23 August 2016

Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (v. 21)

Psalm: Psalm 140:1-7


These are very alarming verses, especially for those who spend much, if not all, of their time involved in church-related activity of one kind or another. Jesus was speaking to an audience which was likely to have included officials of the local synagogues, perhaps even scribes and Pharisees. These were, for the most part, good people whose life was devoted to the maintenance of the law and its traditions and practices. The issue Jesus had with some of them was that they placed observance of the law before the spirit of the law.

On this occasion, Jesus was emphasising that doing good simply for the sake of doing good is not sufficient. And the things to which Jesus referred were, and are, very good: preaching the gospel, exorcising evil spirits and effecting miracles. The issue here is the spirit in which things are done: is this about self-aggrandisement and winning public esteem, or is it about obedience to the will of God? Jesus was declaring that what was required was not mere religious observance, but a spirit in tune with God. The critical thing is whether or not we are obedient.

Traditionally, Methodist people renew their covenant with God at the beginning of every year: each person affirms that

"I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
  put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
  or laid aside for you…"

This is a promise to commit to the will of God first, and to put personal ambitions and plans second. And, make no mistake about it, this is very challenging - the approval and recognition of those around us is much more tangible and gratifying than that of a God, who we cannot see with the human eye. But, as most people know all too well, public approval is not a particularly solid basis on which to build!

To Ponder

  • Reflect on a time when you may have done something which, while good in itself, you did only because of how well others would think of you?
  • Does church 'busy-ness' sometimes get between you and God? What can you do about that?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.