I was hoping you could discuss Matthew 7:19-23. I’ve heard this preached to believers in a way that almost makes them question their salvation. As I read this passage, I believe it’s really discussing false prophets who have deceit in their hearts, not necessarily for believers. I do believe in examining our hearts and motives before the Lord, but not with constant anxiety of “not measuring up”. Grace, mercy and the Father’s love can certainly be just as vital for motivating us to live with excellence.
Matthew 7:17-23 (NASB)
So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
Let me start by saying, if someone is questioning whether or not they are saved from the standpoint of they have received Jesus yet are afraid that they might do something to lose it, they probably never will. Measuring up is something none of us will ever do, that’s why God gave us Jesus and thank Him for it! We must each be confident in what He has done, never what we have or will do. Let’s get into these scriptures.
Again, as we read scripture, we must always consider context. To do this I want to draw attention to two scriptures here. Go back to verse 15 and then read verse 19.
Let’s tackle first Matthew 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. It’s very important to remember that often times Jesus would use one truth to teach other truths, this was the purpose of parables. Now here certainly the Lord was discussing and warning people about false prophets. This is something I think people in our circles don’t heed closely enough. Now, every human, every minister will miss it from time to time. This does not make them a false prophet or teacher, it makes them human and because of this people need to have mercy on them. Ministers cannot know all things at all times so there will be times when we simply just miss it. However, we should also be humble enough to realize that and maintain a healthy fear of it.
All ministers must be willing to repent and grow, publicly as well as privately. So many times though, we are not given that grace by the people, making it more difficult to navigate those waters. That however does not absolve a minister from being wrong. A minister who fails to recognize error can become very dangerous. Some however, will know their error and press on anyways, deceiving themselves as well as others, seeking their own agenda. I believe that in part this is exactly what Christ is referring to. If a preacher says something that is wrong, don’t listen to it. If they continually preach things that are not founded in scripture, stop listening to them altogether!
Remember though, when Jesus taught He often dealt with many truths at one time. Herein we look at verse 19. Matthew 7:19 says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Notice the words every tree, He always takes the standard higher doesn’t He? Our salvation is for us to do something with (Ephesians 2:10). John 15:16, Jesus declares the appointed are to bear fruit. Hebrews 2:3 asks, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” These truths are universal and also part of the Christian walk. Of course, there are many scriptures that back this concept up but I think the point is made. Both ministers and the people, the shepherds and the sheep should be bearing good fruit.
Now with that said, let’s address the issue you are talking about and let me say I do agree, but I also see both sides. Both ministers and those ministered to have responsibilities. Ministry is an interesting thing. There is nothing in life that I have found which has more pressure and scrutiny than being a minister of the Gospel. God called us to this work but didn’t make us perfect and yet people expect perfection. This is not a modern day problem. The people railed against Moses, and Joseph, and David, and all the prophets killing even some of them. Jesus, the Lord Himself was constantly met with opposition and abuse, all because people didn’t like what He was saying even though it was their salvation.
My wife and I have personally experienced that the people you help the most, sometimes turn and bite you without a thought just because they are going through it. People ignore us when we text or call, then snub us when we show up to church, or leave us entirely because things aren’t working out the way they thought they should, yet expect us to be there for them unconditionally. They hide from you, keeping secrets and then glare at you because you didn’t “care” enough about their problems. Now I say these things only to give perspective. When it’s time to preach, often times after the above has just happened, you are expected and required to do so with mercy and love. Then the devil, sitting in every church service, is working on the mind of any believer who will listen to get offended at any possible mistake the preacher might make. In case you think I’m being over dramatic, read through scripture and see how this exact thing happened over and over and over again.
Conversely sometimes preachers come to the pulpit as “God’s man or woman of the hour!” They want accolades, they want money, they want people to look up to and revere them because to some, preachers have become celebrities. They want to preach some new revelation because it’s exciting and of course has to be right because they know that it is! They don’t want to correct bad doctrine because of the fact they may lose some respect if they do. There are some ministers that exploit people to gain and go higher. These are an abomination and will bear the greatest judgement!
Now of course, both of these scenarios are the extremes and if we are honest we all probably fall somewhere in the middle. I can tell you, I have had to correct my own doctrine from time to time as a pastor but I’ve also sat in a congregation tearing apart what someone else was preaching in my mind and I did it unjustly. Oh to be human and desiring to be righteous!
God forbid I ever preach a sermon that puts people in bondage or hurts their walk with God, but sadly I know I have. The Lord has corrected me on it and it is sorrow that I carry with me continually. I can say I have preached many people out of my church but I can also say that I have done so both in the right and in the wrong. Sometimes people need to hear the truth even though it hurts and sometimes they need it given so softly that it carry’s them through the current trial.
Love is the foundation that all things must be ministered from but it is also the place it must be received. In this we all must find balance. I would encourage anyone who feels bondage while being listening to preaching, to continually seek out the one preaching. I know personally, I have a desire to always help someone understand what I am saying and the place I’m saying it from. I have had times where people have asked me about something I said and I realized I could have said it better. In this I endeavor to do so, and so I always tell my people, if you feel bondage, ask. Let me help you understand better.
I would say that if your constantly feeling bondage you need to seek out why. Ask the Lord, He will help. Then consider, am I where I am supposed to be. If you are, then pray for the ministers who God placed in your life. Knowing and being where you’re supposed to be, then bearing good fruit there is the place where God’s blessing will be found, even despite the ability of the one who preached or the one who is preached to.