Formations 09.26.2021: Going Against the Flow

Matthew 7:1-14

I used to think that Jesus’ command to “enter through the narrow gate” (Matt 7:13) and avoid the wide road to destruction had to do with the kinds of things I’d been brought up to believe that good Christians avoided. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t cuss. Ungodly people not only do those things but revel in them. That’s how you can tell that we’re on the right path and they are not.

For the record, I still don’t drink, smoke, or cuss (much). I just don’t think those things have much at all to do with what Jesus is driving at here.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that Jesus and his disciples did not live in a hedonistic, anything-goes culture. On the contrary, they lived in a culture with very clear ideas of what godliness looked like and a strong sense of social conformity to keep people in line. In Jesus’ context, the wide road that leads to destruction involves all the things that his opponents got worked up over: Sabbath-keeping, rules of ritual purity, proper gender roles, and other outward displays of righteousness.

Jesus pointed people in a different way. I’m not sure he was actively opposed to any of those things his opponents put so much stock in; it just didn’t make them the highest priority—and his actions showed that he was not beholden to such performance-based measures of godliness. Instead, he went against the crowd not by being squeaky clean but by healing on the Sabbath, challenging the religious status quo, and welcoming sinners and eating with them. It’s safe to say that in many settings, living like that today would constitute a narrow and often dangerous way to live.

We need to keep this in mind as we read today’s lesson text. We find here some of the same notes that Jesus sounded in the previous chapter. For example, both passages address the topic of prayer and give reasons for confidence in prayer. Both chapters also deal with the problem of religious hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16; 7:5) who are only concerned with outward appearances. In chapter 6, Jesus warns about those who behave correctly for the sake of public acclaim. In chapter 7, he warns about those who are so interested in “fixing” you that they can’t see how they also need fixing.

By contrast, Jesus calls his followers to leave judgment to God, take care of their own issues, and pray for the good things they truly need. They must practice the Golden Rule (7:12) and strive to enter through the narrow gate.

Discussion

• How does Jesus’ “narrow way” challenge the religious majority today?
• Is it entirely wrong to associate the way of destruction with obviously sinful behavior? Explain.
• Why is judging others problematic?
• What is the relationship between prayer and dealing with others nonjudgmentally, especially when they may need our help (see v. 5)?
• What makes it hard to follow the way leads to life?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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