Tonight’s sermon from Jesus’ Greatest Sermon Ever comes from Matthew 7:1-6 and contains some of the world’s most well-known words.
[Read and pray]
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech which has been called the top American speech of the 20th century. In it he called for an end to racism in the United States. ‘With a single phrase, Martin Luther King Jr. joined Jefferson and Lincoln in the ranks of men who’ve shaped modern America.’
What was that phrase? You all know it well: “I have a dream…” It’s a line quoted and parodied down through the decades, and won’t be forgotten for many generations.
But do you know what comes after that phrase? Probably not. The line sticks in our minds, but it’s the content of the speech that’s important. But we don’t even know what the content of the speech is!
Similarly, many of Jesus’ words can be easily quoted, but often the context is left out. That’s especially true for our passage today: “Judge not, lest ye be judged…” This picture shows how it’s often read. But now that we’ve read all of it, what does it say?
Many will take it’s meaning from the first nine words. They think it means, ‘Don’t judge, it would be bad for you to judge me.’ It’s taken alongside with Jesus’ words in John 8; when Jesus frees a woman caught in adultery from stoning by saying: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” So that we sometimes say, “What right do you have to tell me I’m wrong?”
This seems to be backed up by other verses and passages. James says (4:12) “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?” Paul says (Romans 2:1) “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
And so it’s become a common saying: “You can’t judge me. You’re not God! You’ve done plenty wrong, so you can’t say anything about the wrong I’ve just done. You don’t even know me or my situation. Only God can judge me.” At which point sometimes we want to say to that person, ‘Yes, you’re right – God will judge you – you should be terrified!”
Maybe you’ve used those same phrases. Maybe not out loud, but it’s how you console yourself when someone points out something wrong that you’ve done. “Well, they don’t know my situation. They have no right to point out my faults – look at all of theirs! They’ve had it way easier, who are they to say that I’m wrong?”
So is that right? Isn’t that exactly what this passage says? By telling people that they’re doing something wrong or harmful, are we actually acting in contradiction to Christ’s clear command?
Well of course not! “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” But just 5 verses later, He says “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” You can’t tell dogs from pigs without some level of judgement. Think that connection is too loose? Nine verses after that, He says, “Watch out for false prophets.” How are you to tell false prophets without some level of judgment.
In John 7, Jesus actually tells his disciples to judge, but he warns them: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead, judge correctly.”
So when Jesus says, ‘Judge not…’ what exactly does He mean? What is correct and acceptable judging, and what’s wrong?
Let’s look from this passage at what kinds of judgement are biblically wrong:
1. Judgement which is harsh, unforgiving is wrong
Jesus says, “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).
As God’s children, we have been given the responsibility of knowing God’s will and calling others to align with God’s will. And when they’re off the path, if they are a child of God, to gently call them back into the right way. That’s what Paul says in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him with a spirit of gentleness.”
We have a responsibility to judge what is right and wrong, and to correct the wrong – but when we call others out of sin, we must do this with a spirit of gentleness.
Years ago, one of the young people I was in ministry with had a problem with sticking to meeting plans. Eventually, I realised that this was actually hurting our friendship, because I kept getting dropped. I realised that I needed to talk to him about this, and tried to arrange a meeting – which was again postponed and postponed again.
By the time we were finally to meet I was almost at the end of my nerve – I wanted to just yell out my frustrations and leave him to recognise his wrong. That would make me feel just a little bit better, get some of my frustrations off my chest.
But there’s a problem with that. I see that God has not treated me that way. God gently, lovingly points out my areas of sin and failure, and He helps me grow through it.
So instead of going and getting my frustrations out, I was able to point out this area of trouble in a friend, and without bringing frustrations into it, leave it there and let it go.
Friends, God is very serious about how we treat those around us – remember that He cares about them, He’s jealous for their hearts and if you treat them harshly then God is their defender. That’s why God gives us the responsibility of loving those around us the same way that He loves us, and forgiving those who hurt us the same way that He forgives us when we hurt Him.
He’s so serious about this, in fact, that Jesus gives us some of the most terrifying words in Scripture, also in the Sermon on the Mount. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
There are times when God calls you to make a judgment call and to point out to a fellow believer something that you can see is hurting them and others, and lovingly lead them to a higher place. It might even be hurting you quite a bit. But when you do, do it with gentleness, and then don’t hold it against them. Restore him with a spirit of gentleness.
Remember that with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Where you show mercy, you will experience mercy; where you show harshness, you will experience harshness; where you show generosity of love, you will be shown generosity of love; and where show grace, you will be shown grace.
So be careful how you judge the sins of others. Judgement which is harsh and unforgiving is wrong.
2. Judgement which is hypocritical is wrong.
Sometimes in Discipleland I’ll have one of the kids pray. After the prayer, one of the kids will say, ‘Pastor Greg, So-and-so didn’t close their eyes when we were praying!’ And how do you know that?
Jesus addresses this directly in the passage: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
When you look at the people Jesus hung out with, the list is very different probably than your friendship circles. Fishermen, tax-collectors, prostitutes, the sick and the lame, shepherds, nobodies – there was something that drew these people to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t seem to condemn these sinful people. He speaks kindly, gently and encouragingly to them.
But that’s not to say that he never spoke harshly – He did! And if you read who Jesus spoke harshly to, He spoke most harshly to this group of people: the hypocrites. Those who claim to have a higher standard or more noble belief than they actually do.
Hypocritical judgement is when you condemn in others what you quietly pass over in yourself. Hypocritical judgment is when you call the person who drove through a red light a selfish, arrogant danger to society while you’re driving a little over the speed limit. Hypocritical judgment is when you condemn politicians as corrupt money-huggers while you withhold your tithe. Hypocritical judgment is when you get angry with others in your time of need when you have never reached out to others in their time of need. Hypocritical judgement is when you avoid homosexuals while you’re heading home to watch heterosexual pornography. Hypocritical judgement is laughing at those who read their horoscopes while you’re comfortable with gambling. Hypocritical judgement is looking down on cigarette smokers when drinking is your escape, or vice-versa.
And if I have to be honest, I am often guilty of this, aren’t you? I’ve used this example very often, but it’s because I still do it today. I’ll sit at a red light, watch the traffic light turn red for the crossroads and some chop will still drive through, keeping me waiting. Then as I drive off, I think of how arrogant and insensitive and selfish that person was. Why does he think he’s so important that he can just drive through. What if I’d gone just a second too early – he would have had to veer off, maybe lost control, rolled his car – that would have served him well. And as I’m thinking that thought, the robot ahead of me will go orange and I’ll think: ‘I can make that!’
Friends, God does a lot with the humble and little with the hypocritical. There’s a lot God can do with a humble person who is aware of his faults, but there’s precious little He can do with a person who is so busy pointing out the faults in others that they can’t hear God’s correction over their own lives.
Take the log out of your own eye before you start condemning the speck in another. God calls us to judge, to discern the lives of those around us; but before we can do that we first need to judge ourselves. ‘How am I in this area of my life? Am I a man of integrity? If I point out this sin in their life, will they be able to turn around and accuse me of the same thing, or something similar?’
Friends, measure your life against the Word of God, and where you find something wrong, with God’s help fix that thing. You won’t be an effective spiritual surgeon, healing the hurts of God’s holy people until you yourself have gone under the scalpel of God’s Righteous Judgement. But once you have, you’ll be in the perfect place to help others.
Think about it – that speck in your brother’s eye is hurting him! It hurts those around him. He needs help! But not from a blind guy; but from a clear-sighted, steady-handed friend. Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
So, judgement which is hypocritical is wrong.
3. Judgement which is superficial is wrong.
When the Israelites went to God and asked Him to appoint for them a king like the nations around them, God chose Saul. And how was Saul described? As a son of Kish – a man of standing; he was described as handsome, in fact the handsomest in the land (sounds like a fairy-tale prince charming); a man taller and greater than those around him. But though he was majestic-looking, he abandoned obedience to the Lord and so the Lord decided to take the crown from him and give it to another.
God called Samuel the prophet to go to Bethlehem to anoint the next king from among the sons of Jesse. When Jesse’s firstborn came forward, Samuel looked at him and said, ‘Surely, this is the next king of Israel.’ He was the oldest, the strongest, the most experienced. But God hadn’t chosen him, nor the next born, nor the next. God had chosen the youngest, the smallest. And what did God say to Samuel? “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Often, when we look around, we judge and condemn people wrongly by what we see. Often, we judge and condemn people based on the superficial. Often, we see the outside and we judge and condemn them on that, not knowing what is going on inside or behind the scenes.
Friends, this is wrong!
There was a story I heard once of a young lady who was radically transformed by God. She had been a party-girl, a heavy drinker and quite promiscuous. Then one Saturday night, God met with her in her room and showed her her own sin and need for a Saviour. For the first time she knelt and gave her life to the Lord.
Immediately she felt life inside of her – hope for the first time – a desire to know this God and spend the rest of eternity with Him.
She woke up the next morning with a new desire for fellowship and decided that she had to go to Church. But there was a snag – she didn’t have Church clothes. So out of her wardrobe she chose the longest skirt she had, which was well above the knee. She chose the best top. She rushed to Church with an excitement about meeting people who love the same Saviour that she does, but also a nervousness: Will they accept me?
As she walked into the Church, she was aware of the stares of the church-goers – even the glares. What kind of person is this that would come to Church dressed like that? She must be a troublemaker. Best to shun her, and make sure she knows it, so she would leave and not stay and cause trouble.
Friends, this is wrong!
We can’t know what’s going on inside of a person. We can’t know their motives, or what God is doing with their spirit. Just because a person doesn’t match our picture of a Christian doesn’t mean they’re lost and sitting under God’s wrath.
We can have an idea of what’s in a person’s heart by the way they live their lives – this is true. “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
But friends, when you don’t know the person’s background, you must leave space for grace! When you don’t know their current circumstance, you must leave space for grace! When you don’t know their upbringing, you must leave space for grace!
Friends, let me tell you a story (Luke 7:36-50). “When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.””
When we look at those around us, we can quickly read their ‘titles’ – There’s the introvert, there’s the smoker, there’s the loud one, there’s the angry one, there’s the hypocrite, there’s the joker, there’s the thief, there’s the liar, there’s the abuser. That’s what the Pharisee saw: There’s the prostitute, the sinner, the dirty one.
But he was blind to the tremendous act of grace working in her life, and the tremendous act of love she was performing.
When you look at the people around you, ask God to open your eyes to see the tremendous act of grace God might be working in their lives.
Leave space for grace, friends.
We must judge the right and the wrong, but leave space for grace! You don’t know what’s going on behind the scene. We can, and we must judge the fruit, but we cannot and we must not judge the motive. You cannot know the motive. And where we don’t know the motive, we must be patient and loving towards others.
God, the Righteous Judge, calls us to be righteous judges. He calls us not to be judgmental, not to have an overly critical point of view, but to judge – to discern, to recognise the right and the wrong things people do.
How can we steer clear of judgmentalism? Well we know that if our judgement of others is harsh, unforgiving or hypocritical, or if our judgement is based solely on the superficial caring nothing for what might be behind it, then our judgement is wrong. But if our judgement is patient, forgiving, if it comes after we have carefully judged our own selves first, if it is taking care not to presume a motive, if we leave space for grace – then our judgement can draw people away from harmful practices and closer to Jesus.
Let’s take a minute and consider this passage tonight.
• Have you ever seen someone’s actions and judged them harshly? Have you still got something that you’re holding against someone?
• Have you failed to examine yourself? Do you find that you own criticise things in others that you then see easily in yourself?
• Do you find yourself quickly critical of others, easily angered by them without knowing their circumstances?