But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

This final section of Jesus’ sermon comprises teaching on trusting God for material provision and a series of warnings. Both blocks of teaching are strongly polemical, with Jesus contrasting his standards with the behaviour of Gentiles (6.32), false prophets (7.15) and false disciples (21).

The scribes and Pharisees receive no explicit mention, though it’s likely that they are included among the hypocrites (7.5; cf. 6.2, 5, 16). The implication is clear: the righteousness which Jesus requires of his followers will set them apart from others – both religious and secular. The gate is indeed narrow and the way hard (7.14).

Jesus’ teaching on wealth in the gospels is uniformly negative, in contrast to much teaching within churches today. When Jesus instructs his disciples to trust him for their daily needs he specifies the very basics of food, drink and clothing.

This accords with the petition he taught in his prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which itself alludes to the daily gathering of manna in the wilderness (Exod 16).

Any suggestion that Jesus encourages trusting the Father for the acquisition of material possessions beyond what is necessary to sustain life day by day is quite erroneous. Even 7.7 is not an open cheque, but is again tied to such essentials as bread and fish.

Whereas these are the “good things” God’s children can expect from their Father, earthly treasure is an object of wrong desire which causes spiritual blindness (6.22f.), a snare which enslaves (6.21, 24) and finally spoils (6.19f.)

In Jesus’ warnings the certain prospect of a final judgement is constantly before the reader. Throughout the sermon Jesus speaks of rewards, punishment and entering (or not entering) the kingdom of heaven. He cannot be preaching salvation by works as he dismisses this possibility elsewhere (as does Paul).

Rather, he makes clear that God’s true children are revealed by their behaviour. False claims of righteousness are exposed by evil thoughts, words and deeds – the bad fruit. Good fruit are those things which reveal a right relationship with our heavenly Father, particularly dependence upon him, desiring what he desires, and humility before him and others.

He specifically warns not to judge others. That is God’s role alone. However there are two types of judgment in view: fault-finding in order to condemn (7.1-5), and discerning judgment to determine right from wrong (7.6, 15f.) While the former is forbidden the latter is encouraged. The distinction is best made by discerning one’s motive in judging.

Jesus closes his sermon with a parable about two builders, its point being that the foundation on which the disciple’s life is built is critical. Jesus’ words are the good foundation, an extraordinary claim asserting his authority over Abraham (cf. Isa 51.1f.), Moses, the Law and the Prophets. It is this authority, rather than the content of what is taught, which provokes astonishment.

To ponder

What motivates your judgements?

To pray

Loving and generous heavenly Father, I thank you for your provision of all that I need. Guard my heart, I pray, against wrong desires for myself and wrong thoughts towards others. Help me always to discern what is your perfect will and to act accordingly, in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand

Photo by Tony Reid on Unsplash