The Sermon on the Mount – In 22 Sermons

Today at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, we completed our journey through the Sermon on the Mount. We spent 22 messages unpacking the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. Here they are, all in one place:

“Kingdom Manifesto: An Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount” (Matt 5:1–7:29)

“Blessed Now and Later: Living on the Promises of God” (Matt 5:1-10)

“A Life of Faithful Flavor and Light: Discipleship That Salts and Shines for the Glory of God (Matt 5:11-16)

“Not to Abolish but to Fulfill: The Importance of Every Jot and Tittle in the Law” (Matt 5:17-20)

“The Danger of Anger: Why You Might Have the Heart of a Murderer” (Matt 5:21-26)

“Better to Lose an Eye or a Hand: Why You Must Fight Against Lust or Go to Hell” (Matt 5:27-30)

“Let None Tear Asunder: Rethinking the Practice of Easy Divorce and Remarriage” (Matt 5:31-32)

“Simply Yes or No: The Pursuit of Being a Trustworthy Disciple” (Matt 5:33-37)

“Shock Value: The Disciple’s Unexpected Responses to Evildoers” (Matt 5:38-42)

“That You May Be Sons of God: Love Your Enemies and Pray for Your Persecutors (Matt 5:43-48)

“Not In Order to be Seen: Secret Giving and the Promise of Heavenly Reward” (Matt 6:1-4)

“How Not to Pray: Trying to Impress Others and Manipulate God” (Matt 6:5-8)

“Our Father in Heaven: The Majesty and Model of the Lord’s Prayer” (Matt 6:9-15)

“A Hunger for God: You Shall Not Live by Bread Alone” (Matt 6:16-18)

“Either God or Money: Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve” (Matt 6:19-24)

“Worth More Than Birds or Flowers: Learning Not to Worry About Your Life” (Matt 6:25-34)

“The Disciple’s Eye Exam: Specks, Planks, and Hypocritical Judgment” (Matt 7:1-5)

“Ask, Seek, and Knock: The Need for Wisdom in Handling Gospel Truth” (Matt 7:6-11)

“The Golden Rule: This Is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12)

“Few Will Find It: The Hard Way to the Narrow Gate That Leads to Life” (Matt 7:13-14)

“Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Not Everyone Will Enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 7:15-23)

“A Life on the Rock: Building Wisely for the Final Judgment” (Matt 7:24-29)

 

 

“Depart from Me, You Workers of Lawlessness”: The Use of Psalm 6:8 in Matthew 7:23

The Sermon on the Mount constantly uses the Old Testament, either by allusion or quotation, so the use of a psalm in Matthew 7:23 is no surprise: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

The scene is judgment day (Matt 7:22), and Jesus is refusing kingdom entrance to those who had a mere confession (7:21) without a heart-life commitment to him. In reply to their protest (7:22), he dons the words of David. The genealogy and birth account in Matthew 1 show that Jesus is the true and greater David who will lead his people from exile and rule in righteousness. In Matthew 2, the wise men seek him in Bethlehem, the very town where David had been born (2:2-6). We might expect that Jesus would give David’s words (particularly in the Psalms) their greatest, fullest significance and application.

As Jesus nears the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he quotes a Davidic psalm and evokes its context. In Psalm 6:8, David wrote, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” Psalm 6 was a prayer that God would be gracious to David, and near the end it shows confidence that God’s enemies will be ashamed. The prayer is for vindication. “How long” until deliverance? (6:3-4)? Then the good news is welcomed: David’s prayer is heard (6:9)! David is vindicated! His enemies must flee!

Jesus, the long-awaited Davidic king who will reign forever, has an eschatological role in Matthew 7:23. He is exiling unbelievers from the kingdom’s gate, saying, “Depart from me.” He calls them “workers of lawlessness,” using the same phrase as the LXX of Psalm 6:9 (6:8 Eng.). God’s enemies on judgment day will face the shame of eternal exile and divine rejection. To reject the Son is to align yourself against his Father.

Jesus is the Davidic King, and on the day of final judgment he will not be speechless. He will speak with sovereign and final authority, and any who contend shall do so in vain.

Where Is the Gate on the Narrow Way?

Until studying Matthew 7 for sermon preparation, I was unaware that there was any debate as to where the “narrow gate” was. If Matthew 7:14 spoke about a narrow gate, a hard way, and  a destination of life, then the order of the words must be the order of what you’d find: first you’d go through the narrow gate, then you’d come upon the narrow way, and lastly you’d arrive at life.

But now I think a different explanation of the “gate” language is more compelling. Scholars like John Nolland and Charles Quarles offer arguments that the “narrow gate” is actually at the end of the narrow way. The gate is about final entrance. Why is this a plausible–if not the probable–explanation?

  1. Gates were often used as points of eschatological destination. The “gates of hades” or “gates of heaven” refer to a gate that opens to the destination, not to a gate that leads to a journey. The gate is at the end of the journey.
  2. The “narrow gate” image in Matthew 7:13-14 is fronted for the sake of emphasis, not for the purpose of telling you the exact order of the elements (gate, then path, then final destination). When Jesus says “Enter by the narrow gate” (Matt 7:13a), he wants his listeners to enter the kingdom. The “narrow gate” is mentioned first because that is what’s most important here. That’s the thesis of Matthew 7:13-14.
  3. “Entering by the narrow gate” is probably equivalent to entering God’s kingdom or entering into eternal life on the last day. Thus final entrance would be in view. In fact, later in Matthew 7 the verb “enter” is used again and refers to Judgment Day: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (7:21). In the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that people should enact radical measures to defeat sin, for “it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (18:9). In Matthew’s Gospel, it seems “entering life“=”entering the kingdom of heaven“=”entering by the narrow gate.”
  4. The “road” or “way” language in Matthew 7:13-14 is used elsewhere in his Gospel for roads outside a city. People would traverse such roads to arrive at a city’s gate–or, in Jesus’ use of the metaphor, at the gate of the kingdom. The way that leads to life is hard (7:14), but people should travel that way nonetheless, for the narrow way leads to a “narrow gate,” through which is life eternal.

The hard way in Matthew 7:14 is the disciple’s life that Jesus has articulated in Matthew 5-7. Jesus wants people to enter through the narrow gate which leads to life, so they should travel the way he’s been teaching about, because no other path leads to the narrow gate. The alternative way is broad and easy, but it leads to a wide gate, and through that gate is destruction.

So where along the “way” is the “narrow gate” located? Some argue that the gate is at the beginning of the path, while others say it’s at the end. I’ve summarized some scholarly arguments that suggest the latter, and I find that view most convincing.

The Wide and Narrow Gates

Matthew 7:13-14 introduces a series of contrasts: “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.”

Those words of Jesus contain four pairs:

  1. Narrow Gate or Wide Gate
  2. Hard Way or Easy Way
  3. Life or Destruction
  4. Few or Many

The thesis is in the opening words: “Enter by the narrow gate.” The rest of 7:13-14 gives two reasons why.

  1. Enter by the narrow gate, because the wide gate, though associated with an easy path, leads to destruction.
  2. Enter by the narrow gate, because the narrow gate, though associated with a hard path, leads to life.

As Eugene Peterson once titled a book, the Christian life is “a long obedience in the same direction,” along a hard path that ends in life.

Interpreting Pearls and Pigs – What Does Matthew 7:6 Mean?

Matthew 7:6 is a notoriously difficult verse to interpret.

Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

But who are the “dogs,” what is the “holy,” what are the “pearls,” and who are the “pigs”? Suggestions have been many. Is Jesus denying the eucharist to the unbaptized? Is he warning against letting persecutors trample the gospel? Is he saying not to give authority to pagans to judge church disputes? Is Jesus forbidding (temporarily) the kingdom’s message from going to Gentiles?

I don’t think certainty is possible, but I believe the traditional explanation still makes the most sense: Jesus warns against continuing to cast the kingdom message before those who are reviling and persecuting you.

Where Matthew 7:6 Belongs, Structurally

Some scholars contend that Matthew 7:6 is an independent saying, and that relating it to anything before or after it is problematic. Maybe, but Talbert (and others) make good arguments for taking 7:6 with what follows it.

In the main body of the Sermon on the Mount (5:21–7:11), the teachings are in three large blocks of material: 5:21-48, 6:1-18, and 6:19–7:11. Each of these three sections break into smaller sections: 5:21-48 has six subsections, 6:1-18 has three, and then there’s 6:19–7:11. It is agreed that 6:19–7:11 has 6:19-24 and 6:25-34, but what about the remaining verses of 7:1-11? Does 7:1-11 have two parts (either 7:1-6 and 7:7-11, or 7:1-5 and 7:6-11) or three (7:1-5, 7:6, and 7:7-11)? I think only two, divided as 7:1-5 and 7:6-11. (For more on the literary relationships in 6:19–7:11, see here.)

Since the body of the Sermon deals in subsections of larger blocks, it makes sense that in the remaining verses of the body, 7:6 would not stand alone but would connect to verses either before or after it as part of a subsection. If 7:6 joins 7:7-11, then we have a number of important parallels and contrasts with 7:1-5.

  1. 7:1 begins with a negative command (“Do not judge”), and 7:6 begins with a negative command (“Do not give dogs what is holy”). For the larger section of 6:19–7:11, starting subsections with a prohibition seems to be a pattern (see 6:19 and 6:25).
  2. 7:1-5 addresses judging rightly among insiders, and 7:6-11 addresses judging rightly among outsiders. The motif of making judgments, then, unites both sections.
  3. 7:1-5 and 7:6-11 each have a prohibition, two rhetorical questions, and a final verse that identifies the listener with a label (“you hypocrite” in 7:5 and “you who are evil” in 7:11). These structural elements bolster the notion that 7:6 connects to 7:7-11 and isn’t an independently floating verse in the Sermon discourse.
  4. 7:1-5 and 7:6-11 may have the loose connection of “vision problem.” In 7:1-5, the hypocritical judge doesn’t notice the log in his own eye. In 7:6, dogs don’t value something holy when it is thrown to them, and pigs may confuse pearls with bits of food to eat. In 7:9, a cruel father might substitute a stone for a piece of bread, which would trick a hungry child because the items may look alike. And in 7:10, a cruel father might substitute a snake for a fish, which would also trick a hungry child because a snake might resemble an eel-like fish.

Observations about Matthew 7:6-11

If we grant that 7:6-11 is a subsection that should be held together (just like 6:19-24, 6:25-34, and 7:1-5 inside the larger block of 6:19–7:11), then here are several observations about this little unit.

  1. 7:6 is a command, and 7:7-11 explains how to obey it. The topic of prayer introduced in 7:7-8 is probably a prayer for wisdom, and this means the command (7:6) is followed by a prayer for wisdom in how to obey it (7:7-8). This kind of arrangement is found in James 1:2-8 where the command to count your trials joy (1:2-4) is followed by an exhortation to pray for wisdom in this effort (1:5-8).
  2. 7:6 involves a situation where dogs don’t recognize something “holy” for what it is, as well as a situation where a pig tramples precious pearls. The dogs and pigs don’t show discretion, appreciation, or discernment. In the illustrations of 7:9-10, the hungry child may not always show proper discernment when he is hungry, and only a cruel father would give a stone resembling bread or a fish resembling a snake.
  3. 7:7-11 is assurance that God, the trustworthy heavenly Father, will give the gifts of discernment and wisdom to obey the command of 7:6.
  4. 7:6 is a prohibition, and 7:7 is a positive command that shows proper obedience to it. 7:1 is a prohibition, and 7:5 is a positive command that shows proper obedience to it. In other words, both 7:1-5 and 7:6-11 contain prohibitions as well as instructions on how to obey them.

Zooming in on Matthew 7:6

Matthew 7:6 is a chiasm. Putting the elements of the verse in a different order, here is the warning: if we give what is holy to dogs, they may turn to attack us, and if we throw pearls before pigs, they may trample them underfoot. Important to note is that this verse is using “dogs” and “pigs” to refer to the same kinds of people, and “what is holy” and “pearls” refer to the same object.

Let’s think about the response of the animals in Matthew 7:6: attacking and trampling. That’s an instinctively violent response, isn’t it? It’s not mere rejection, it’s an offensive posture toward the meat-giver and pearl-caster. The pictures of dogs and pigs here are not of cute, domesticated, friendly animals, but scavenging, wild ones.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, attacking is something that opponents (persecutors) do. In Matthew 5:10, believers are blessed if they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and in 5:11 believers are blessed if they encounter revilement and persecution all on Jesus’ account.

In Matthew 7:6, what is being cast before pigs and given to dogs? The traditional explanation is that “what is holy” and the “pearl” refers to the kingdom message, and I think this is correct. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist was proclaiming the kingdom and repentance (3:3). In Matthew 4, Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom and repentance (4:17). In Matthew 5:10-11, it is clear that not everyone will embrace this kingdom message and repent of their sins. Believers may face persecution and revilement. Such responses mean that the unbeliever is a dog or pig who is trampling the pearl of the kingdom, and Jesus says not to let them do that.

The image of pearls is used later in Matthew 13:45-46 as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. Thinking of the pearls in 7:6 this way is probably correct, then, especially since pearls were used by Jews as a metaphor for precious teaching. What teaching were Jesus and his disciples proclaiming that was more valuable than his kingdom message? The problem in 7:6 is that unbelievers may react strongly against this message, in the way a dog or pig will not appreciate sacrificial meat or precious pearls. The pigs and dogs in 7:6, therefore, aren’t equivalent to unbelievers in general but to opponents (persecutors) in particular.

The Missionary Orders in Matthew 10

It is widely observed that Matthew 10 may serve as an illustration for applying the prohibition in 7:6. Jesus said, “As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (10:12-15).

The disciples were to make a judgment about the homes: were they worthy or unworthy? It seems the worthiness of the home was conditioned on the response the disciples received. And what was it they were proclaiming as they went? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7). Put another way, the disciples were to cast the pearl of the kingdom, but if it turned out that a pig wanted to trample it, they were to shake the dust from their feet and leave.

Examples from Paul’s Missionary Travels

Could the prohibition in Matthew 7:6 have been practiced in Paul’s ministry? In Acts 13:49, the “word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” The response? “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (13:50). The opposition probably involved both Jews and Gentiles. What was the response Paul and Barnabas gave? “But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium” (13:51).

When Paul was in Thessalonica, he proclaimed the word (Acts 17:13). In response to this, Jews agitated and stirred up the crowds (probably comprised of both Jews and Gentiles), so Paul was sent on his way (17:14).

When Paul was in Corinth testifying that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:5), Jews opposed and reviled him, so “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads!'” (18:6a).

Conclusion

Much more can still be said–and has been said–about Matthew 7:6. There may be plausible alternatives to the above arguments, but I’m convinced (for now) that the dogs and pigs represent unbelievers who trample the pearl of the kingdom message by attacking (or reviling, persecuting) the disciples of Jesus. The warning about not tolerating such trampling seems to have been enacted in the missionary activities of the disciples and of the apostle Paul.

Do you find other interpretations of the pigs and pearls more compelling? Or do you, like I do, believe the most common interpretation of Matthew 7:6 is still the most likely?

The Sermon on the Mount is a House

The structure of the Sermon on the Mount is important for interpreting its various parts. I like to think of the Sermon (Matt 5-7) as a three-room house with a front porch and back porch. Here’s how that works out.

FRONT PORCH: Matthew 5:1-16 (Beatitudes and the Salt and Light passage)

FRONT DOOR: Matthew 5:17-20 (Jesus came to fulfill the Law and Prophets)

THREE-ROOM HOUSE: Matthew 5:21–7:11 (The body of the Sermon)

  • ROOM 1: Matthew 5:21-48 (Six subsections)
  • ROOM 2: Matthew 6:1-18 (Three subsections)
  • ROOM 3: Matthew 6:19–7:11 (Four subsections)

BACK DOOR: Matthew 7:12 (The essence of the Law and the Prophets)

BACK PORCH: Matthew 7:13-29 (Three pairs of contrasts)

What a beautiful home!

The Literary Relationships in Matthew 6:19–7:11

It is widely acknowledged that between the inclusio of “Law and Prophets” language (Matt 5:17-20, 7:12), there are three sections in the Body of the Sermon on the Mount.

The first section is 5:21-48 and covers six subjects to illustrate the righteousness that surpasses what scribes and Pharisees display. The second section is 6:1-18, which talks about three disciplines to illustrate not practicing righteousness with the goal of being seen by people. The third section is 6:19–7:11 and addresses expressing trust and wisdom with regard to possessions and people.

The third section (6:19–7:11) is notoriously described as a collection of sayings with little to no design or interrelated elements. It seems to some commentators as if Matthew simply strung together some teachings of Jesus. But I don’t think 6:19–7:11 should be seen as a grouping of independent teachings without connections to each other. Even in this third section Matthew has connected his topics in literary and lexical ways.

But let’s first get the pericopes of the section in view. Scholars agree that 6:19-24 and 6:25-33 are two units , one about not storing up treasures on earth and one about not being anxious about life’s necessities. But how many sections are in 7:1-11? Some say two, some say three.

Those who see two sections say 7:1-11 divides into 7:1-6 and 7:7-11 or into 7:1-5 and 7:6-11. Those who see three sections say 7:1-11 divides into 7:1-5 and 7:6 and 7:7-11.

The common problem addressed by each option is what to do with 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” If 7:6 belongs with the “judge not” section, then 7:1-6 is a unit. If 7:6 belongs with the prayer section, then 7:6-11 is a unit. But if 7:6 is an independent saying, not connected to what precedes or follows, then 7:6 is simply the second of three units inside 7:1-11: vv. 1-5, v. 6, vv. 7-11.

I want to argue (as Charles Talbert does) that Matthew 7:6 belongs with 7:7-11, and so 7:6-11 is a unit. This means 7:1-11 is divided into two units, not three: 7:1-5 and 7:6-11. Now if both 6:19-34 and 7:1-11 have two units, then the third large section of the Sermon on the Mount (6:19–7:11) has four parts: 6:19-24; 6:25-34; 7:1-5; 7:6-11. I think this arrangement is confirmed by literary and linguistic connections.

  1. Each of the four units (6:19-24; 6:25-34; 7:1-5; 7:6-11) begins with a negative command: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (6:19), “do not be anxious about your life” (6:25), “do not judge” (7:1), and “do not give dogs what is holy” (7:6). This commonality is significant because the two previous large sections of the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-48; 6:1-18) are also marked by similar beginnings. In 5:21-48, the pattern is essentially “You have heard it said, but I say to you” (5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). And in 6:1-18, the beginning of each discipline is essentially, “When you ______, don’t be like the hypocrites” (6:2, 5, 16).
  2. Each of the four units (6:19-24; 6:25-34; 7:1-5; 7:6-11) have a crucial positive command that relates to the negative one: “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20), “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (6:33), “take the log out of your own eye” (7:5), and “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (7:7).
  3. The first (6:19-24) and second (6:25-34) units emphasize trusting the Lord instead of becoming preoccupied with wealth and possessions. Believers shouldn’t store up treasures on earth (6:19), because you cannot serve both God and money (6:24). Believers should therefore seek first God’s kingdom (6:33) and not be anxious about having things like food or clothing (6:25), for if God adorns and feeds his creation, then how much more will he care for his people!
  4. The third (7:1-5) and fourth (7:6-11) units address how to interact wisely with insiders and with outsiders. Believers should deal with their own sin before trying to take a speck from their brother’s eye (7:5), and believers should not cast holy things and pearls before dogs and pigs (7:6).
  5. The first (6:19-24) and third (7:1-5) units address the Christian’s “eye.” Believers should not have a bad eye, for their whole body would then be full of darkness (6:22-23). Believers should also remove the log from their own eye before helping a brother with a speck (7:5).
  6. The second (6:25-34) and fourth (7:6-11) units speak of “seeking” and of God giving things. Believers should “seek” God’s kingdom, and all “these things” will be added to them (6:33). Believers should “seek,” and they will find (7:7-8), and God gives “good things” to those who ask him (7:11).
  7. In the second (6:25-34) and fourth (7:6-11) units, God gives his children food as a good father would. God feeds the birds, and we are more valuable than birds (6:26). God would never act like a prankster and substitute a stone for bread or a snake for fish (7:9-10).
  8. In the first (6:19-24) and fourth (7:6-11) units, Jesus envisions damage happening to earthly treasure. Earthly treasures can wear out or corrode because of moth and rust, or thieves can steal them (6:19). Because dogs and pigs cannot discern what is truly valuable, they may profane holy sacrificial meat or try to eat precious pearls (7:6).
  9. The third (7:1-5) and fourth (7:6-11) units have a negative command, an explanation, two rhetorical questions, and a label that may apply to the hearers. Jesus tells his hearers not to judge (7:1), explains why (7:2), asks two questions (7:3-4), and calls the hearer a “hypocrite” (7:5). Jesus also tells his hearers not to give dogs what is holy or cast pearls before swine (7:6), explains why they should pray for wisdom (7:8), asks two questions (7:9-10), and identifies the hearer as “you who are evil” (7:11).
  10. All four units (6:19-24; 6:25-34; 7:1-5; 7:6-11) use imagery in their teaching. Jesus talks about moth, rust, thieves, eyes, treasure, lamp, hearts, light, darkness, and body (6:19-24), birds, lilies, grass, and Solomon (6:25-34), measure, speck, eye, and log (7:1-5), and dogs, sacred things, pearls, pigs, bread, stone, fish, serpent, asking, seeking, and knocking (7:6-11).

There is surely more that can be said about how these four units relate to each other. Whether or not you’re convinced by my list of ten, I hoped to at least substantiate that the third large section of the Sermon on the Mount (6:19–7:11) is not a hodgepodge gathering of subjects and teachings. There are literary and linguistic features that suggest Matthew thoughtfully arranged 6:19–7:11, just like he did 5:21-48 and 6:1-18.

Are there other features you’ve observed in the large section of Matthew 6:19–7:11?