A tree and its fruit. 6:39-49
Our passage for study is the second part of The Great Sermon (the sermon on the plain). This sermon is the New Testament version of the Sinai Covenant and as such, encapsulates the gospel message, namely, that as a gift of God's grace in Christ, appropriated through the instrument of faith rather than obedience to the law, a person may stand approved before God. Our particular passage for study sets out to prompt self-examination, thus exposing our state of loss and our need for God's grace. At the human level, all are blind, v39-40; we are all into "speck removal" and fail to see the "plank" in our own eye, v41-42; like a tree, the fruits of our life clearly show our condition of loss, v43-45; and thus, like a person who builds his house without foundations, we face inevitable destruction, v46-49.
v39-40. A student can only understand their situation in the terms of their training. When fully trained they are not going to have more understanding than their teacher. If the teacher is blind then they too will be blind; both teacher and student will come to a disastrous end. This first parable, or more properly, applied proverb, identifies the general state of human ignorance such that all are lost in blind musings - like teacher, like student. We are all in a pit, along with our teachers.
v41-42. Jesus takes a common illustration used by the rabbis to expose the judgmental spirit that is so evident in the human race. In principle it is true that, "reform must begin with one's own character, for only in a changed and reborn spirit, inspired by a love like God's, will true perception exist of the character of others", Manson. Yet here, Jesus' words do not have the purpose of moral reform to enable a proper assessment of the failings of others, but rather serve to expose our own condition of loss. Our belief that we can properly assess the failings of others, when we ourselves fall far short of God's demand for nonjudgmental compassion, serves only to evidence our own state of loss.
v43-45. The "evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart." As a bad tree produces bad fruit, so a person's corrupt character influences their conduct; what they are is reflected in what they do. A failure to practice nonjudgmental compassion identifies a heart stored with evil. Such a person faces judgment, and we are all such people.
v46-49. There is no use saying "Lord, Lord", for the one who hears the words of Jesus and does not do them inevitably faces destruction. It is often argued that the purpose of this parable is to push us toward radical discipleship, but it more likely serves to identify our condition of loss. We have all heard the words of Jesus and not done them and thus we are like the man who built his house without any foundations. Like that man, we face complete destruction; only the mercy of God can save us.
A good foundation
I wonder whether, like me, you have have felt secure in your standing before God when you have compared yourself with the unrighteousness of others? A little righteous indignation over the sins of others certainly helps to hide our own corruption. Then there is Christian love. I wonder whether you have ever said to someone "I'm only saying this to you out of Christian love"? Oh dear, I have!
Do we claim to keep the perfect law of love? Do we hear the words of Jesus and claim to do them - albeit imperfectly? Do we think God is pleased with our faithful service to Christ? Do we think we have laid down a good foundation? The truth is, our life is built on very imperfect foundations, or as the apostle Paul once put it, our righteousness is but filthy rags. Yet all is not lost, for in God's kindness it is the "poor", those broken before God, those who admit their state of loss before God, who end up blessed. The obvious question is how, how is this possible?
Jesus is the one person who has actually built his house on good foundations. He has done God's will and done it perfectly. He is the one righteous man who has heard the word of God and done it, and as a gift of his kindness he shares his righteousness with all those who ask him. Those who seek will find; those who knock, the door will be opened so that they may freely enter and find eternal security within Christ's house, a house built on firm foundations.
In our passage for study we are reminded that the law, as the apostle once put it, "was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith", Gal.3:24. Our passage for study forces us to examine ourselves and recognize that we have fallen far short of the nonjudgmental compassion demanded of us by God, Lk.6:27-38. We are forced to recognize our sin and return again to the central truth of our Christian faith, namely, that our standing before God, our being just-if-I'd never sinned, our being holy in God's sight, now and forever, has nothing to do with our paltry struggle to love and everything to do with Christ's love. Only in Christ, by grace through faith, will I stand the bursting river in that terrible day.
I do love the old chorus "build on the rock". Of course it's not quite true to Jesus' words, but it's close. I was taught that Christ was the rock, but the rock, or as Luke has it, the good foundation, is actually Christ's righteousness. Establishing our standing in the sight of God on the basis of Christ's righteousness is the only way to escape eternal "ruin". I guess we could call this contextualizing a Sunday School chorus to properly fit Biblical theology!! Anyway, the point is simple enough, "none are righteous, no not one", but thankfully, in Christ and his righteousness the "poor" possess "the kingdom of God", Lk.6:20.
Consider the chorus "Trust and obey for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." Identify the theological flaw and discuss.