Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8, bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: (kjv)
Here we have John the Baptist who had been preaching,”Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. He had been preaching in the wilderness of Judea. People from Jerusalem, Judea and from around Jordan had come to John the Baptist confessing their sins. They were baptised by him in the river Jordan. When John saw that there were many Pharisees and Sadducees amongst those who had come to his baptism he calls them a ‘generation of vipers’. These two groups were both very religious and often concerned with their own self-righteousness.
The way John speaks to them sounds quite harsh and judgmental. The phrase ‘generation of vipers’, I am informed, was an expression used to express those filled with malice; those with evil intent. How might you feel if someone called you an offspring of a snake? By calling these groups, John illustrates who they were and that their teachings were harmful or poisonous. He is not judging them in a condemnatory way. He is not passing sentence on them. It is not wrong to point out faults in others provided we remain humble and do it out of love.
Often when someone points out a fault in us we can feel wronged. After all, doesn’t Jesus say it is wrong to judge one another? Well, judgement is different from correction. Judgment brings with it destruction whereas correction will hopefully lead us to repentance: a turning to what is right. I don’t think it is easy for us to get used to being told that we are wrong by others. However, this is not always a bad thing provided it is said to us by those who love us. We must never despise the correction of those who are looking out for our welfare. Indeed it is those who turn a blind eye and never seek to correct us that probably love us the least. For example, if a father only wants to be popular with his children he may never correct them due to his fear of losing popularity. A loving father always corrects, as necessary, for the sake of his children's welfare, not just for his power or ego trip. Discipline must always be carefully measured and mixed with an abundant expression of love. God gives immeasurable love to his children, but only ever gives measured discipline to them; just for a season. He never deals them a hand of judgement once they are his. His love removes sin as far as the east is from the west and therefore deals with guilt.
Sometimes the person that appears to be most against us is the one that loves us the most. However, be careful to understand the difference between someone who genuinely cares for you and an abuser of power. The abuser will ask you to do things for the abuser's profit and not your betterment. Those that love you care about your life choices and desire your success. However, no one loves perfectly and there needs to be a huge place for forgiveness in our relationships. God tells us, those he loves, he corrects. Although John the Baptist may have sounded harsh he actually doesn’t seek to prevent the Pharisees and Sadducees from finding peace with God. He told them in verse 8 to be fruitful in repentance. He gave them good advice that would have helped them if they had listened. Rather than being so self righteous, they should have come humbly before God, accepting their unrighteousness. A necessary step to changing for the better is to accept our own emptiness and need of God and then he can fill us with his righteousness. We need to be shown our faults in order to know about our need to change. God first of all reveals to us our sin by his law. He criticises us to show us our need of him and then he turns our eyes towards his salvation away from our sin. As a loving father and shepherd he then leads us in every area of our lives, by loving correction and instruction, leading us towards practical righteousness.