships with others from a heart that’s right with God, and if you treat others the way you want to be treated if you were them, that’s what God was after all along. Now the only way you can ever do that is if you have the new heart of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is offering us in Himself. Right? We can’t divorce these words of Jesus from the works of Jesus. That Jesus came and He lived a perfect life, that He died in our place and for our sake, that He rose again to make us right with God so that we can be children of God, filled with the Spirit, clothed in His righteousness by grace, through faith. And a righteousness-graced heart is helpful with others.
A righteousness-graced heart is helpful with others. Friends, if you know your righteousness is not your own, that it’s a gift from Jesus, you can’t look down on anybody. There is no room for pride, or boasting, or self-righteousness or condemnation. All of our righteousness is like filthy rags. There is no one righteous, no not one. And so there’s no basis in a heart made right by grace for condemnation and blaming and shaming and ostracizing other people because we are the chief of sinners. Amen? And in the end, we are one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. That’s all we are, and so we humbly ask, seek, and knock because that’s what we wish other people would do to us, and that’s exactly what Jesus has done for us. When we were worthy of being condemned, and ostracized and put away forever, in love, our Jesus came and pursued us in love.
Don’t you see? A heart that has received the grace of God is equipped to extend the grace of God. This is why a righteousness-graced heart is so helpful with others. Think about the people in your life who have been most helpful to you spiritually. Were they stridently (or stringently) rigid and hard and tough and perfect in every way, or were they gentle and humble and lowly of heart? They were like Jesus, weren’t they? Gentle, lowly, humble of heart!
Here’s the irony. Here’s the irony, friends. The most helpful heart is the one that realizes it’s helpless. The most helpful heart is the one that realizes that it’s helpless. The people who think they’ve got it all together can’t really help others. But the people who realize they’ve got nothing are best positioned to actually speak into other people’s lives because it’s the heart of helplessness. It’s the heart of helplessness.
The reality is: Only a helpless heart can help other helpless hearts. Only a helpless heart can help other helpless hearts. This world that is full of bent and broken people that are chock full of sin and twisted up in rebellion. All the self-righteous Pharisaical condemning, blaming, shaming, ostracizing treatment of this broken world will never do an ounce of good. Self-righteousness can never offer good news to people. But if we are sinners, saved by grace through faith, and this not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. If we are helpless to save ourselves and yet have been given such mercy, such grace, such forgiveness, and such love; if we, the poor in Spirit, are actually welcome in the kingdom of heaven by grace, then maybe, just maybe, we are the best ones to help point the way.
I see you’ve got a little saw dust in your eye right there. Does it hurt? Mine did! A lot! Have I ever told you? No! For years I had sawdust in my eye. It hurt like crazy. I was crying myself to sleep, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I was helpless and hopeless. That was my story.
Oh, you don’t want to know.
No, I really do.
No, seriously, you don’t want to know. It’ll wreck you,
No, I want to know.
This man named Jesus turned my life upside down. He cleaned me up, and changed me forever. (applause)
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
I was blind, but now I see.
Friends, here’s your takeway. Grace floods out of a heart that is flooded by grace.
Grace floods out of a heart that is flooded by grace.
I sometimes think of my soul as like a pipe. This is weird. Stay with me. It’s like a pipe with an opening up top, and opening down below. Down below is everything that flows out of my life, the way I interact and treat other people, and at the top the input of the pipe of my soul, there’s another valve. There’s a valve on both ends. The valve up top is what’s coming into my soul. I cannot dispense what I am not receiving. I cannot extend what I have not welcomed in. I cannot give what I am not getting.
The valves of your life are meant to be opened on both ends to freely receive the grace from God lavishly pouring in, saturating all of who you are to the depths of your being, so that it lavishes out. You are a conduit of grace. You want to have a heart for others that’s helpful? Let the grace of God fly into your life, and wash out all the self-righteousness, the entitlement, all the ego that’s gunking up the pipe of your life until there’s nothing left but a poor, abject sinner, saved by grace, beating his breast crying out, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.” And I am surprisingly loved more than I know.
And in that helplessness you will discover to your great surprise how supremely helpful you are to the helpless hearts all around you. Because when you are gentle and lowly and humble of heart, they will sense in you the presence of the living Christ as your life is a conduit of the amazing grace of our God.
Oh Father, teach us to live like this, to embrace the upside-down life of grace of the Spirit of the kingdom of heaven that is ours in the abundant life of Jesus. Teach us to swim in grace, to be flooded out with your mercy and kindness so that we might be supremely helpful and gracious to those people around us who desperately need it. Help us we pray in Christ’s name, Amen.