“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 7:12-21 ESV)
The Sermon on the Mount takes up three “chapters” of Matthew’s gospel. Of course, there were no chapter divisions in the original. There were no verse numbers. There weren’t even paragraph breaks. Why? Because papyrus was quite expensive, and if you were writing something down, you used every last square inch you could. More than that, Jesus probably never delivered these lines one after another. These are much more likely a collection of the sayings of Jesus – kind of like a candidate on a whistle stop campaign – these are things Jesus said to the crowds.
If you subscribe to this thinking about how the Sermon was assembled, it makes much more sense out of the choppiness of the delivery. Mind you, I’m not saying you have to think this way about the Sermon. We’ll never know, this side of Glory, whether Jesus actually stood on a hillside and delivered this as one long sermon or not. But do not mistake: there is no disputing that these are genuine words of Jesus.
This particular passage is begins with what we usually call “The Golden Rule.” Matthew has grouped several things Jesus said on the same subject together, all having to do with the inner life that generates the outer actions. We are to make it a practice that what our inside thinks, our outside does.
I wish inwardly that I’d be treated a certain way. I outwardly treat others that way. It isn’t easy, but it is right. That’s a picture of wisdom.
I inwardly determine I’m going to enter by the narrow gate. It won’t do for me to just go in via any gate. I have to go to the trouble of finding the narrow one. This was a very potent visual for anyone who knew Jerusalem (or any other walled city, for that matter). Jerusalem had many gates on its perimeter. One apocryphal story says there was even a gate so narrow it was called The Eye of the Needle, and was used as a kind of “back door” for night travelers. Still, the idea of taking the extra time to walk all the way around a walled city in order to find the narrowest gate is a picture of taking the utmost care to be sure you’ve thought of all the angles before jumping into a course of action. That’s a picture of wisdom.
I should be careful not to simply take the words of a person claiming to be a prophet at face value. I need to take the time to evaluate him and his message carefully to see if he has integrity. This too is a picture of wisdom.
I need to evaluate an orchard to see which trees are healthy and which are diseased. I won’t be able to tell at a distance. I have to get up close and really look and do some testing. This is a picture of wisdom.
So it is with people who call Jesus Lord. You simply can’t tell the genuine from the fake at a distance. You have to get up close and personal. At another point Jesus recommends we let the weeds grow up alongside the good plants. Why? Because that’s the only way you’ll ever see which ones you want to pluck up and throw into the fire.
The church is always going to have imposters and wolves running around in it. It is natural. Our job as members of the Body (and especially those of us who are pastors) is NOT to figure out whose faith is genuine. Our job is to love as Jesus loved, and let God sort out the rest. We cannot be the Evangelical Police, chasing after everyone to see if they are carrying their Jesus card.