Be Doers of the Word, Not Hearers Only
“Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.”—MATTHEW 7:21.
1. What are the followers of Jesus to continue doing?
KEEP on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. Persevere in praying, studying, and doing the sayings of Jesus recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells his followers they are the salt of the earth, with a preserving message seasoned with salt that they must not allow to become insipid, losing its tastiness or its preserving power. They are the light of the world, reflecting the light from Christ Jesus and Jehovah God not only by what they say but also by what they do. Their good works shine as much as their enlightening words—and may speak even louder in a world used to the Pharisaic hypocrisy of both religious and political leaders, who say much and do little.—Matthew 5:13-16.
2. What admonition does James give, but what comfortable position do some mistakenly adopt?
2 James admonishes: “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.” (James 1:22) Many deceive themselves with the doctrine of ‘once saved always saved,’ as though they may now retire and wait for a supposed heavenly reward. It is a false doctrine and an empty hope. “He that has endured to the end,” Jesus said, “is the one that will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) To gain everlasting life, you must “prove yourself faithful even to death.”—Revelation 2:10; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27.
3. What instruction about judging does Jesus next give in the Sermon on the Mount?
3 As Jesus continued his Sermon on the Mount, more sayings mounted up that Christians must strive to follow. Here is one that seems simple, but it condemns one of the most difficult tendencies to get rid of: “Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you. Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.”—Matthew 7:1-5.
4. What additional instruction does Luke’s account give, and what does its application result in?
4 In Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his hearers not to find fault with others. Rather, let them “keep on releasing,” that is, forgiving the shortcomings of their fellowman. This would cause others to respond in kind, as Jesus said: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”—Luke 6:37, 38.
5. Why is it so much easier to see the flaws in others than those in ourselves?
5 During the first century C.E., because of oral traditions, the Pharisees in general tended to judge others harshly. Any of Jesus’ listeners who were in the habit of doing that were to stop it. It is so much easier to see the straws in the eyes of others than the rafters in our own—and much more reassuring to our ego! As one man said, “I love to criticize others because it makes me feel so good!” Habitually censuring others may give us feelings of virtue that seem to compensate for faults of our own that we want to hide. But if correction is necessary, it should be given in a spirit of mildness. The one giving correction should be ever conscious of his own shortcomings.—Galatians 6:1.
Before Judging, Try Understanding
6. On what basis should our judgments, when necessary, be made, and what help should we seek so as not to be overly critical?
6 Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save it. Any judgments he made were not his but were based on the words God gave him to speak. (John 12:47-50) Any judgments we make should also be in harmony with Jehovah’s Word. We must squelch the human tendency to be judgmental. In doing this, we should persistently pray for Jehovah’s help: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7, 8) Even Jesus said: “I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; just as I hear, I judge; and the judgment that I render is righteous, because I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 5:30.
7. What habit should we cultivate that will help us in applying the Golden Rule?
7 We should cultivate the habit, not of judging people, but of trying to understand them by putting ourselves in their place—not an easy thing to do but a necessary thing if we are to abide by the Golden Rule, which Jesus next proclaimed: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.” (Matthew 7:12) So Jesus’ followers must be sensitive and discern the mental, emotional, and spiritual state of others. They must perceive and understand the needs of others and take a personal interest in assisting them. (Philippians 2:2-4) Years later Paul wrote: “For the entire Law stands fulfilled in one saying, namely: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’”—Galatians 5:14.
8. What two roads did Jesus discuss, and why is one of them chosen by the majority of people?
8 “Go in through the narrow gate,” Jesus next said, “because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14) Many in those days chose the road to destruction and many still do. The broad way permits people to think as they please and live as they please: no rules, no commitments, just a relaxed life-style, everything easy. None of this “exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door” for them!—Luke 13:24.
9. What does it take to walk the narrow road, and what warning does Jesus give to those walking it?
9 But it is the narrow door that opens onto the road to everlasting life. It is a course that calls for self-control. It may entail discipline that will probe your motives and test the mettle of your dedication. When persecutions come, the road gets rough and requires endurance. Jesus warns those who walk this road: “Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) This description fitted the Pharisees perfectly. (Matthew 23:27, 28) They “seated themselves in the seat of Moses,” claiming to speak for God while following the traditions of men.—Matthew 23:2.
How Pharisees “Shut Up the Kingdom”
10. In what specific way did the scribes and Pharisees seek to ‘shut up the kingdom before men’?
10 Moreover, the Jewish clergy sought to block those seeking to enter through the narrow gate. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) The Pharisees’ method was just as Jesus warned. They would “cast out [his disciples’] name as wicked for the sake of the Son of man.” (Luke 6:22) Because the man born blind and healed by Christ believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they expelled him from the synagogue. His parents would answer no questions because they feared expulsion from the synagogue. For the same reason, others who believed Jesus to be the Messiah hesitated to admit it publicly.—John 9:22, 34; 12:42; 16:2.
11. What identifying fruits do the clergy of Christendom produce?
11 “By their fruits you will recognize them,” Jesus said. “Every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-20) The same rule applies today. Many of the clergy of Christendom say one thing and do another. Though claiming to teach the Bible, they subscribe to such blasphemies as the Trinity and hellfire. Others deny the ransom, teach evolution instead of creation, and preach pop psychology to tickle ears. Like the Pharisees, many of today’s clergy are money lovers, fleecing their flocks of millions of dollars. (Luke 16:14) All of them shout, “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus’ response to them is: “I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matthew 7:21-23.
12. Why have some who once walked the narrow way ceased doing so, and with what result?
12 Today, some who once walked the narrow way have ceased doing so. They say they love Jehovah, but they are not obeying his command to preach. They say they love Jesus, but they are not feeding his sheep. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20; John 21:15-17; 1 John 5:3) They do not wish to be yoked with those who walk in Jesus’ steps. They found the cramped road too cramped. They wearied of well-doing, so they “went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.” (1 John 2:19) They went back into darkness, and “how great that darkness is!” (Matthew 6:23) They ignored John’s plea: “Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:18.
13, 14. What illustration did Jesus give about applying his sayings in our lives, and why was it so fitting for those in Palestine?
13 Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with a dramatic illustration: “Everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does them will be likened to a discreet man, who built his house upon the rock-mass. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and lashed against that house, but it did not cave in, for it had been founded upon the rock-mass.”—Matthew 7:24, 25.
14 In Palestine heavy rains could send waters racing down the dry torrent valleys in destructive flash floods. If houses were to stand, they required foundations on solid rock. Luke’s account shows that the man “dug and went down deep and laid a foundation upon the rock-mass.” (Luke 6:48) It was hard work, but it paid off when the storm came. So building Christian qualities upon the sayings of Jesus will be rewarding when the flash flood of adversity strikes.
15. What will be the result for those who follow traditions of men rather than obey the sayings of Jesus?
15 The other house was built on sand: “Everyone hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house and it caved in, and its collapse was great.” So it will be for those who say “Lord, Lord” but fail to do the sayings of Jesus.—Matthew 7:26, 27.
“Not as Their Scribes”
16. What was the effect on those who heard the Sermon on the Mount?
16 What was the effect of the Sermon on the Mount? “Now when Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28, 29) They were stirred to their depths by one who spoke with an authority they had never sensed before.
17. What did the scribes have to do to give validity to their teaching, and what did they claim about dead sages who were quoted?
17 No scribe ever spoke on his own authority, as this historical record shows: “The scribes borrowed credit to their doctrine from traditions, and the fathers of them: and no sermon of any scribe had any authority or value, without [citing] . . . The Rabbins have a tradition, or . . . The wise men say; or some traditional oracle of that nature. Hillel the Great taught truly, and as the tradition was concerning a certain thing; ‘But, although he discoursed of that matter all day long, . . . they received not his doctrine, until he said at last, So I heard from Shemaia and Abtalion [authorities previous to Hillel].’” (A Commentary on the New Testament From the Talmud and Hebraica, by John Lightfoot) The Pharisees even claimed of sages long dead: “The lips of the righteous, when someone cites a teaching of law in their names—their lips murmur with them in the grave.”—Torah—From Scroll to Symbol in Formative Judaism.
18. (a) What difference was there between the teaching of the scribes and that of Jesus? (b) In what ways was Jesus’ teaching so outstanding?
18 The scribes quoted dead men as authorities; Jesus spoke with authority from the living God. (John 12:49, 50; 14:10) Rabbis drew stale water from closed cisterns; Jesus brought up springs of fresh water that slaked an inner thirst. He prayed and pondered through the night, and when he spoke, he touched depths in people they had never been aware of before. He spoke with a power they could feel, an authority that even scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees eventually feared to challenge. (Matthew 22:46; Mark 12:34; Luke 20:40) Never had another man spoken like this! At the sermon’s conclusion, the crowds were left astounded!
19. How are some teaching methods used by Jehovah’s Witnesses today similar to those used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?
19 What about today? As house-to-house ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses use similar methods. A householder tells you: “My church says the earth is to be burned up.” You respond: “Your own King James Bible reads at Ecclesiastes 1:4: ‘The earth abideth for ever.’” The person is surprised. “Why, I never knew that was in my Bible!” Another says: “I’ve always heard that sinners will burn in hellfire.” “But your own Bible says at Romans 6:23: ‘The wages of sin is death.’” Or on the Trinity: “My preacher says that Jesus and his Father are equal.” “But at John 14:28 your Bible quotes Jesus as saying: ‘My Father is greater than I.’” Another person says to you: “I’ve heard it said that the Kingdom of God is within you.” Your response: “At Daniel 2:44 your Bible says: ‘In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed . . . It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.’ How could that be within you?”
20. (a) What contrast is there between the way of teaching of the Witnesses and that of the clergy of Christendom? (b) For what is it now the time?
20 Jesus spoke with authority from God. Jehovah’s Witnesses speak with the authority of God’s Word. The clergy of Christendom speak religious traditions polluted by doctrines handed down from Babylon and Egypt. When sincere people hear their beliefs refuted by the Bible, they are astounded and exclaim: ‘I never knew that was in my Bible!’ But it is. Now is the time for all those conscious of their spiritual need to give heed to the sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and thereby build on a durable rock foundation.
□ Rather than pass judgment, what should we try to do, and why?
□ Why do so many today choose the broad way?
□ Why was Jesus’ way of teaching so different from that of the scribes?
□ What was the effect of the Sermon on the Mount on its hearers?