“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 that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14)
Usually when we discuss these verses the application is related to warring against our fleshly urges. Don’t party. Don’t give in to peer pressure. Lots of people just eat, drink, and act merry — and lots of people go to hell. So don’t take the broad path, or you’ll end up in the same place.
I agree with that, of course, but we must take care with this passage. Jesus isn’t talking to a crowd inflamed with debauchery who know nothing of him.
Jesus is talking to people who have been following him already.
In Matthew 5:1, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (of which this passage is a part), we see that Jesus is teaching “his disciples.” This isn’t just the 12. This is a crowd of folks who are at least intruiged, and some of whom are growing quite devoted.
So Jesus is talking to a lot of people who are already, at some level, following him. What he is distinguishing between is not followers and unfollowers. s — I think it’s a distinction between types of followers. There are two types — those on a broad path and those on a narrow path
We have evidence of this immediately following Matthew 7:13-14. The next two paragraphs are a comparison between True & False Prophets and True & False Disciples. Jesus seems to be separating the committed from the curious, and this wide-path, narrow-path talk kicks it off.
So what are some areas where people who think they are following Jesus can actually find themselves on the wrong track? I think in modern American Christianity there are three broad paths we must avoid.
(I know they’re land mines for yours truly.)
The Broad Path of Comfort & Ease
My idea of comfort is a bag of chips and a good movie. I love taking it easy. I own a hammock. I enjoy sleep. I crave comfort. Guilty as charged. This may be my greatest temptation. In recent years, I’ve had to really lean in to discomfort. I think it’s important for my growth.
I think it’s essential for the Church, too. There are a lot of things easy about being a Christian these days. It doesn’t take much to become a Christian (say a prayer, raise your hand, let someone dunk you in water, etc.). It doesn’t take much to join a church (no requirements, really, just show up and stick around, maybe repeat a belief statement or something). It doesn’t take much to contribute at a church (give a few bucks, volunteer an hour or so, etc.). In general, our seats are padded, our services are short, and our demands are small.
It’s kinda easy.
That’s not to say people in our churches are insincere. I’m sincere in my faith. I’m just not all that uncomfortable most of the time.
By contrast, it’s hard to be a Christian many places. If I lived in one of those locations, would I fight the good fight? Would I stay the course? Would I finish my race? Or would I fold under pressure? What kind of believer are you — are you on the broad path of comfort or the narrow path of difficulty?
The Broad Path of Power
Second to comfort, we crave control. This is a biggie. As Christians, this has always been a tension. There are plenty of times when the Church has not held worldly power. From our origins in the Roman empire to modern day Christians in India, Christians have suffered through many eras of little authority or standing.
Other times the Church has held immense power– during the Middle Ages, for example, or even in recent years (to a much lesser degree) here in America. You can argue the sincerity of the faith of those in power (they were called Dark Ages for a reason), but the Church did have power.
It is natural that we want to enforce our beliefs. Edicts are easier than evangelism. But power usually comes with corruption, and corruption normally results in cancerous conditions of the heart in people who say all the right things but live lives contradictory to what they say. Just Google the Borgia family and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.
But in the history of the church it is when we’ve lacked power that we’ve been the most influential. It may be counterintuitive, but it is an indisputable historical fact.
We do well to avoid the broad path of power.
The Broad Path of Fear
Fear is winning the day. There is a lot of pervasive, soul-haunting fear that dominates our lives. Everyone seems to be ruled by that which they fear — a person, a group of people, an ideal, failure, being exposed as a fraud, etc. Maybe you fear losing power or comfort, as we’ve discussed.
The Scriptures indicate that perfect love cast out fear (1 John 4:18). I don’t know about you, but I still fear stuff. So I go with the flow, letting my fears direct my actions and attitudes. But that easy road leads to destruction, and I don’t want to end there. I want to end with Jesus, even if it’s harder along the way. Even if I have to challenge my fears. Even if I have to squeeze through a narrow gate to get there.
Maybe you find yourself on a broad path. That doesn’t mean you aren’t sincere in your faith, it just means you — like me — need a course correction.
Let’s leave the broad paths of comfort, power, and fear.
Let’s stomp through the weeds with Jesus instead.