Do Not Judge

Matthew 7:1-6

I hope you wore your steel-toe boots this morning, because Jesus steps all over our toes with these first five verses in Matthew 7 in the Sermon on the Mount:
“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.”

Intro: In a small church in a small town there was a lady who was known to be the town gossip. She was always being critical and finding wrong in others. One day she accused a new member of being an alcoholic because she had seen his truck in the parking lot in front of a bar. The man said that he had parked there because it was close to another business he was visiting, but the gossip said that if his truck was parked in front of the bar, she knew he was up to no good inside. The man, being a quiet sort, didn’t argue with her but shrugged his shoulders and walked away from the accusation. He did, however, make his point when later that evening he quietly parked his truck in front of the gossip’s house, walked home and left it there all night.

How many of you think you’re a good judge of character? Can you tell when someone’s lying by the look on their face? Can you read a person’s motives by the way they glance away and fidget in their chair? Are you the first to know because you pay attention to things going on around you? We love to be discerning, to have insight, to be a good judge of character. We want to be “in the know,” to tell it like it is.

On the other hand, have you ever been judged unfairly by someone who thought they could “read you”? Have you been subjected to someone else’s critical review and been found wanting? Taken to task for something they didn’t understand or didn’t take into account?

At first reading, this prohibition against judging has an absolute ring to it. Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist interpreted it this way and insisted that to follow it, the entire judicial system must be abolished. Even today, this passage is quoted as a universal call to toleration of everything and anything, as though morals and sin have become obsolete artifacts of an earlier unenlightened time. You’ve heard it before: “Who are you to judge?”
· The Greek word, krino, translated here “judge” contains just as many possible variations of meaning as does the English word. They span the spectrum from an aesthetic discernment (choosing a preference for color and texture in a fabric) to the legal actions of a judiciary (as when a judge hands down a verdict of guilt or innocence).
· It is obvious that we need to narrow our definition in order to understand what Jesus is prohibiting. The context certainly seems to exclude the more technical sense of the legal judiciary, as well as the more general sense of distinguishing or discerning differences.

There are certain occasions when we are to judge. Paul speaks in a corporate sense of the church when he writes in 1 Cor. 5:3-5 concerning the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife: Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

And in 6:1-3 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
He insists that the church exercise judgment – not as individuals, but as a body – not to condemn, but to maintain purity and integrity and ultimately to restore.

The judging of which Jesus speaks is something different – it is always individual, it is always destructive.

The sense of judging, of which Jesus speaks, refers to any condemnation of another person or group, by any human standard, either in your attitude or your actions toward them, or both. It is to claim the competence as well as the authority to sit in judgment upon others.

Who is the “judge” of which Jesus speaks? He’s a fault-finder who is negative and critical towards other people and actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible interpretation on their motives, pours cold water on their plans and is unforgiving towards their mistakes.

Why not judge?
1. We never know all the facts or the whole person.
2. It is almost impossible for anyone to be strictly impartial.
3. No one is qualified to judge any other person – we are not good enough, we cannot know enough -- we cannot read each other’s hearts or assess each other’s motives.
4. When we presume to judge others, we usurp the prerogative of the one divine Judge – we are playing God.

Paul handled this issue decisively. He says, when we judge others we are casting ourselves in a role that is not – cannot – be ours. He writes to the Christians in Rome (there have been a lot of accusations made, a lot of motives impugned) – “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” (Rom. 14:4). He asks rhetorically, “Since when has anyone become my servant, responsible to me? Since when have I been appointed their master and judge?” Paul uses the same criteria when he finds himself attacked & criticized - 1 Cor. 4:3-4 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

The principle that Paul lays out is that when we stand in judgment upon others, we violate that very personal relationship between the Lord and his servants, by presuming to do what only God has the right to do. And so Jesus says, simply and precisely, “Do not judge.”

The prohibition of judging is followed by the consequences for its violation: “or you too will be judged.” If we judge, we will be judged. Jesus presses this one step further – “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

There isn’t going to be any question of standards of judgment. It’s going to be a reciprocal equality. How can we judge others harshly and expect to receive mercy and forgiveness from God?

This draws us back to Matt. 6:14, “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Our response to others betrays whether we are vindictive and protective of our own concerns, or have we demonstrated the capacity to experience God’s overture of mercy and forgiveness, AND offer it to others.

The reminder here is that we cannot, we must not use other people for our standard of righteousness (as the Pharisees did –remember the Pharisees prayer: “I thank you that I am not like other men.”) You can always find someone by whom you can measure yourself and come out looking pretty good. Paul talked about that kind of foolishness – 2 Cor. 10:12 “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

The only standard of judgment is Jesus Christ, and by that standard, Paul reminds us: “we have all fallen short of the glory of God.”

Jesus draws us a picture, a ridiculous picture to make his point – vss. 3-4 “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?”

He compares the blindness that we demonstrate toward our own huge faults, and the contrasting sharp vision we seem to develop in spotting another’s shortcomings. The fact is, we are far more prone to judge another for something of far less consequence than we ourselves are guilty of.

And if psychology gives us any insight into human nature, one of the things they tell us is that we are more inclined to condemn in others those faults that we most dislike in ourselves.

Lord, deliver us from the congregational critic who can always tell you what he doesn’t like about what someone else is doing, but would never offer to be involved in the work himself. He’s the man who thinks of his ability to discern fault and error as a “gift.” But if you have one of those critical, judgmental spirits, you can be sure it is not a gift from God.

Verse 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.”

Jesus brands the critical man a “hypocrite” – one who himself puts on a show, pretending to be something he isn’t and has no intention of being. One who can clearly see someone else’s shortcomings while being blind to his own.

But what is Jesus trying to say? What does he intend for us to do with this?

He might be restating his opening salvo: “do not judge at all.” This admonition, like Jesus telling the crowd of onlookers to “throw the first stone” in John 8, is simply saying you don’t have the ability or the right to judge another. If this is the case, it is in no way intended to set the preconditions for correcting another.

On the other hand, if taken in a straightforward manner, this verse prescribes the steps to resolve the dilemma between not judging and our brotherly responsibility toward one another.

Let me explain – there is a brotherly responsibility and a biblical imperative to go to one another when we see sin in each other’s lives. Look at three brief passages:
Gal. 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
Heb. 3:12-13 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We cannot close our eyes to sin. It is not at all being merciful to ignore sin and allow another person to drift from the Lord and lose his salvation, in the name of “not judging.” How can you and I exercise this responsibility without in some way violating this prohibition not to judge?

This verse demands that we deal first with the major issues in our own lives. The force of these rhetorical questions, “Why do you?” “How can you?” are intended to shock us into realizing our own great failures, leading us to seek forgiveness and mercy as a sinner. Only when we are dealing with our own sin and failures, as a forgiven sinner to a fellow sinner, can we go with the humble desire to help correct a brother or sister whose own failure, though visible, is of no greater significance than our own.

That doesn’t mean we must be perfect or sinless before we can deal with sin in someone else’s life, but we must be willing to confront our own sin first.

We come to this final verse in the passage and find a curious statement here in the context of sin and judgment that seems totally unrelated: “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 then turn and tear you to pieces.”

This ancient proverb has puzzled scholars through the ages.
1. Some interpret it as prohibiting taking the precious gospel message to Gentiles and pagans. But that violates the context, not only of this passage, but the very commission to take the gospel to every creature.
2. Others interpret it to mean that we should not expose the gospel to scoffers and mockers and the cynics who would only ridicule the gospel. And yet Jesus himself and each of his apostles did exactly that by preaching to hostile audiences who rejected the message.

And there are numerous other interpretations, but each possible interpretation seems to fall short in at least one important aspect: they completely ignore the context. It is as though Jesus is speaking about judging others and our relationships with others, and then he suddenly takes off in an unrelated direction.

Let me offer this interpretation – I have no scholar or commentator to attribute it to – but it appeals to the context and gives continuity to what Jesus has already said. I believe what Jesus is saying is, “don’t take your brother or sister who is holy and precious in God’s sight, and expose their faults and sins before others.”

When we gossip and slander another person we are violating the relationship we have with them as a brother or sister in Christ. Sometimes we do it to build ourselves up. Sometimes we get caught up in a cycle of gossip. Each tidbit of information is thrown in as fuel for the fire. And those who are involved ravenously devour it and tear the victim apart without mercy.

The warning Jesus offers is this: after they have trampled your brother underfoot and torn him to pieces, why do you think you won’t be their next victim? If they will gossip with you, they will gossip about you. Paul’s words in Gal. 5:15 ring true – “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

The exhortation of Jesus is to mercy and forgiveness – a willingness to look closely at our own life in humility before going to another to criticize or correct. Only when our heart is right can we begin to be the kind of instruments of healing through which God can extend his forgiveness and correction.