Matthew 7:15-20

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20

Like most kids, my sisters and I grew up in a home with a list of personal behaviors that were absolutely forbidden. We knew we were supposed to obey and be respectful toward authority figures. We knew we weren’t supposed to swear, or smoke, or drink, or use drugs, or have sex outside of marriage. And, of course, whenever our mother would talk about those rules, there was always the reality that we were supposed to “do as I say, not as I do.” It didn’t work.

Later in life, when I learned that human communication depends only on about 10% of the words we use and 90% on our tone of voice, body language, inflection, and other non-verbal clues did I realize why “do as I say, not as I do” didn’t work. For better or worse, we learn by what we see modeled in the behaviors of others. Actions really do speak louder than words.

Simul ustus et peccator is a pretty central tenet of my theology. It means that we are all simultaneously both saint (fully forgiven by God’s grace) and sinner (fully broken by selfishness and self-centeredness.) There is a little bit of saint in the worst of us and a little bit of sinner in the best of us. Like Paul in Romans 7, we don’t understand our actions. We can will what is right but not do it, and know what is wrong and yet do it. This battle, this tension, within us can’t help but spill out in our behaviors.

This seems more complicated than the simplistic divide Jesus describes between good trees bearing good fruits and bad trees bearing bad fruits. We need not push his metaphor too far. I think we all know what he means.

If it is too good to be true, it probably is. False prophets peddle hope and deliver disappointment. They appeal to our aspirations and contribute to our disillusionment. They make us want to believe what we already want to believe, despite any and all evidence to the contrary. So why do we fall for it? Because we are fallen people. We want newer, better, cheaper, easier. We want to be on the top. We want that great big broad easy path and we eagerly follow those who promise to lead us there.

Jesus reminds us that words are cheap. Actions do speak louder than words. Pay attention to actions.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, integrity aligns our actions and our words. Protect us from those people, those ideas, those fantasies, that promise what they cannot deliver. The shiny idols that would steal our lives. Use us to model exemplary and caring behaviors. May the fruits of our lives be good fruit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Matthew 7:15-20”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    Some days I am more sinner than saint and ever so thankful of God’s gift of grace.

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