Useful to God (part 2)
Lesson 12

Lesson Twelve

Behavior Rather Than "Correct" Ritual

Text: Matthew 7:13-27

In many societies and many countries doing things "the right way" is the key to acceptable behavior. In most of these cases, there is a single "right way" and numerous "wrong ways." The "right way" in most societies is based on numerous factors, and the principle factor is "the way it has always been done." In those cases, it seems the older the practice is, the "righter" the practice is. "Rightness" in the thinking of many seems to be a function of age. Hence, the statement, "Everyone knows this is the right way to do that!"

Therefore, to do the "right things" in the "right way" is a matter of procedure, not a matter of motive or daily behavior. Behave any way you wish in daily life. Have any motive you wish for performing or functioning in the correct way at the correct time. Just do "the right thing" at the "right time" and all is okay. If you do it out of peer pressure, or to get someone to stop hassling you (like getting a family member off your back), or to be socially acceptable, or to make a business contact, or for any other self-serving reason, it does not matter. Doing the right thing at the right time in the right place is all that matters.

Example: Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 12:1-14 that sacrifices should be offered in one place which God chose. God sought to break a habit produced by centuries of idol worship (Deuteronomy 12:13). Idol-worshipping people designated multiple sites as cultic places existing to honor the gods. Now God, not people, would choose the correct place to offer sacrifices.

In time, sacrificing in Israel became more a function of place than of motive. By the time God sent Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:1-7), God said to tell the people they were deceived if they thought the existence of the temple would protect them. Their ungodly behavior condemned them! (Their behavior was horrible, but they assembled at the "correct" place!) They thought "correct" worship was a matter of place and procedure, not a combination of place, procedure, motive, and daily behavior.

Centuries later, Jesus made the statement in our text. Jesus used two illustrations that an agricultural society (which they were) understood quickly. The first had to do with leaders who looked great outwardly, but inwardly were dangerous. If they were to allow someone to lead them spiritually, examine how their leaders behaved. Go beyond how they looked.

The second had to do with place. There was the cultivated tree in the orchard, and the wild tree in the wilderness. They knew the fruit produced by the tree in the wilderness was of little concern, but the fruit of the tree in the orchard was of great concern. If you found horrible fruit in the wilderness, you were not surprised. However, if you found horrible fruit in an orchard tree, you were deeply disappointed. That tree was immediately in danger.

Good trees produce good fruit. Such trees produce good fruit consistently. They produce the anticipated fruit. The trees place in the orchard depended on producing good fruit consistently and meeting the orchard keeper's expectation.

Do not claim to be God's tree while refusing to produce God's fruit. The fruit your life produces verifies (a) whose tree you are and (b) if you belong in God's orchard.

Belonging to God involved more than doing "the right thing" at "the right time" in "the right place." Being a part of God's kingdom involved more the calling Jesus Lord. It involved more than acceptable religious practices at that time--prophesying, casting out demons, and doing miracles. It involved more than doing those things in Jesus' name.

It involved seeking to do God's will in all of your life. For at least the 20th and 21st centuries, we have victimized ourselves through a horrible misunderstanding. The misunderstanding: there is some mysterious partition between spiritual life and secular life, between spiritual reality and secular reality, between spiritual practices and secular practices. The object of being "spiritual" is to refuse to be "secular" in a physical world. As a result, we label things. This is "spiritual" and that is "secular." Thus the goal is to be "spiritual" by refusing to do the "secular."

False! The objective is to use all of life for God all the time (every day, in every place). Surely, there is a godly way and an ungodly way to do everything. That includes being a spouse, being a parent, being a friend, being an employee, being an employer, etc. The objective is to be a representative of godly character in every situation we are in.

Being a Christian contains the ultimate relevance to life! A Christian life seeks to illuminate a dark world with the light of God's character in every situation. The Christian life does not seek to withdraw from the world, but to illuminate the world. We do not seek to hide God's influence on us under a bushel, but to allow our lives to show the value of God's influence on us.

In Jesus' last parable, the difference in the house that collapsed and the house that stood was in the foundation. The foundation of life is in hearing Jesus' words and acting upon them. The life that endures is the life that hears and acts on Jesus' teachings. The life that collapses just hears Jesus' teachings. It takes more than Sunday listening. It takes seven days of living.

For Thought and Discussion

  1. In many societies and countries, what is the key to acceptable behavior? What is the principle factor of the "right way?"


  2. Doing "the right things" in "the right way" is a matter of what, not a matter of what?


  3. What did Moses say about sacrifices in Deuteronomy 12:1-14?


  4. Centuries later, what did God tell Jeremiah to say in Jeremiah 7:1-7?


  5. In our text, what was Jesus' first illustration? What was his second?


  6. Contrast a wilderness tree with an orchard tree.


  7. Good trees produce what?


  8. The fruit of a person's life verifies what two things?


  9. Belonging to God involved more than doing what four things? What does it involve?


  10. What is the objective of being a Christian?


  11. A Christian's life seeks to do what?


  12. What is the basic difference in a godly life that endures and the life that collapses?

Link to Teacher's Guide

Copyright 2008
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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