Matthew 7:13–14 ESV

“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.

The late John Stott’s words regarding Matthew 7:13-14 are insightful: “It is hardly necessary to comment that such talk is extremely unfashionable today.  People like to be uncommitted.  Every opinion poll allows for not only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but for a convenient, ‘don’t know’.  Men are lovers of Aristotle and of his golden mean.  The most popular path is the via media.  To deviate from the middle way is to risk being dubbed an extremist or a fanatic.  Everybody resents being faced with the necessity of a choice [an ultimate, eternal choice[1]].  But Jesus will not allow us to escape it.”[2]

In this last section of the Sermon on the Mount- Jesus calls his followers to a response- to follow him, or to follow the road to destruction—There is no other destiny for each person!  Today- God calls us to follow  Jesus, to continue along the narrow way.  He is the one whom we build our life upon.

I love the “You Pick Two” menu at Panera Bread- the choices are almost all good, and I don’t have to decide up until the moment I arrive which items I am going to get: soup, sandwich, bread bowl, salad, among others.  We love to have options, and we naturally avoid commitment.

Yet many people live this way regarding their spiritual life.  In regards to God, people live as if they have a vast array of options and can mix and match whatever combination they desire.  They live as if their choices do not matter, until the end of their life, if it all.  However, when a person dies and is presented before God, they won’t have a vast array of options in that moment.  The question God the Father will ask them is, “What have you decided regarding my son Jesus?”

Jesus presents us with one choice, and only two options: follow him along the narrow way, because he is the gate to life, or follow the wide way which leads to destruction.  Many end up there, but only few end up with Jesus.  This is a sobering reality.  But before we get into comparing the two ways, I want to share some additional thoughts on last week’s verse, Matthew 7:12, known as the golden rule.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”(Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Jesus says that this verse sums up the Law and the Prophets- the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament.  Quoting from Leviticus 19:18, Jesus says that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the second greatest commandment in the law, why is this so important?

First, notice that this is stated positively, as an attitude, action, and practice, not just a passive avoidance of “do no harm” to your fellow man.

Second, the phrase “your neighbor” needs to be explained.  What is the meaning of this phrase?  Well, Jesus showed that our neighbor is not the person who looks just like us.  He told the parable of the good Samaritan in which the Samaritan (a despised, mixed race by ancient Jewish standards) was the one who helped the man along the side of the road.  The Jewish Priest and the Levite both walked by on the other side of the road (Luke 10:29-37).  So to be clear, “your neighbor” is anyone around you, whether they look like you or not, whether their background is similar or different, or whatever their political opinions might be. Jesus also said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46-47 ESV)  Loving our neighbor “as yourself” means putting yourself in their position, or their shoes, and visualizing life and its struggles from their perspective.

It would also be a mistake to read “love your neighbor as yourself” into “as much as you love yourself” or “to the degree that you love yourself.”  Some people teach that “self-love” must come first before we can focus on others and serve them genuinely.  In this vein, our self-esteem, or our self-fulfillment, or self-realization becomes the basis by which we reach out to love others.  On a practical level, this can backfire and actually lower the demand for us to reach out to our neighbors.  It is too easy to justify a lack of love for someone by saying, “I’m not feelin’ it today.  I’m having a down day, I’m in no shape to help someone else right now.”

I agree that some level of self-respect or self- esteem is necessary for a person to genuinely take an interest in another person and serve them sacrificially, but here’s the danger: “self-love” can easily turn into the “love of self”, which becomes and idol, thereby preventing us from loving others.  This type of “self-love”Take for example the Whitney Houston song, Greatest Love of All.  The lyrics in the chorus are as follows: “The greatest love of all is easy to achieve; learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

This is exactly the opposite of what Scripture teaches, no matter how helpful a sense of self-acceptance is! 

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV)  Later in 1 John we find:

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 ESV)

Certainly Jesus does not teach that we should dislike ourselves, or always be “down on ourselves”, but we do have to realize that the phrase “loving oneself” can easily turn into these kinds of attitudes- giving our selves the benefit of the doubt, justifying things from our perspective, and not sincerely seeking to understand another person’s point of view, thereby exalting ourselves, rather than humbling ourselves.

Also remember, the rest of the context of Leviticus chapter 19 is about living with integrity in personal and community relationships: leave part of harvest for poor & the sojourner; do not steal, do not lie or deal falsely, do not oppress, do not hurt the deaf or the blind, do not show favoritism in the court—do not slander, reason frankly with your neighbor.  Verse 18 concludes with, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people.”

So brothers & sisters-  these are not “random acts of kindness” directed at strangers in the way the world might understand “love your neighbor”!   These are actions which honor other people in the context of community, treating them as you would want to be treated, which also extends to sojourners & strangers.  We need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to consider life from their perspective, in order to love them well and extend the same honesty, kindness, and practical help we would desire for ourselves.  We need to first recognize that we are sinners saved by grace, and secondly that our neighbors are also sinners in need of grace.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones spoke of the kind of humility necessary in order to love one’s neighbor:

“We see them now, no longer as hateful people who are trying to rob us of our rights, or trying to beat us in the race for money, or position or fame; we see them, as we see ourselves, as the victims of sin and Satan, as the dupes of the ‘god of this world’, as fellow creatures who are under the wrath of God and hell-bound.  We have an entirely new view of them.  We see them to be exactly as we are ourselves, and we are both in a terrible predicament.  And we can do nothing ; but both of us together must run to Christ and avail ourselves of His wonderful grace.  We begin to enjoy it together and we want to share it together.  That is how it works.  It is the only way whereby we can ever do unto others as we would that they should do unto us.  It is when we are really loving our neighbor as ourselves because we have been delivered from the thraldom of self, that we begin to enjoy theglorious liberty of the children of God‘. (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, pg. 473-474.)

Friends, the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ is what empowers you and I to love our neighbor as ourselves, because we are delivered from the sinful love of self!  And because we all need delivered from sinful self-love, Jesus presents us with the gift and the choice to follow Him, or follow the wide way:

Let’s look at these two ways: the narrow way and the wide way.  What is the wide way?

The wide way is the way of no boundaries, the way which requires little effort.  In our culture today, this way might be the worship of tolerance, superficial religion, selfish ambition, a lust for power, or a false freedom which gives permissiveness of sin ,yet does not bring heart-freedom to people.

Tim Keller wrote the book Counterfeit Gods about the big three temptations:  Money, Sex,  and Power.  All three of these can be idols in people’s lives, and there is very little resistance to those who want to pursue them as life’s ultimate goals. People feel it is not “their place” to stand in the way of someone’s pursuit of happiness.

Think for a minute- does it really take practice or restraint to be on the wide way? When a toddler starts saying “No!” defiantly- is that something the parents taught him?  Is it something he learned from a sister or brother?  When someone comes into the teen years- do you need to teach him or her to be snarky, sarcastic, or aloof?  No, of course not! These attitudes require no instruction, they are natural!  They are ingrained in the self.  In marriage- do you need to instruct a husband on how to puff himself up, or to joke and jab at his wife?  No, but on the other hand, he needs instruction and practice on how to resist those attitudes.  Jesus said the narrow way is hard, meaning, it requires saying “no” to certain things in order to pursue the best things.

What are the core beliefs of the wide way? All paths lead to heaven; it doesn’t matter how you live, Hell is figurative and not real, “Don’t Judge Me” is the motto, Move at your own pace and in your own time, there’s no rush or urgency to the things of God.

It’s funny how people try to cram as much as possible into the overhead bins on an airplane.  Now that airlines charge for checked luggage, people try to bring even more on board.  In contrast, I have a friend who arrived at the Air Force academy, and he was told to bring only his driver’s license and his toothbrush!  Just like my Air Force friend, when Jesus calls us to the narrow way, he tells us it will be hard; he calls us to leave behind things which compete for his attention.  This week, think about What is hindering, or dragging you down from following Jesus?  What are the things in your life that compete for Jesus’ attention?  What things do you need to spend less time focusing on, so that you can focus on the things of Christ?

Worst of all, the disastrous result of the wide way is destruction!  Everything that is good will be absent in hell: friendship, love, beauty, laughter, joy, even hope! I shudder to think of a place, or a state of mind devoid of all comfort, sleep, peace.  No matter how comfortable or enjoyable the wide way is on earth, its end is destruction.  It is simply not worth the risk, is it?

In verses 15-20, Jesus moves on to warn about false prophets, or false teachers.  Before we see what a false teacher or false prophet is like, what are the marks of a true, Christ-filled teacher?

Galatians 5:22-23  Fruit of the Spirit (posture of humility).  A true Christian teacher will have an attitude of humility and will display personal integrity and God-honoring actions

 Titus 2:1  “Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” A true teacher will not stray for orthodox Christian theology.  Although his or her approach my be novel, the truth they are proclaiming is the truth that has been passed down from the saints, and it matches up with the Bible.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 A true teacher puts primary emphasis on the gospel message, the life, death and resurrection of Christ, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit to make someone born again, and the necessity of repentance and faith for salvation and following Christ daily.

John 15:16-17 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The fruit that is borne through the disciples is the fruit of changed lives, new believers, answered prayer, and the transformation of hearts who are following Christ.  If someone is an effective teacher and leader, you will usually find people whose live has been changed by his or her influence.

So what are the marks of a false teacher? Notice Jesus assumes that they already exist. Jesus says you will know them by their fruit, so what is that fruit?

  1. Character and Conduct- lack integrity, manipulative, critical [2 Tim. 3:1-2].  False teachers are abusive and controlling.  Eventually their character will be evident if they do not truly want to honor Jesus.
  2. Distortion of the gospel- False teachers want to put emphasis on anything other than the message of “Grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”  False teachers often obscure the gospel with legalism- adding extra requirements to salvation.  Syncretism is another way to obscure the gospel- mixing and matching all sorts of other non-Christian teachings alongside the message of Christ.
  3. Influence & Followers- Is this teacher causing division or chaos?  Are they seeking their own recognition and glory more than the honoring God?   [2 Timothy 2:15-18]

What are the dangers of false teachers?

  • First, they are deceptive; they are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, who come in to destroy the flock.  Paul warned the Ephesian elders that there would be people who would try to infiltrate the church in order to do harm. (Acts 20:28-29) Paul tells Timothy that these kinds of teachers are always learning, but never able to come to the truth.  In a time when people desire to hear “pleasant teaching”, a false teacher could easily give the impression of knowing God, while all the time really only leading people away from new life in Christ.
  • Second, they give people a false sense of security.  Jeremiah warned of false prophets who declared “Peace, Peace” when in reality God’s judgment on the nation was imminent. The Pharisees were complacent when John the Baptists declared to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!
  • Third, false teachers can lead other astray, putting someone’s soul at risk!  2 Timothy 3:6.

 

The Choice before you and me is to follow Christ- the narrow way, or to go on the wide path that brings destruction.

I enjoy golfing.  And when you play golf, the objective of the first shot on each hole is to hit from the tee box and and land your shot in the fairway, or on the green if the hole is a par 3.  Naturally, I like holes that have wide fairways so that there is room for error on my tee shot.  Golf courses that are tougher are ones that have tree-lined fairways, or long rough on either side of the fairway- the slightest error to the left or the right might result in an unplayable lie for your next shot.

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us and urging us that even though the wide way may be easy in the sense that there are less demands, the end of that road is not worth it…EVER.  On the wide way there may be an abundance of friends or acquaintances.  But when trouble comes, you find yourself alone and abandoned by those you thought were your helpers.  When we choose to follow Christ and surrender to his lordship, he is the one who brings us life and makes sure that we stay on the narrow way.  And when we enter through him- the Gate- we find that we have someone who walks alongside of us every step, who never leaves us or forsakes us.

[1] My words added

[2] John Stott, The Sermon on the Mount, the Bible Speaks Today Series- page 196