Hindrances to Holiness
Before we study these first 12 verses in chapter 7, let’s remember how Wesley sees the Sermon on the Mount as neatly divided by the chapter headings.
In chapter 5, Jesus has described inward religion, the attitude of heart that God requires.
In Chapter 6 Jesus describes how everything we do, be it giving, praying, fasting, building up treasure and the earning of money, all must be done with a pure and holy intention. This makes them acceptable to God. He has shown us that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything.
Now, in chapter 7, Jesus turns to common hindrances to holiness.
In our reading we have four: judging, over-enthusiasm or what Wesley calls “intemperate zeal”, the neglect of prayer and the neglect of charity towards others. These are hindrances to holy living and Jesus teaches us how to avoid them.
First of all – judging.
How is judging others a hindrance to holy living and growing in grace. Well, judging makes us take our eyes off ourselves. It makes us spend time finding out our neighbour’s faults instead of finding out our own. So Jesus issues this warning: in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. God, in a sense, permits you to determine for yourself the manner in which he will deal with you. But notice he says, “First look to yourself, remove the plank from your own eye". In other words, judge yourself. Spiritual poverty comes into play here. See yourself as you really are. Leading of course to holy mourning because of what you see in yourself. And then, and this is what most people miss, then, says Jesus, take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Then, you judge him or her.
In Matthew chapter 18:15-17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses even to listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector.”
So, Jesus teaches us in that reading, how to judge. In Luke 17:2, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him." In Galatians chapter 6:1, we have this, “Brothers if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” 1 Timothy 5:20, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly so that others may take warning.” In Titus 3:10, “Warn a divisive person once, then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”
So Jesus’ teaching is: don’t run around judging, judging, judging. That is going to hinder your growth in holiness. Look to yourself and then, when and if necessary, judge others, rebuke others, discipline others. In other words, take the splinter out of the other person’s eye. And when you do it, do it properly because what Jesus says next requires that we judge properly.
Verse 6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred, do not throw your pearls to pigs.” This is harsh! This person is a dog or a pig. That requires some judging, doesn’t it? Jesus is warning us here about the second hindrance to growth in holiness – over-enthusiasm, what Wesley calls intemperate zeal. Friends, know when to witness and share the gospel, and know when not to witness and not share the gospel. Know when to speak and when to be quiet.
We are called to judge people’s attitudes towards the gospel. That is what is sacred in the text before us today. Dogs, are those who when presented with the gospel, treat it with scorn and contempt. Trying to teach the gospel to those who do not want to listen is as futile as giving pearls to pigs. Such people will only tear apart what we say – pigs don’t recognize the value of pearls, all they know is that they cannot eat them. So they spit them out and they trample them into the mud. Contemptuous, scornful people cannot grasp the value of the gospel. So they scornfully cast it away. We should not stop giving God’s word to unbelievers, but we should be wise and discerning so as not to bring scorn to God’s message. Know when to cast and when not to cast. Do not give what is holy to dogs, do not give pearls to pigs, says Jesus.
What can you do for such people? Well, don’t waste time trying to share the gospel with them, but do pray for them. And this leads to the third hindrance to growing into Christ, to becoming more like him. And that is the neglect of prayer, which Jesus deals with in verse 7-11. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. He who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake. If you then, who know you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”
Ask, friends, ask. James will later say that you don’t have because you don’t ask; so ask, says Jesus. Seek in the way he has shown us already, by searching the scriptures, by hearing and meditating on the word of God, by fasting, by receiving communion. And in these you will find the pearl of great price, that faith that overcomes the world. And knock, says Jesus, continue in prayer, don’t grow weary. Mr Wesley says, do not let God go until he blesses you. So pray, pray, because it is the neglect of prayer that is holding so many of us back, hindering our growth in holiness.
The fourth hindrance to spiritual growth is our neglect of charity. Jesus says, “So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” This is another way of saying, love your neighbour. And your neighbour, of course, is every other person with whom you come into contact. Now, this is one way of making sure that our prayers carry weight with God. You know, our prayers can bring a curse to us from God rather than a blessing. How can you and I ask God to bless us if we refuse to bless others? How can I ask God to help me if I refuse to help others? To be with us if we refuse to be with others? To strengthen us if we don’t strengthen others? So Jesus says, in everything do to others what you would have them do to you. Our failure to do this, our failure to love is thus another reason why we don’t grow in holiness.
In conclusion: Very often we are aware that we are not moving forward in our walk with our Lord. We are not growing in holiness, not becoming like Jesus. Here are four possible causes: we are judging others rather than ourselves, we are forcing the gospel on those Jesus says we mustn’t force it on, and that can tire us out and discourage us, we neglect our prayer life, we neglect or perhaps even refuse to love in word and in action, we refuse to love those we don’t want to love.
Let’s not make these mistakes and if we are, let us pray for the grace to change.