The Narrow Path

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road the leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14

We have been looking, in the past few studies, at the well-known part of the sermon that comes under the heading ‘Ask, seek, knock.’

When read in the context of the sermon as a whole, it can be seen that this is about the love that exists in the family of God, specifically the good parenting of our heavenly Father for His children. In this respect it is not the ‘carte blanche’ that some people think it to be. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, it is so easy to take a text out of context and to use it as a pretext for bad doctrine. And this is one of the verses that is sometimes used as an ‘ask for anything you want and you will get it’ magical formula by those caught up in the so-called ‘prosperity gospel.’

The bible is NOT a collection of magic spells for a kind of ‘holy sorcery.’ And nothing in the bible is for holding God’s hand behind his back and forcing him to do things. Those who treat God this way will have their reward…

In fact, in the context of the passage of scripture, this famous verse is actually about food, drink and clothing. I add a roof over the head to this, but actually do not have scriptural authority for doing it. I only follow the theme that the Father is the good Father who takes His responsibilities as a Father completely seriously and so makes sure that His kids have their basic needs met. In fact He is much, much more generous than that. But any seriously responsible Father will also not give his kids everything that they ask for.

Some asking is out of envy, or greed, or some other rather less than noble motive. And there are more than enough scriptures that speak the truth about such motives. I can’t see the Lord speaking so strongly against something and then ignoring this motive in a prayer request. But I have known people receive a positive answer sometimes so that they could learn that what they wanted was definitely something that was not good for them in life. And so they repented and grew in the faith and in appreciation of the Father’s care.

I can’t help but stick with the context of love in the family of God. Of how our heavenly Father cares for His kids. And I am immediately drawn to think of something that happens in nearly every family these days – especially in the western civilisation. Our civilisation has often-changing fashions, fads and ‘crazes.’ There is the must-have toy that every kid of a certain age demands for Christmas that year, or their birthday if that comes sooner. They apply pressure on the parent because they absolutely must have this. And why? Because everyone has one! And they are so cool!

And then there is the music or dance craze for older kids. They absolutely love a certain song or music group, and want to dance that certain dance to it. Showing my age, I remember ‘The Twist’, and more than a decade after that ‘The Birdie Song.’ Looking back, many who participated in these crazes are often too embarrassed to even admit that they took part. Many realise that they never even really liked the music or the dance, but just had to join in because everyone was doing it.

In the country I am in at the moment, there is the fashion to buy a pair of jeans and then to cut a series of holes into it. There are even programs on television to show how to do this in a really cool and fashionable way. All the girls here seem to be doing it.

And so it goes on… How about Pokemon Go? This became a worldwide phenomenon, and it seems that there are few who have not downloaded this to their mobile phones or GPS enabled tablets. And to ‘catch them all’ people have taken time from work, or used their holiday time instead of spending time with family, skipped off school, and so on.

I am not saying that any of these things are evil in and of themselves. I am not trying to ‘spoil the fun.’ I am merely saying that there is something about we human beings that tends to want to ‘go with the crowd.’ We don’t want to feel that we are ‘missing out.’ And we want to be able to join in the common social conversation that may include a lot of chatter about the latest TV programs, movies, games, toys, technological gadget, and so on.

As I said, there is nothing wrong with any of these things in and of themselves, but then there are some trends that begin to take over society as a whole. So, for instance, how many reading this do not have a television in their home? And if you or one of your friends does not have a television, I would guess that there is a lot of social pressure to ‘correct this.’ It is almost as though society as a whole considers that there is something wrong if a home lacks this piece of technology. How on earth did the human race survive the boredom of thousands of years without this?

But what if God spoke to a person and told them that He wanted them to be without a television? I am pretty sure that even many Christians will be telling that person that they are wrong because they never heard any such thing from God themselves… And here is another problem. ‘Crowd thinking’ affects the congregation just as much as it does the rest of the world. There is this seeking for a kind of conformity and uniformity that almost denies the possibility of an individual walk with God. It even gets to the point that, although a person may be orthodox and correct in doctrine, and have found salvation for themselves, yet they may be encouraged to leave a congregation or  perhaps even be branded a heretic for daring to be different from the ‘norm’ of the congregation.

I’m being serious here – I have seen it happen!

And, you know, to ‘go with the crowd’ can be expensive. At least the music side of things has evened out a bit with the family subscriptions that are available to the streaming services, but not long ago you had to buy all the CDs or the vinyl disks, and it could add up to a lot. And then there were the posters, and the clothes that fitted in with the fashions that were promoted by the particular music band. And then the ever-increasing price of the concert tickets, and the overnight queuing that you used to do for them (and now the internet melt-downs to purchase them). Add to this the the travel costs, and the other supplemental costs (like the concert or tour souvenirs). So even teenage fandom can be quite expensive. And if there are multiple young fans in the same home, the costs multiply.

It can be quite reasonable for a parent to say to a maturing child that it is OK not to go with the crowd. It is OK to be an individual. It is OK to find your own path and your own place in this world. And I am sure you have heard of, or even participated in, the kind of family arguments that can follow…

So we see here a similar family conversation in our text today. Yes, we are with the Father who cares for His kids again. And this Father, like many earthly parents, is saying: don’t go with the crowd. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Be yourself. Don’t get carried along with the crowd.

Any parent who has especially gone through the early teenage years with a kid knows that peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with! A teen is scared of being seen to be different. They worry that they may be ‘picked on’ for this, like the spotty spectacled geek who always has his homework done on time. It is scary for this youngster to be different and not to go along with the crowd.

Actually, in some ways, it can be the same for you and for me when it comes to being true to the gospel and living according to the instructions Jesus gives us in this Sermon. I mean, to love your enemies? That would really stand out as different!In some parts of western civilisation, to show such care, as Christians, towards Moslems would be seen as tantamount to treason.

To be a true follower of Christ can result in pressures in some relationships, can result in some rejection, can result in unpleasant things being left at your door. As with the teenager told to ignore peer pressure, some things about the Christian walk can seem scary. How much easier to ‘go with the crowd’ and to do as all the others do. Even if that crowd is a congregation in a church.

Don’t follow the crowd. Follow Jesus. Be clothed with his righteousness, and don’t listen to legalistic doctrine that will have you trying to come before the Father clothed in filthy rags. And most of all, don’t let the crowd or the congregation tell you who to love or how to show love. Jesus tells us who to love and how to love quite clearly in this Sermon. And in other places like the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It can be hard. There will be other ‘Christians’ who will think it is their job to put you right, to reveal to you the ‘error of your ways,’ or even to try to prove to you that you are a ‘heretic.’

Remember about the dogs and the pigs in a previous study? The opposition is not only from the world, but often also from among those who identify with God’s people.

Don’t go with the crowd. Don’t let peer pressure pull you away from the truth and the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stay on the path prepared before you and trust the Father to care for you.

This is the narrow path, and the narrow gate.

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