The Lone Ranger and Tonto stopped in the desert for the night. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, “Kemo Sabe, look towards sky, what you see?” The Lone Ranger replies, “I see millions of stars.” “What that tell you?” asked Tonto. The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What’s it tell you, Tonto?” Tonto is silent for a moment, then says, “Kemo Sabe, you are dumber than a box of rocks! It means someone stole tent.” That’s discernment! But when Tonto called the Lone Ranger “dumber than a box of rocks” that’s being judgmental.
We all need to be discerning in life without being judgmental but sometimes, it’s hard to separate the two.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Judge not lest you be judged!” It bothers me to hear someone use Matthew 7:1 that way. But, you see, it’s nice to have a verse to prove what you already want to believe, and I think that’s how this verse has been used. It has been used to convey the idea, “You live your lifestyle and I’ll live mine. But don’t you tell me how to live, and certainly don’t you try to impose your standards of morality on me.”
Well, what was Jesus saying in Matthew 7? I think one of the key verses in understanding it is Matthew 5:20: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” We must have a different kind of righteousness from what the scribes and Pharisees had. They wore theirs on their sleeves; it was superficial.
Ours must grow out of a heart committed to the Father. And Matthew 7 is part of that context. Jesus, here in the Sermon on the Mount, deals with two different extremes of the problem of human judgment. The first extreme is a harsh, critical spirit. The second extreme is permissiveness.
Don’t Judge (Matthew 7:1-2)
As Jesus looked at the religious situation of his day, he saw that judging others had become a great religious problem. The Pharisees and scribes sat in the place of the critic. They were quick to pass judgment on those who didn’t live up to their expectations. The Pharisees were used to judging others self-righteously. Jesus said there are problems with that kind of judging. It’s overly critical, always going around with a nit-picking attitude, digging and searching for faults, always suspecting the worst.
So Jesus says that we are not to judge. Now he’s not talking about the judgment in a courtroom. He’s not talking about judging open and obvious sin (we’ll get to that later). He’s not talking about judging false teachers. What he is talking about is a hasty, unloving, “holier than thou” type of attitude.
Whenever we make a judgment, we do so based on what we have seen and sometimes that’s not enough to provide the whole picture. Human judgment is limited to the information which we put into it and sometimes that isn’t enough to make an accurate judgment.
Notice that self-righteous judgment has a boomerang: “For in the ame way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words: “Look, if you start throwing out this critical spirit on other people, it’ll come back. We’ll receive the same kind of treatment that we dish out. If we judge others harshly and jump to the worst conclusions about others, we can be certain that we’ll be treated in the same way, by both others and God.
Check your Speck (Matthew 7:3-5)
There’s another problem with Pharasaic righteousness. Not only was it overly critical, but it was also hypocritical. It was two-faced. We like to look at people with bifocals. We use the bottom part to see ourselves, and it has kind of a rosy tint to it. We tend to look past any shortcomings. But the top part we use to look at others. And that’s the hypocrisy Jesus was denouncing.
We’re not qualified to sit in judgment on others because it’s impossible to be impartial — we’re influenced by our own imperfections. Jesus here uses the graphic example of a plank of wood and a speck of dust. The picture is ridiculous. Now, we’ve heard it so many times that it has lost its humorous twist, but the people in Jesus’ audience were probably laughing out loud. It sounds like a scene out of the Three Stooges. Here’s one guy with a little piece of sawdust in his eye. There’s somebody else with a two-by-four coming out of his forehead, and he’s trying to get that speck out. Every time he turns around, the other guy has to duck.
But you see, even though we are unqualified, we still judge. And we often do so for selfish reasons; it makes us feel better. If we have a problem with sin in our own lives, it takes a little pressure off to point the finger at others for a while. It makes our sin seem not so bad after all. But, Jesus warns us that we’ve got to clean up our own act before we tamper with the lives of others.
And I don’t think that the plank in our eyes is necessarily a worse sin. I think he’s talking about the sin of self-righteousness, appointing ourselves as the official speck inspectors. We can see so well the things in others’ lives that we want to pick on, but Jesus said we’re usually being overly critical and hypocritical when we do it.
But it’s important for us to notice that he didn’t stop there. He didn’t instruct us to stay out of other people’s business. Rather, he gave us the responsibility of helping our brother: “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (7:5).
What’s the loving, Christian thing to do when someone comes to you and he’s got a speck in his eye? Turn and walk away? No! Do you say, “Oh, no. I could never take that speck out of your eye. I’ve had specks in my eye before”? Of course not! He’s got something in his eye and he needs it taken out. Or suppose a child comes to you with a splinter in his finger. He’s crying, “Please take this splinter out!” What’s the Christian thing to do? Leave the splinter there? No! You take the splinter out. So Jesus was saying there is a place for some discernment in people’s lives. If you see brothers or sisters who have specks in their eyes, you need to help them take it out! But first you take out the two-by-four of self-righteousness out of your own eye.
Judge the right way (Matthew 7:6)
First Jesus says, “Don’t judge, don’t condemn.” Then, in the same breath, he says, “Make certain judgments concerning people and behavior.”
How can these two positions be reconciled? The two positions actually complement and limit each other perfectly. In the first statement, as we’ve already seen, Jesus condemns the critical, holier-than-thou, jumping to conclusions sort of judgment that the Pharisees were known for.
In this second statement, Jesus acknowledges the need for making decisions concerning people and behavior that is detrimental to our Christian lives. The command not to judge others doesn’t mean that we can’t see the sinfulness of certain actions. Now, we’re never to look down in self-righteous judgment for we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. But we can recognize sin as sin, and we should never try to justify it. Judging the right way is about holding each other accountable. Accountability is key for spiritual formation. We are our brother/sister’s keeper.
It starts with ourselves. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith…” 2Cor. 13:5
How is my relationship with Jesus? Where is there sin in my life? What do I need to confess/repent of? Where are the places I need to be growing?
Scripture clearly invites the Church to hold each other accountable. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” 1Cor 5:12-13. Watch out for each other. Correct, rebuke. In love and grace step into the life of your brother/sister if you see something out of place in their journey with Jesus.
That’s tough. We say, “it’s none of my business.” But it is our business. It’s our business to keep each other out of Hell. It’s worth a little bit of uncomfortableness now to save each others lives. Accountability is the thing no one likes. That’s why it’s revolutionary. It’s about saving souls.
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