Preached July 25th, 2010
St. Matthew 7:15–21
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Last week, in the Epistle lesson, in the previous chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we were presented with an image of our relation to God as that of slave to his Master, although St. Paul hesitated a little bit to use such an image. That image was completely correct and true, but it does not completely reveal our relation to God. Today on this eighth Sunday after Trinity, as we continue the subject of our service to God, St. Paul gives us a different image, that of being sons of God, as Paul tell us in our Epistle lesson beginning in Romans 8:12.
Throughout this meditation, there are going to be countless references to men and to sons. It should be understood throughout that this is to be understood in the classic sense where the male references indicate all of mankind, so the womenfolk are always included. There will be more than a few times they would like to be excluded, but no one gets off that easily.
Sonship is not immediately evident in the first few words, because St. Paul begins by talking about our being in a position of indebtedness. When he says Romans 8:12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, he is actually doing two important things: (1) establishing that he is one of them, he says “we,” a member of the Church in the same spiritual standing as they all are, and (2) he is calling to mind the huge spiritual debt incurred by all when our sins were remitted by the death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. This last is a debt beyond the ability of any mortal man to repay, but it remain a debt none the less, and the indebtedness is a demand upon us to live, as Paul says, not to the flesh, meaning that we are to avoid sin in so far as we are able. He goes on to elaborate Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. Thus, even though we are eternally debtors, God is not a harsh creditor demanding that we “pay up or face court action.” Rather, we are presented with an alternative that leads to life, life through the Holy Spirit. It is at this point that the idea of sonship is introduced with the next verse: Romans 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. It is in following Holy Spirit that we become the sons of God, that is through our sanctification.
Sons have worked for and with their fathers since the beginning of time. We understand that our Lord Jesus worked with His father Joseph in the carpentry shop in Bethlehem as just one of countless many examples that could be given. A son works because he shares his father’s goals and wants to complete them.
To be the adopted children of God is not a sort of slavery, a bondage, a thing to fear at all. Instead, those who have received the adoption of a son cry out “Abba, Father,” an expression of great love and affection, as indicated by the repeated name. In the original, Abba is the Syro–Chaldean language that was native to the Jews of Christ’s time, while the word we have translated as “Father” comes from Greek.
But a son does not work in the same manner as that of a slave or a hired worker. The son always works harder, more diligently, than the slave, because he is working with an entirely different attitude. The son works to accomplish his Fathers purposes, because of that intimate connection between the two of them, whereas the slave works merely because he is compelled to do so, or the hired man works for his wages.
The son knows where he stand with respect to the Father, just as in an earthly father–son relationship. As we read in Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: The Holy Spirit himself will give us the assurance that we are the children of God, and we will have this assurance in proportion to the faith that we have. This assurance will not come to those who are not living the life of faith, nor should they expect it to come. It only comes to those who are in fact living as sons of God.
Then we come to the crucial final verse of today’s Epistle lesson, Romans 8:17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. We are made sons of God by adoption and grace only, but even so, we have become heirs of God. In the ancient world, just as now, adopted children became heirs with full rights and the expectation of inheritance with any natural born children, in this case, “joint–heirs with Christ,” so the image St. Paul is presenting here is one of an expectation. In a conventional worldly sense, an inheritance is only conveyed at the death of the person creating the estate, and we are most certainly not talking at all about any “death of God” ideas here. Rather we are talking about those who will receive the abundant riches of God in His eternal Kingdom which begin even here and now. But there is a contingency: we must be prepared to suffer as Christ suffered if we would be glorified together with Him. We cannot expect to receive the riches of the Kingdom of God if we are unwilling to accept the service of sonship here in this life. The two go together all the way.
The teaching of the Christian year is very down to earth. We are not allowed to dwell upon our privileged position as Christians, without also being reminded of our duties. This morning’s Gospel lesson begins with a universal test, Matthew 7:16a Ye shall know them by their fruits.
These words are spoken by Jesus in a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, that vast teaching session covering so many subjects. Jesus bring this up in the context of being on guard against false prophets, but the words actually apply to all of our dealings with other men. When we deal with another person, we would like to know what is in their mind, what is in their heart, but we cannot see that. We would like to know the sort of faith that person has, the principles by which they live, what guides their lives, but these thing are all internal to the person, and we cannot see them. What we can see, however, are their actions. And I want to stress it is actions, not their words, but their actions. What have they actually done. If they have made promises, have they kept them? If they have offered to do something, have they carried through? Are they known for fair dealing? If they seek a position of large responsibility, in your family, in your business, or in your nation, have they shown evidence of any prior relevant experience?
While we would like to know the true character of a man, all we can know is his conduct. What Christ is saying is that this is indeed the proper test, that by a person’s conduct you can read his character. It should be evident that this requires that you know his conduct over an extended time, under a variety of circumstances, but nevertheless, this is the only way, and yet an acceptable way, to evaluate the character of another person.
Things are a bit more stringent when it is time to evaluate our own character because there we can look at both our actions and the thoughts of our hearts. We must be honest with ourselves if we are to correctly evaluate our own character. We read Matthew 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Eventually we will be tested, and we must pray that we produce good fruit.
At the end of the Gospel lesson, we find a rather disturbing verse, one that is often just hastily passed over: Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Whenever Jesus talks about those who will be excluded from Heaven, it is always a bit frightening. We wonder, “is He talking about me?” Just what does he mean in this verse?
In that one short verse, there are actually two tests implied. The first is the test of Christianity, are we truly Christian? When Christ came into the world, He came to make us sons of God, showing us the way by revealing His own divine Sonship. At the end of time, we will be judged as faithful or faithless sons of His Father. Christianity does not relieve us in anyway from doing the will of God, but instead it enables us to do the will of God. There is no Christian doctrine whatsoever that gives us permission to be disobedient to God. Thus we have no permission to try to modify the expressed Word of God in His Holy Scriptures. Neither should we think that we can change God’s will by prayer, because our prayers should include the phrase, “Thy will be done,” as our Savior has taught us.
The second test is the test of sonship, the test of absolute obedience to the will of God. Heaven is an absolute monarchy, a Kingdom, a place of absolute order and obedience. The joy of Heaven will be to be ruled by such a King and Father, and to be able to obey Him perfectly. These words sound very strange to American ears, and the thoughts are difficult to comprehend, but it is necessary for us to work at understanding them never the less. This is what Heaven will be like. There will be no disobedience of any form, and we will be able to obey our Father easily, whereas we have previously only done so with great difficulty. We will do wholly that which we have previously only done in part.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.