How To Do What You Cannot

How to Do What You Cannot Do

Matthew 7:12

Dr. Jim Denison

Someone has written that you know you are in Texas in July when: the birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground; the best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance; hot water comes out of both taps; you can make sun tea instantly; you discover that in July it takes only two fingers to steer your car; you break into a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m.; you realize that asphalt has a liquid state; the potatoes cook underground, so all you have to do is pull one out and add butter, salt, and pepper; and farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying boiled eggs.

Nonetheless, despite the hot weather and vacation schedules and all that might distract us this morning, God has brought us to a text of life-transforming significance. How can we be like Jesus? One verse will tell us.

This sentence has been known as the Golden Rule since a sermon by John Wesley in 1750. These are the most famous words Jesus ever spoke. They have been called the “Everest of ethics” (William Barclay), the greatest single statement of ethics in all of literature.

So, what did Jesus really say in this famous text? And how can we put his words into our lives? I am praying that you and I will never be the same for learning the answers from Jesus’ lips today.

Learn what Jesus said

First, what did Jesus really say? Walk through his words with me.

The verse begins with “so,” or “therefore.” This verse sums up the entire Sermon on the Mount, the greatest discourse ever preached.

These words summarize the beatitudes, being salt and light, and God’s word regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retribution, love for enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, treasure in heaven, worry, judging and gossip, and seeking God. Here is the “capstone of the whole discourse” (Plummer).

“In everything, do to others”—attitudes, thoughts, words, actions. No exceptions.

“What you would have them do to you.”

Jesus here assumes, as with the entire Sermon on the Mount, that we are his followers. These words were preached to believers, and they require a prior faith commitment before they will work in our lives.

If a person wishes evil for himself, this Rule would permit him to wish it for others as well (drug dealers, pornographers, alcoholics). So you must make your heart right with God before you can use this as a Rule by which to live. More of this in a moment.

“For this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus said earlier, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

This one Rule summarizes all God has said to mankind to this point in revelatory history.

Think for a moment about all the ways our world would be different if we lived by this Golden Rule.

Consider the social parts of the Ten Commandments. Do you want others to murder or harm you? To commit adultery with your spouse? To steal from you? To lie to or about you, to gossip and slander about you? To covet what is yours? What if the world practiced this Rule? What would be the consequences for our prisons and jails if there were no more murder or physical assault or theft? For our families if there were no more adultery? For our relationships if there were no more lies or slander or gossip or coveting? What would be the consequences regarding issues such as abortion, pornography, substance abuse?

A century ago, a Great Awakening came to the nation of Wales, and the population began living by the Golden Rule. What were the results? They had to close the jails, for there were no prisoners. The police formed choruses and sang in churches. Coal miners had to retrain their mules, because they had before heard only foul language from their masters. Everything changed.

How different would our personal lives be if we each lived and thought by this Rule? If we didn’t have murderous wishes, or adulterous lust, or desires to steal, lie, and covet? How much more healthy and godly would our minds and souls be?

Admit that his ethic is impossible

Obviously, we should each live by this Golden Rule. But there’s a catch.

The negative form of this rule is found throughout literature. The great Jewish rabbi Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to another. This is the whole law; the rest is explanation of it” (cf. Tobit 4:15). Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” The Stoics said the same, as did the Greek philosophers.

But Jesus was the very first to state this rule positively. Not just, don’t do what you don’t want done to you; but, do what you do want done to you. This had never been said before in all of recorded literature. It was a new teaching, a new way of looking and life and all its responsibilities and privileges.

And it is a way of life none of us can follow.

You see a car broken down on the side of the road. Hillel tells you not to hinder or harm the person; Jesus tells you to stop and help him. You notice a lonely colleague at work or student at school. Hillel says not to make things worse; Jesus says to befriend her. You learn of someone in financial trouble. Hillel says not to compound the problem; Jesus says to help meet the need. You know someone who is lost spiritually. Hillel says not to make things worse spiritually; Jesus says to pray for the person and win him to faith.

Jesus applies this Golden Rule to “everything.” No exceptions. No parts of life left out. No people to the side. No days off. No moments off. Every dimension of your life—your thoughts, attitudes, private words, public actions—every day of your life is to be lived this way.


The Cure For Gossip

The Cure for Gossip

Matthew 7:1-6

Dr. Jim Denison

Some of you are new to our city. In the interest of public safety, I wish to help. A friend recently sent me a set of driving rules for Dallas. You’ll find them essential, I think.

If your Mapsco is more than a few weeks old, throw it away and buy a new one. If you’re in Denton County and your Mapsco is one day old, it is already obsolete.

There is no such thing as a high-speed chase in Dallas. We all drive like that.

Morning rush hour is from 6 to 10; evening rush hour is from 3 to 7. Friday’s rush hour begins Thursday night.

If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended, yelled at and possibly shot.

If someone actually has his or her turn signal on, it’s probably a factory defect.

f. Roads change names without reason. For instance, Lake Highlands Drive, when it crosses Northwest Highway, becomes Plano Road. It is then Avenue K, Greenville Avenue, and Highway 5 before ending in Sherman.

It is possible to be driving west in the northbound lane of East Northwest Highway. Do not let this confuse you.

You can tell who your enemies are when driving in Dallas: they’re everyone else. When you’re out of your car, it’s not so obvious. At least not to you. They don’t talk to you, just about you.

A “Dear Abby” column once carried this essay: “My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious, and gather strength with age. The more I am quoted the more I am believed. My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face. To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I am nobody’s friend. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip.”

What do we do about gossip? Social psychologist Nicholas Emler has concluded that gossip forms as much as 80% of a normal person’s conversation in a day. What cures this disease of the tongue and the soul? Jesus will tell us today.

Admit that gossip is wrong (vs. 1-2)

He begins: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

The word “judge” means subject someone to harsh, sharp, unjust criticism, in a habitual way.

The words are a present tense imperative: never judge. Stop judging. No exceptions, conditions, or loopholes. Don’t do it.

This prohibition applies to all unjust criticism. But typically we criticize people in their absence more than in their presence; we slander and gossip.

We need to know that we will be criticized by others as we are doing to them now: “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (v. 2). If someone will gossip about you to me, they will gossip about me to you.

And we need to know that God is paying attention to our slander and gossip:

“Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure” (Psalm 101:5).

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke12:2-3).

So refuse to speak about those who are not present.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15).

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:12-13).

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Jim Cymbala is pastor of the remarkable Brooklyn Tabernacle and best-selling author of spiritual books. His church has grown from 20 to more than 7,000, in one of the harshest environments in America. He credits the unity of the church as one of its keys to experiencing the power of God. In that light, Jim says that when his church receives new members, his final charge to them is:

“Never slander or gossip about another member. If you ever hear somebody talking about a person not present, if you ever hear a critical word about the pastor of the church or a choir member or an usher, we charge and authorize you to stop that person in his tracks. Say to him, ‘Excuse me, has Pastor Cymbala hurt you? An usher hurt you? They’ll apologize. Come with me right now to the pastor’s office, or I’ll make an appointment for you. The pastor will bring whoever hurt you, and if necessary they’ll kneel before you and apologize. But we won’t permit talking behind their backs, slander, or gossip. We can’t be going to the prayer meeting and calling on God, ‘Lord, come in power!’ and then during the week be grieving the Holy Spirit by gossip and phone calls.”

Admit that gossip is wrong. This is the first step to its cure.

Confess your own sins (vs. 3-5)


The Only Way To Life

The Only Way to Life

Matthew 7:13-14

Dr. Jim Denison

Where did you go on vacation this summer? How much work was it to prepare? You studied your options, read travel brochures, contacted travel agents and friends. You chose the location and manner of travel, reserved plane tickets and hotel rooms and admissions. You chose your clothes and packed them the night before. All to go someplace for a few days or weeks.

Janet is the vacation planner in our house. For our vacation this summer, she read more material than I had to master for my dissertation. I don’t even want to know how many hours she spent booking flights, confirming flights, and checking on details. The rest of us just did as we were told. And all was well.

Now let’s think about our final destination in life. Not just the place we’ll spend a few days or weeks, but all of eternity. If you could stretch a measuring tape from here to the farthest star, your lifespan on earth would be less than a hair on that tape. You’re en route to that final destination, right now. Are you ready to go? Are you sure? Are the people you care about? No trip could be more important than the one before us today. Let’s learn from the only One who knows the way.

Own the correct map

Jesus says there are two “gates” you need to know about for your trip.

Some gates are “narrow.” The Greek word means to be compressed, to be narrowed as in a tight place between rocks or walls, as with gates leading to narrow alleys between buildings. This is a gate you can enter only by yourself. No baggage, no companions. Just you.

Other gates are “wide.” They thought of the gate leading into the city. The gate which is so wide an army could march through it, ranchers and shepherds could bring their animals to market, a gate which is easy to see, to choose, to enter, with as much baggage and as many companions as you like.

Next, our Lord tells us about the two roads in life, connected to these gates.

One is “narrow.” This is a different word from the one found in v. 13; it means to be pressed down, the weight they used to crush grain into flour. The road which leads to oppressing and suffering, the way of unpopular persecution.

The other is “broad,” the Main Street to which the city gates opened, and the wide highway which led to it. A road which is level, easy to walk, with as many people and as much luggage as you like. The way that is popular.

Now Jesus tells us about the two crowds we will find in life.

The narrow gate and road have on them “only a few” (v. 14).

The wide gate and broad road have large crowds, for “many enter through it” (v. 13).

And these gates and roads lead their crowds to the two destinations of life.

One is “life.” This is the first use of this word in the Sermon on the Mount. It means life now and eternally, the “abundant life” he came to give us (John 10:10).

The other is “destruction.” The word means absolute ruin, total despair, death now and eternally.

According to the Lord Jesus, this is the way life is. Only two gates, only two roads, only two crowds, only two destinations. Life and destruction. No third choice.

I admit that his words are not popular or politically correct today. Intolerance is the great evil in our society. Live and let live. There’s no such thing as absolute truth (which is an absolute truth claim). Just do what’s right for you. All roads lead up the same mountain. Whatever God is to you is fine, so long as you’re sincere.

But may I ask you: upon what basis are you sure that you are right and God and the Bible are wrong? What evidence? Do you want to stake your eternal destination on what you hope is true, or have heard somewhere, or seems popular? Would you do that with surgery for your temporal body? Investments for your temporal money? Don’t we want the best experts giving us the best advice, backed by the best evidence and facts?

Here the God of the universe, the One who created all that exists, the only One who knows the future, tells us how life and eternity really are. Begin your journey by owning the correct map.

Avoid the wrong destination

When we choose the right map, we learn to avoid the wrong destination. What is this place of “destruction” about which Jesus warns us?

It is a real place. The Bible tells us what will happen for many people when their road comes to its end: “Each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13-15).

What is the name of this place?

The Greek New Testament calls it tartarus, translated “hell:” “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

And it calls it gehenna, the most common Greek name translated “hell.” This was literally the garbage dump outside the city walls where children had been sacrificed in earlier centuries.

Jesus used it as a metaphor for hell: fires constantly burning, stench and smoke everywhere, disgusting and revolting.

What is it like?

It is a place of torment: “In hell, where he was in torment” (Luke 16.23).

A place of fire: those who reject Christ “will be tormented with burning sulfur” (Revelation 14:10).

A place which is eternal and permanent: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26).


When God Seems Silent

When God Seems Silent

Matthew 7:7-11

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend sent me this essay. See if it is as true to your life as it is mine.

Satan called a worldwide convention. In his opening address to his evil demons, he said, “We can’t keep the Christians from going to church. We can’t keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We can’t even keep them from conservative values. But we can do something else. We can keep them from forming an intimate, continual experience with Christ.

“If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to church, let them have their conservative lifestyles, but steal their time so they can’t gain that experience with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do. Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day.”

“How shall we do this?” asked his demons. “Keep them busy with the nonessentials of life and invest unnumbered schemes to occupy their minds,” he answered. “Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, then borrow, borrow, borrow. Convince them to work six or seven hours a day, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with their children. As their families fragment, soon their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work.

“Overstimulate their minds so they cannot hear that still small voice. Entice them to play the radio or CD player wherever they drive, to keep the TV, the DVD player, and their CDs going constantly in their homes. Fill their coffee tables with magazines and newspapers. Pound their minds with news 24 hours a day. Invade their driving moments with billboards. Flood their mailboxes and e-mail with junk, sweepstakes, and every kind of newsletter and promotion.

“Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their holidays exhausted, disquieted and unprepared for the coming week. And when they gather for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so they leave with souls unfulfilled.

“Let them be involved in evangelism. But crowd their lives with so many good causes that they have no time to seek power from Christ. Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family unity for the good of the cause.”

It was quite a convention. And the demons went eagerly to their assignments.

Has the devil been successful in his scheme? You be the judge. A recent poll reveals that while nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they pray to God, only one in four is “completely satisfied” with his or her prayer life. Only 60% of Protestants who pray are “absolutely certain” that prayer makes a difference in their lives. Most say they are too distracted to pray regularly.

They are the people I want to address today. The three in four who are not satisfied with your prayer lives; the 40% of you who are not certain that prayer makes a difference in your lives; those of you who are praying but not receiving; those who are so busy that praying is a struggle; those who are listening, but God seems silent.

We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there. Some of you are there right now.

How to pray

So what do we do? Ask, seek, and knock, Jesus says.

Note the ascent. A child asks for his mother’s help. But he cannot find her, so he seeks her. He still cannot find her, but there is a closed door. And so he knocks at the door, hoping to find the one he seeks so he can ask for the need she can answer.

So with us. We ask, but it seems he does not hear. We seek, but it seems he is not to be found. We knock, but it seems the door is closed. But it is not. Your Father will always open to you.

But you must pray. How? First, with urgency. Jesus’ words are imperatives, commands. Clearly praying means something to God. And it must mean something to us.

Charles Spurgeon: “He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire, if there is no fire in our prayers.”

Maltbie Babcock: “Our prayers must mean something to us if they are to mean anything to God.”

Spurgeon again: “The sacred promises, though in themselves most sure and precious, are of no avail for the comfort and sustenance of the soul unless you grasp them by faith, plead them in prayer, expect them by hope, and receive them with gratitude.”

And again he said: “Do not reckon you have prayed unless you have pleaded, for pleading is the very marrow of prayer.”

Pray with urgency, and continually. Jesus’ words are in the present tense: pray and keep on praying.

Jesus prayed before light, after dark, all night long, continually.

His word commands the same of us: “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

George Mueller, the great minister and man of faith, prayed patiently for five personal friends who did not know the Lord. After five years, one came to Christ. In ten more years, two more were saved. After 25 years, the fourth friend came to Christ. He kept praying for the last friend for 52 years, then died. The fifth friend came to know Jesus a few months afterward. Keep praying.

In Atlanta I met a non-Christian who came to our church with his believing wife. We spent several breakfasts together talking about his issues with the faith. When we moved to Dallas, I kept him on my prayer list for unsaved people. I have prayed for him daily across these years. Last week I received news that he has trusted in Christ. Now when I pray through that list, I rejoice. As do the angels in glory.

How do we pray with continual urgency?

Begin. Make an appointment to meet with God. I read this week about a man who put on his calendar each day, 7-7:30, prayer. But he kept missing it. Then he changed it to say 7-7:30, God. That’s harder to neglect.