Judging

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:1-6


DO NOT JUDGE

Jesus’ statement “Do not judge….” could sound like we need to suspend wisdom and discernment about other people.  Yet, verse 6 tells us to discern the nature of our audience when we share the good news.  In addition, verses 15-20 address the wolves that creep in among the sheep and the necessity to judge them by their fruits.  In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus tells us to beware of imitating the hypocrites who outwardly try to impress others but inwardly are bankrupt before God.  To do these things requires the wisdom and understanding that allows us to judge correctly.

Perhaps one of the better translations of this passage renders this phrase as “Do not judge others….” (NLT) or even “Don’t condemn others….” of the Contemporary English Version.  God the Father has given Jesus, His Son, the words that will judge the world (John 12:47-49) and on Judgment Day the Son, Himself, will divide the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-33).  To assume God’s role in judging others has a consequence that is pretty intimidating: “ For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2).

The truth must be somewhere in between this judgment with the authority of God Himself and, conversely, “to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn  blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to eschew all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil.”*

THE CHURCH IN ROME

Roman Emperor Claudius

When the edict of Claudius against the Jews of Rome was instituted (50-51 AD) the church in Rome suddenly transitions from being a primarily Jewish church with non-Jewish Christians to an exclusively non-Jewish church.  This edict was in force until the death of Claudius around 54 AD which means that the church in Rome settled in over the next 4-5 years as a Gentile church with all of the gradual changes that would evolve in leadership, in worship, and so much more.  So, it would be expected that significant challenges would emerge when the Jews returned to pick up where they left off only to discover that things had changed; they were now the second-class members of a predominantly Gentile church.

I believe this occasion stands behind Paul’s sitting down to compose his letter to the church in Rome.  How was the church going to manage the tensions that would have naturally emerged?  After introducing himself to a people he had not yet met (Romans 1:1-7), he begins laying the groundwork for his intended first visit with them face-to-face (Romans 1:8-17), closing with his bold assertion:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

LEVELING THE FIELD

Paul is leveling the field to nullify any attempt at “one-upmanship” through Romans 3.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).

How does the apostle Paul take this highly polarized group of Christians and bring them to common ground?  I believe that he does this, in part, by hearkening to the teaching of Jesus that we find in Matthew 7:1-6, our present text.  For we find similar phraseology in Romans 2:1-4 where Paul talks about the Roman Christians judging others harshly while practicing the same things about which they are making judgments about others.  The word ‘therefore’ in Romans 2:1 is important because Paul begins his discussion by pointing to those lost in the darkness in the world around them.

PAUL APPLIES JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT JUDGING

The ‘therefore’ of Romans 2:1 refers back to his previous observations in Romans 1:18-32 as he recounts the degree of darkness that begins to descend upon those who refuse to acknowledge God (Romans 1:18-20).  When men choose to make their own path in life apart from God they begin a predictable descent into moral rebellion, sexual confusion and reprehensible behavior (Romans 1:21-32).  With each level of depravity, God withdraws His blessing and gives them over to the desires of their hearts and the consequences that come with them (verses 24, 26, 28).  Under the wrath of God this represents the lowest levels of man’s moral existence along with its attendant pain and suffering.

TSK, TSK TSK

In Romans 2, Paul depicts the Christians standing on the sidelines, looking over the darkness and suffering with their arms folded, going ‘tsk tsk tsk’, judging the depravity of men and women and their suffering, feeling righteous.  They may tell them that there is a God who loves them; but, their message is disregarded and meaningless to the godless like pearls before pigs (see Matthew 7:6).  And the Christians write them off because they won’t listen.  They turn their backs and walk away.  And, by the way, if you go beyond the outward behavior and start looking at the heart, Paul tells them: “…you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

Romans 2 seems to be pretty harsh coming from a man of God to a people he has never met.  How does he know what is in their hearts?

he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7)

I think it is because he is hearing reports from those he knows in Rome (cf., Romans 16).  The spirit Paul describes in Philippians 2:1-18 is struggling to emerge in the conflict in Rome.  This spirit of Christ will not triumph until everyone comes to realize the truth of Romans 3:22: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

CONCLUSION

In Matthew 7:1-6 Jesus makes it clear that we are, indeed, responsible for the speck in our brother’s eye.  He simply stresses that before you try to help your brother see the error of his ways, make sure you have attended to your own blind sides, first.  On the other hand, make sure you discern the heart of the person you are wanting to correct.  If their hearts have chosen to disregard God’s appeal to their lives they will not appreciate what you have to say.  The only appeal that will work for them will come at a time of intense suffering either on their part or on your own.

I like the way The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

Matthew 7:1-5


*John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, ILL; Inter Varsity Press, 1978), p. 175.

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