Matthew 7:1-6 – Why the Confusion About Judging?

 

The following story appeared in a recent edition of Leadership Journal.

“A traveler, between flights at an airport, went to a lounge and bought a small package of cookies and a newspaper.  The woman found an empty seat in the gate area and sat down next to a man reading a magazine.  After a couple of minutes she became aware of a rustling noise.  From behind her paper she peeked to see the man sitting next to her helping himself to her cookies.  After the initial shock she decided not to make a scene so she reached over and took a cookie for herself.

A minute or two passed and then came more rustling.  The woman peeked from behind her paper and sure enough, the man was helping himself to another cookie.  Again the woman decided not to make a scene and instead reached over and took two cookies for herself.  This same process occurred several more times until there was one cookie left.  The man broke the cookie in two pieces, ate half, and slid half over to the woman, got up and left.

The woman couldn’t believe the audacity of the man and was still fuming over the whole affair when she boarded her flight.  After takeoff the woman needed something in her purse and when she opened it up the first thing she saw was her package of unopened cookies.”

Our assumptions can be misleading more often than we want to admit!

Our passage of Scripture under consideration today – 7:1-6 – lends itself very well to this illustration.  When I was younger the most often quoted passage of Scripture both inside and outside the church was John 3:16.

Today the most often quoted passage of Scripture both inside and outside the church may very well be Matthew 7:1. There is one change however.  The passage is thrown out as a defense in the form of a question.  “Who are you to judge?” or “Who are you to say this is wrong?”

I would love it if just one time I could witness someone answer this “who are you to say” question with this question –“who are you to say who are you?”

You see folks when someone says “who are you to say” they are either intentionally dodging or missing the issue at hand out of ignorance.  “Who are you to say/judge” is really aimed at a person not an issue.  It is what is referred to in logic as an ad hominem (a type of informal fallacy).

And this question is completely irrelevant because it misses the point entirely.  Here’s why. When I offer a point of view, the strength of my position is not based on who I am, as if I were speaking by my own authority, but on the content of and the basis for my position.

Here’s what it would look like in real life.  Say I’m on the streets of downtown Lima and I happen upon a few people that are having an open-air debate on the subject of homosexuality.  There are some arguing for it and some arguing against it.

After a few minutes I interject that homosexuality is sinful according to the Bible.  Everyone stops and looks at me and then one person who has been advocating for homosexuality says “who are you to say that?” or “Oh, you’re one of those right-wing homophobes.”

The challenge “Who are you to say?” misses the point, because I’m not offering a judgment based on my own authority.  My position is not based on my own personal convictions but on what the Bible has to say and therefore the question doesn’t apply because I’m not saying anything based on my own authority.  I’m not saying, “Listen to me.” I’m saying, “Listen to my argument. Consider my evidence. Search the Scriptures.”

Now, I say all of that to introduce Jesus’ teaching here in 7:1 because so many folks have accepted the false teaching that Christians are not to judge.  Is that what this verse teaches?

We don’t have to look far to find proof that the modern world’s interpretation of this verse that Christians are not to judge is wrong.  Look at v5 – “you hypocrite”; v6 – dogs & swine; v11 – “if you then being evil”; v15 – “beware of the false prophets”; v16 – “you will know them by their fruits”; v21 – “not everyone who says to Me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven”; v26 – “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act upon them will be like a foolish man”;

And this is just the tip of the iceberg as they say.  The testimony of the Bible is that Christians must be a discerning, judging people.

The following article appeared in Time magazine over 2 decades ago but it is a timely reminder of the issue being raised here.

“There are moral distinctions to be made; but there seems to be a growing unwillingness – or is it inability – to make them, even the most simple.  No language can be bleached of its moral distinctions, turned neutral, value-free, non-judgmental.  When that happens, moral discourse becomes difficult, moral distinctions impossible and moral debate incomprehensible.  Abortion is simply “termination of pregnancy”; the moral equivalent of say, removing a tumor.  Homosexuality is merely a “sexual preference.”  If a person’s sexual identity is as much a matter of taste as say, hair color, then why do people still get upset over two men dancing together at Disneyland?  There is a fuss because there is a difference.  One can understand neither with language that refuses to make distinctions.  Economist Thomas Sowell put it this way: the inability to make moral distinctions is the AIDS of the intellectuals: an acquired immune deficiency syndrome.  It certainly is not inborn.  Children can make elementary distinctions between say, threatener and threatened.  Moral blindness of this caliber requires practice.  It has to be learned” (Charles Krauthammer).

So let’s set the record straight once again this morning on this very critical issue.  Let’s do that by answering 3 important questions:

  • What is judging?
  • What is the result of wrongly judging?
  • How am I to judge rightly?

“Judge” in verse 1 is from the Greek “krino” and means “to separate, to distinguish, select one from another, or decide between numerous things.”

In other words judging is a form of analysis or evaluation of other people’s words and /or behavior.  So if we accept the prevalent cultural view that we are never to judge we are saying that we should never analyze or evaluate people’s words or behaviors in order to decide whether they are wrong.

I think you can see that this is a ridiculous proposition and violates every shred of reason and logic.  Even if someone were to say “I don’t see anything wrong with not judging in this context (a ‘live and let live’ perspective) we must ask “is this a biblical position?”

I’m here to tell you brothers and sisters it is not!  This is exactly the kind of fuzzy-minded thinking that has resulted in the sad conditions within the church today.

Instead we must remember the words of the apostle John who stated plainly:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

And here’s a very interesting passage that bears directly on our teaching this morning – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – which says:

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”

In light of the consistent testimony of Scripture you are forced to say one of two things: either the Bible is a hopeless jumble of contradictions or Matthew 7:1 cannot be interpreted to say we are never to judge.

Jesus says in John 7:24: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  Jesus makes a distinction between the right way to judge and the wrong way to judge in this passage and does the same thing throughout Matthew 7.

I believe that Jesus is saying we should not judge to condemn because only God has the authority to judge in that way.

Why only God?  Because only God knows the heart of a person.  Only God knows the motivations of a person.

Consider this illustration:

One night in a small town, a fire started outside a chemical plant.  It quickly escalated and alarms went out to all the fire departments in the area.

After an hour of fighting the fire the chemical company president approached the fire chief and said, “All of our secret formulas are in the vault in the center of the plant.  I will give $50,000 to the engine company that brings them out.”

The fire chief ordered more units into the battle but they made little head-way.  The company president raised his offer to $100,000 but none of the firefighters were able to gain any measure of control over the fire.

After the offer was raised to $200,000, in the distance the faint sound of an approaching fire truck was heard.  To everyone’s amazement, this fire truck raced right through the chemical plant’s gates and into the middle of the inferno.

After an hour the firefighters emerged from the chemical plant with the fire under control.  That in turn saved the secret formulas.  The company president was so overjoyed he presented the late arriving fire fighters with a check on the spot.

The president congratulated the firefighters on their bravery and asked them what they planned to do with the money.  The fire engine driver spoke up first and replied, “Well the first thing we’re going to do is get the brakes on that truck fixed.”

Assumptions are dangerous.  Jesus is addressing the same thing folks.  Jesus is saying “beware of your assumptions about why other people do things.” We need to “get the facts” before we “jump to conclusions.”

We have sayings like “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  I think that comes close to the point here.  Not only are we not to jump to conclusions but as I’ve mentioned already we are not to do so with a critical attitude or spirit.

Unfortunately, many Christians engage in reckless judgmental attitudes that are long on criticism and short on discernment.  When we do that notice what we will face as the consequence – “lest you be judged.”

What this means simply and clearly is that by the standard you judge you’ll be judged.  If you have a judgmental attitude toward people, always critical, never a kind word or a willingness to deal gracefully with people, you can expect to be treated the same way and face God’s judgment.

We are not to treat people this way because we do not know their motives.  Pastor Chuck Smith has this to say on the subject:

“There are certain things that I cannot judge that I am often prone to want to judge and that are, I cannot judge a person’s heart, I cannot judge their motives. I am not to be hypercritical and condemning. And that is a judgment that we are often guilty of. “Did you see the way he looked? You know he’s up to no good.” “Well, how do you know that?” And, “He only did that because…,” as though we know what’s in his heart, as though we know the motive.

If we hear of someone who has sinned and we hear that they have repented of that sin, and we say, Oh, I don’t believe he really has repented. Wait a minute, how do you know? You see, that is a judgment that I am not allowed–to judge a man’s heart, to judge a man’s motive, and yet, we are prone to do that. It may be that he hasn’t truly repented; it may be that he has. But if a brother repents or declares, “I repent, forgive me,” then it is my obligation to forgive. Whether or not it is a true repentance in his heart or not, I don’t know. But I am to forgive. I’m not to judge what is going on in his heart.

I can judge by the fruits of a person’s life. I can observe their life and the things that they are doing. And if the things that they are doing are contrary to the plain, clear teaching of the scripture, I can judge by what I see going on in their lives. What I can’t judge is what I can’t see and that is what is going on in their heart.

Now many times, we are in a position where a person has asked for forgiveness, has declared their repentance, and I am not certain whether or not they have truly, fully repented; but because I can’t judge that, I have to accept them, I have to receive them. And I have learned through the years that not all who say I repent have truly repented. And I have been burned by forgiving those who said that they had repented. And I, no doubt, will be burned again. But I would rather, if I err, err on the side of mercy and grace and forgiveness than err on the side of wrong judgment. If I err on the side of grace and mercy, God’s going to forgive me. If I err on the side of judgment, then I’m going to have to answer to God because that is a sin. So judge not, that is, in a hypercritical condemning way as though I know the heart and the motive of that person.”

Jesus says that whatever standard you use will be the standard applied to you.  People don’t like that do they?  They want everyone else to live by a very high standard of conduct. Rarely do these same people apply this high standard of conduct to themselves.

Theologian and author A.B. Bruce observed that having a critical, judgmental attitude towards others is “a Pharisaic vice; exalting ourselves by disparaging others, a very cheap way of attaining moral superiority.”

So this answers our 1st question – what is judging in the context of 7:1?  (A critical, condemning attitude of unforgiveness).

Now, the 2nd question I said we wanted to answer today is this – “What is the result of wrongly judging?  Well, I’ve already stated one of the effects – we will be judged by the same standard we set for others.

At the heart of this practice is an unwillingness to forgive; if we were really concerned about a brother or sister’s behavior or comments then we would do one or both of these things: 1) pray for them; 2) go to them and share our concerns privately.

What we would not do is talk about them critically or pass judgment on them, thinking we know their motives, or the heart of that person.

Listen to this true story.

In 1884 a young man died and after the funeral his grieving parents decided to establish a memorial to him.  With that in mind they met with Dr. Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University.  Dr. Eliot received the modestly dressed couple into his office and asked how he could help them.

After they expressed their desire to fund a memorial to honor their son, Dr. Eliot impatiently said, “You know, I don’t have much time today, what would you like to give?  Perhaps a partial scholarship?’  The woman replied, “We are thinking of something more substantial that that.  Is it possible to maybe build a building for our son?”

In a patronizing tone, Dr. Eliot indicated the idea was probably a bit too expensive and he asked them to consider giving a scholarship in their son’s name and come back to see him next week when he had more time.  Dr. Eliot never saw them again.

One year later Dr. Eliot learned that this very quiet, unassuming couple who were wanting to honor the memory of their son had gone out to California and established a $26 million dollar memorial named after their son.  Then it was called Leland Stanford Junior University.  Today it is simply called Stanford.

Being too quick to pass judgment can have some very negative consequences.  Luke records Jesus saying this:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned; (6:36-37)

So does this mean we are not to judge?  Again, no, this does not mean we are never to judge.  We are called to judge rightly.  That is the point of the next several verses.

Verses 3-5

Here’s the principle upon which right judging begins – we must first examine ourselves.  Jesus uses hyperbole – extreme exaggeration – to illustrate what He wanted the Jews then and us today to understand.

You see folks Jesus is saying that it is absolutely ridiculous for us to nitpick other people’s faults while at the same time ignoring the faults that exist in our own lives.

Some people want to read these words and say “hey, this means we are all supposed to mind out own business and never judge because we all have splinters and beams.”  People say “Nobody’s perfect.”

This is not what is being said here.  Notice Jesus says that we are to 1st take care of our own faults before we attempt to address a brother’s.  This speaks directly to the need for us to perform self-examination on a regular basis.

There is a strange phenomenon that I have observed frequently over the years.  It seems that in a good many cases people will get all bent out of shape with someone over the same issues they struggle with.

Remember the woman “caught in adultery” that was brought before Jesus for His judgment?  That situation illustrates the point.  Her accusers were in a tither over her behavior.  The obvious question that could have been asked was “where’s the man caught in adultery?”  But Jesus broadened His question even more than that to include them all.  In John’s gospel we read:

Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either Go From now on sin no more” (John 8:2-11)

One by one the Pharisees were convicted of their own sin and hypocrisy and their condemnation of the woman was turned upon them.

Here’s a spiritual principle folks – when you seek to honestly evaluate yourself and your relationship with the Lord, asking God to forgive you of your sins, asking Him to guide you in His wisdom, you will approach brothers and sisters of the faith in the right way.

Gone will be a critical, condescending, condemning attitude.  Replacing it will be a spirit of humbleness, grace, and mercy fueled by a desire for correction leading to reconciliation.

You see folks, Jesus calls us to love one another not to sit in judgment of each other.  The consistent testimony of the NT is that Christians are to seek the highest good for each other; to build each other up.

The apostle Paul told the Galatian Christians:

“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (6:1-2).

Proverbs 27:6 says in part “Faithful are the wounds of a friend. . . “

Removing a splinter from the eye of a brother or sister may hurt, but healing follows.  We are to make that our intention every time when we must judge – to bring healing and not hurt.

Some will choose to ignore these truths concerning judging because they don’t like confrontation.  I think Jesus had these people in mind in verse 6.

On the surface that’s a difficult verse to understand.  How did we get from splinters and logs to pigs and dogs?  Well, the context is still right judging so Jesus is telling us here that there will be some whom we are to take a firm stand against.

In Jude we read:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. (Jude 3-4, 10-11).

In the book of Acts the Bible instructs pastors to:

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30).

And finally this exhortation in the letter to the Ephesian church:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (5:1-8)

What is the consistent message?  In the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “The saints are not to be critical, condemning judges but they are not to be simpletons either.”

In other words, you may encounter at some point in your life, unbelievers who are so adamantly opposed to the gospel, so hostile to the salvation God offers through Christ that we are not to continue to “offer what is holy” to them.

In this context then Jesus is saying that some people will grow so hard-hearted that they are not to be offered what is holy and of great value any longer.  The apostle Paul talks about these same individuals in his letter to the Roman Christians (chapter 1).

Listen to these very sobering words:

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Rom 1:28-32)

The fact is brothers and sisters, that to persist beyond a certain point in offering the gospel – what Jesus refers to here as “what is holy” and “pearls” – is to invite its rejection with scorn, contempt, and even blasphemy.

This is precisely what Jesus warned of when He sent the disciples out to share the gospel in Luke 10:1-12:

Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. “Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house. “If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. “Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ “But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ “I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.

Author JR Stott summarizes our passage well with these words:

“Our Christian witness and evangelistic preaching are not to be entirely indiscriminate.  If people have had plenty of opportunity to hear the truth but do not respond to it, if they stubbornly turn their backs on Christ, if they cast themselves in the role of ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs,’ we are not to go on and on with them, for then we cheapen God’s gospel by letting them trample it under foot.”

These are serious words indeed.  We must be discerning people who are able to set aside our opinions and preferences and trust what God’s Word says.

We must allow the Bible to be our standard as it is able to “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

May we be people who learn to judge rightly and thus wisely in these last days.

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