Judging Others: Christians are often perceived as being judgemental – sometimes with good reason. But how are we to apply the teachings of Jesus’ way while being both loving and honest? First, you must work on your own struggles before trying to help others, as this provides clarity and compassion and also helps to build community with your church family. Recorded on Sept 25, 2022, on Matthew 7:1-6, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our sermon series “The Unexpected Way,” from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 in the Bible. The way of Jesus is totally unique; it’s different from every other way of life, philosophy, or religion. Why? Because the teaching of Jesus — emphasizing holiness, humility, justice, faith, and sacrificial love — leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic. This ancient ethic, if actually practiced, has the power to bring abundant love and joy, and peace to anyone, anywhere today. This is the way.
All year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus, which means that all year, we’ll basically be answering the question, “If the gospel is true, how then should we live?” And we’ve been working through a very famous teaching of Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount in a sermon series called, The Unexpected Way. The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew chapters 5-7 and today we’re starting chapter 7. For the last two weeks, we considered Jesus’ teaching on money, wealth, and possessions. He dealt with both the disordered love of money that is so tempting for us, but also the fears, anxiety, and worries that our money and our possessions tend to produce. If you missed any of the messages in this series, you can always go back and watch on the church app or on YouTube or listen to the audio podcast. Today, Jesus turns from dealing with worry to focus on the problem of being harshly critical or judgmental of others. Right or wrong, Christians often get the reputation of being judgmental or of having a holier-than-thou type of attitude. Have you ever experienced this? Or have you ever been accused of this? For being judgmental of a friend or family member or someone? I have. At the last wedding I officiated, I didn’t know most of the people at the reception other than the bride and groom. So, of course, at dinner, I was seated with people I didn’t know. With my level of extroversion, this isn’t usually a problem. I actually love those situations. But when the lady who was seated next to me saw that it was me, the pastor, who’d be sitting at their table and, in fact, sitting next to her, she literally said, “Oh no!” I said with a smile, “Oh no? What do you think I’m going to do to you?” And she said something like, “Well, now we need to be on our best behavior.” I laughed and said I’d try not to make things too weird or painful for the table, and we had a great evening. But what was she afraid of? I think she was afraid I would be judgmental of them. Or maybe that I’d look down my nose at them or make them feel guilty or something. Now that wasn’t fair, but as I said, right or wrong, Christians don’t have the best reputation with judgment. So what are we supposed to do? Should followers of Jesus never pass judgment on someone regardless of what decisions they make or what they do? Or is there a way to judge others without making them feel unloved or hopelessly condemned? There is much wisdom in our short passage today. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Mt 7:1.
Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “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? 4 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? 5 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. 6 “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.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching his disciples/followers what it looks like to follow his way. And so many of his lessons focus on heart issues that apply to our relationship with God and with one another. Today is certainly no different. Let’s start back at v. 1 and work our way through this text together.
Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV), “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.” Ok, let’s pause here. The original word translated judge here is also translated condemn in the Bible. Given the context, I believe Jesus uses a word with a negative connotation for a reason. Why? Because in this very passage, Jesus says that we are supposed to do several things which require healthy judgment. You need judgment to see and remove the plank from your eye, or to try to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, and so on. Now, I don’t think this is a contradiction. I think the condemnation of judgment is what Jesus is referring to here. Of being harshly critical or writing people off for their failures or flaws. Of adopting a holier-than-thou attitude. To be clear in my sermon today, I’m going to use the term judgment in the negative sense of this passage and discernment for the healthy type of judgment that we need as we follow the way of Jesus. I understand that judgment does not have an exclusively negative meaning for us today, but I don’t want to confuse you. So, the first reason that Jesus gives as to why we should avoid this judgmental attitude/behavior is that in the same way that we judge others, we will be judged. With the measure we use, it will be measured to us. And isn’t this true? If we have an impossibly high standard for others, they will naturally look back at us to see if we live up to our own expectations (and I guarantee their judgment will not be very gracious/lenient). If we judge others, they will judge us. That’s only natural. But do we want to have relationships marked by judgment? Is this what we want for our friendships or our family? Let’s keep going with v. 3.
Matthew 7:3 (NIV), “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?” Ok, so this is supposed to be a funny image. Imagine seeing/noticing/focusing on someone for having a splinter in their eye when you have a beam sticking out of your eye! Obviously, you should see/notice your own problem first. This is a ridiculous picture, and yet, why is this a problem for us? Why is it easier, so often, to notice what’s wrong with others than it is to see our own failures and flaws? Why is it that other people’s problems seem obvious to everyone except the person who’s struggling or in sin? To use Jesus’ analogy here, why is it easier to look at and see the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye while remaining blind to the plan in your own eye? One reason might be is that sin is blinding. To more we do/say/think something wrong, the harder it is for us to see that it’s wrong. Our conscience/heart can grow hardened and dull. It takes a work of God to take a heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh, sensitive and properly discerning. That might be one reason we have a hard time seeing our own issues. Another reason might be that we are so good at self-justification. We have all sorts of reasons (that seem good in our minds) to justify our bad behavior. But we don’t hear the internal dialogue of other people as they justify their own bad behavior. So we only see what they do or hear what they say. We only see the external. So we justify our actions but do not as readily justify others’ actions. Maybe this is why it’s easier to see other people’s problems while excusing ourselves. But no matter why it happens, what Jesus is saying is definitely a problem. But this isn’t the only problem. He continues in v.4.
Matthew 7:4 (NIV), “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?” So it’s not just that we see or we notice the speck of sawdust in our brother’s or our sister’s eye. But we go beyond noticing to try and fix them or help them or correct them. It’s not just that it’s easier to see other people’s problems/sin/struggles; it’s that we try to do something about it when we are ignoring our own problems/sin/struggles. And nothing damages a relationship, nothing drives a wedge between two people, like having someone try and fix you when they’re clearly a hot mess and seem to be blind to their own junk. How frustrating is that? But what are we supposed to do? Are we never to bring up an issue that needs to be dealt with in someone’s life? Is a husband or wife never supposed to raise the flag on something destructive in their spouse’s life? Or is a parent never supposed to correct their child because they might have a plank sticking out of their own eye? Or one friend to another? Look at v. 5.
Matthew 7:5 (NIV), “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.” And it’s here that Jesus gives so much wisdom to us. First, he says that if we fail to do this, if we fail to deal with ourselves first, if we fail to take the plank out of our own eye first, we will be guilty of hypocrisy. The dictionary definition of hypocrisy is this: “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” (New Oxford American Dictionary). This is why Jesus says that if we call out or try to fix someone else’s flaws without first seeing/considering our own and without first attempting to work on ourselves, we’ll be guilty of hypocrisy. In other words, we are holding others to a standard that we don’t hold ourselves to. Commentator Leon Morris writes, “Jesus is drawing attention to a curious feature of the human race in which a profound ignorance of oneself is so often combined with an arrogant presumption of knowledge about others, especially about their faults.” (PNTC, p. 167). Instead, what does Jesus say? First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. You will see clearly. What does this mean? Probably many things. But I’ll give you three today. First, seeing clearly means you’ll be able to render a proper/healthy judgment of both the cause of the problem and potential solutions to the problem. You will be able to be discerning. It’s somewhat comforting for someone who is struggling with something to meet other people struggling with the same issue. But, even though it’s helpful, it may not be the most helpful thing. Because if it’s only people who are struggling, trying to deal with their struggles, then there’s no one who can provide wisdom to help or model the way out of the struggle. But someone who sees clearly can see both potential causes of the problem(s) and potential solutions. That’s what clarity of vision brings. Seeing clearly brings clarity. Second, part of this discernment includes the reality that you’ve had to deal with some junk in your life. You’ve had to deal with problems/sin/struggles/immaturity/more in your life. Remember the plank? Do you know what that’ll do? That’ll increase your grace/empathy/mercy toward your brother or sister in their struggle. You’ll look at their issue, and even if it’s not an issue you’ve struggled with in your past, you’ll know what it’s like to struggle. That’s the type of person I want to help me with my issues. Don’t you? Someone who’s been there. Someone who understands and is sympathetic to the struggle. So first, seeing clearly brings clarity, clarity of the problem and the solution. Second, seeing clearly brings compassion, compassion in the journey/struggle. Third, and finally, seeing clearly will result in not only a relationship of redemption, healing, and growth, but in a community of redemption, healing, and growth. Remember, Jesus is talking to his disciples. And he uses the language of family, talking about your brother. In the NT, this language almost always refers to other Christians, not only biological family. By faith in Jesus, we share the same Father in heaven, which makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. So the church is supposed to be a place where we experience a growing awareness of and freedom from our own sins and struggles, and we graciously and compassionately help others with their sins and struggles with all wisdom and discernment. Dealing with our own issues first allows us to see clearly, in order to have clarity of others’ issues, have compassion for their struggle, and to form a community of care committed to bringing redemption, healing, and growth into the lives of all people. Jesus closes this section of teaching with v. 6.
Matthew 7:6 (NIV), “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.” Honestly, it’s hard to know for sure how this relates to the previous section. This might be a standalone wisdom statement or proverb of Jesus. But I don’t think Jesus is that random. I think this statement fits with what we’ve been talking about in developing our discernment by providing a balance. The teaching of first working to see and deal with our issues, then working to help others see and deal with their own issues, must be balanced with the unfortunate truth that not everyone is ready to see and deal with their own issues. Giving dogs what is sacred is a waste. Dogs will eat anything. Literally anything. And pearls are wasted on pigs. So, in the same way, there are times or sometimes years when our loved ones, including our brothers and sisters in Christ, are not open to our discerning wisdom, our loving help or correction, or any sort of solution to their problems. The truth is we cannot force someone to accept our help, even if they desperately need our help. They have to be open and receptive, they have to be humble enough to listen to insight, wisdom, or gentle correction. Ok! So let’s say that you’ve taken the time to see and work on your own faults and flaws and weaknesses; how do you know if you’re ready to point out someone else’s fault/flaw? I would say that if you think you can do so as a gentle correction and not as a harsh condemnation. And if you think you can do so in a way that could be seen/felt as speaking the truth in love. And if you think you can see how both grace and truth apply to the issue at hand and if the goal of your intervention is redemption, healing, and growth, then you’re probably ready. As we close today, we must remember that the whole context of the gospel is our total inability to save ourselves by our own effort or goodness or holiness. Apart from the grace of God and the saving work of Jesus, we are all utterly lost. It was God who judged the world as wicked and fallen so far away from him. But instead of condemnation alone, he sent his one and only son to live and die and rise again. Why? So we might be forgiven and freed from the power of sin and death. So we might be reconciled to him. So that we might have redemption, healing, and growth, so that we might be made into a new creation. So a Christian who is judgmental, harshly condemning, or adopts a holier-than-thou type of attitude has forgotten this. But the good news is that when you see the judgmental plank sticking out of your own eye, you can be forgiven and freed once again in Christ. So today, may we be people who have the humility to see and deal with our own issues first. And may we become people who see clearly enough to have clarity and compassion and form a community of redemption and healing and growth which makes the gospel a thing of beauty and a light to a world in darkness. Let us pray.