Judging Others – Matthew 7:1-5

Pastor Scott L. Harris
11/15/92; February 28, 1999

Judging Others
Matthew 7:1-5


This morning we will continue in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has made it very clear throughout this sermon that there is a big difference between true righteousness from the heart and self righteousness as demonstrated by the Scribes and Pharisees. True righteousness is demonstrated in the character qualities described in the Beatitudes: poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and true peacemakers. Those who demonstrate these qualities are hated by the unrighteous world and suffer persecution for their righteousness. The self righteous may try to give outward display of virtue, but it ends up being perverted in some way.

This was seen throughout Matthew 5 as Jesus pointed out the Scripture twisting of the Scribes & Pharisees. They concentrated on the minutia of tradition and disregarded the spirit of the Scriptures. In Matthew 15:6 Jesus rebukes them strongly for this saying, “And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” For many of the Jews the traditions had actually replaced the authority of the Scriptures themselves. (See: Fulfilling the Law).

The twisted self righteousness of the Pharisees was also seen throughout Matthew 6. In that chapter Jesus contrasted the proper practice of giving alms, praying and fasting with the attention drawing methods of these self righteous religious leaders. They were more interested in the praise of people than the praise of God, The opposite of God’s desire for us to be humble and seek His praise.  (See: Where Does Your Reward Come From?).

In Matthew 6 Jesus also promotes true righteousness with his command for us to not store up treasures on earth but instead to store up treasures in heaven. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees claimed to be servants of God, but their hearts were set on the things of this earth and storing up its treasures.  (See: Where is Your Treasure?). They thought they could serve both God and the things of this world, but as Jesus said so plainly and forcefully, “you cannot serve God and mammon.” If your pursuit in life is to gain what the world has to offer, then that is where your heart will be and you will serve them for they will be your master. If you value the things of God, then your heart will be. You will serve the Lord, for He will be your master, and the things of this world will be inconsequential to you.  (See: Who’s Your Master?). Like the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4, you will be content regardless of the circumstances of your life whether you have little or much. You will find that anxiety will not be a mark of your life. When you know and trust God, you can relax in His care for you with confidence that He will provide for your needs. Your goal is to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  (See: The Cure for Anxiety).

This background is important because it is the context for our passage this morning. Too often passages from the Sermon on the Mount are taken out of context, misinterpreted and used to support error. Our passage this morning is another case of that. If we do not understand the context then we will be in grave danger of misunderstanding what our Lord is teaching us here.

Turn to Matthew 7:1-5. “Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother; ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 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.”

Pharisaical Judging

I am sure that most everyone here has heard the first verse of this passage used by someone to say that we should not comment on whether something someone was doing was good or bad. Many people cite this verse as proof that believers should not evaluate or criticize anyone for anything. I have had it used against me as a defense by a person who did not like me telling them that something they were doing was sinful. Lets face it, our culture is increasingly becoming a place in which people do not like absolutes and especially theological and moral absolutes. That is why President Clinton’s lies are not a big deal to a large part of this nation. Our society’s mind set has shifted to an attitude of “who cares if he lies or is unfaithful to his wife.” The only concern seems to be how the economy is doing currently. We value tolerance so much that the only thing not tolerated is someone who has some absolute standards. That is why those that sought to hold President Clinton accountable to his words and actions are being treated like the bad guys instead of the heroes they are.

We must be very careful here because this mind set has also infiltrated into the church. One of the more blatant cases I recall of this mind set was by a man named Wayne Monbleau that hosted a radio program called, “Let’s talk about Jesus.” One of his premises was we should not criticize anyone. One afternoon Diane and I heard him over the car radio deal with a lesbian that had called in. The woman was starting to feel that what she was doing was not good. In his response he was very careful to not tell her that what she was doing was sin. That would have been critical. The only criticism I have ever heard on the show was for those that would criticize someone else over doctrine and sin.

This incorrect interpretation and application of this verse has had a stifling effect on the practical outworking of holiness. People defend themselves from proper criticism with it. “Don’t tell me what I am doing is wrong for the Bible says that we are not to judge one another!” People use it as an excuse to tolerate sin saying, “I don’t think what he is doing is right, but who am I to judge him?” The net effect is that we become like the church in Corinth which Paul rebuked in 1 Corinthians 5:2 for their tolerance of sin, “And you have become arrogant (proud of their tolerance) and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst.”

Did Jesus mean that other Christians are not to confront us when we stumble into sin? Did Jesus mean that we are to be tolerant of the sinful practices of others because we may have sin in our lives? Did Jesus mean that to “not judge” was to forsake being involved in the moral aspects of one another’s lives? It is the context that tells us what Jesus meant, and the context here is the same as in the previous passages. The general context is that your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if you are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The specific context is to not follow the example of the Scribes and Pharisees. When we look at the context of the whole Bible, the context of Matthew, the context of the Sermon on the Mount and the immediate context of these verses, we find that all of them demand that we do judge one another in the sense of discernment. We are to discern who is following Christ and who is not. We are to discern what is sinful and what is not.

In the Sermon on the Mount itself we find commands to do this. In Matthew 7:6 Jesus tells us not to give what is holy to dogs and to not throw our pearls before swine. We cannot fulfill that command unless we can judge/discern who is a dog and who is a swine. In Matthew 7:15 Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets and that we would know them by their fruit. We can not heed Jesus’ warning unless we judge/discern according to the standard He lays down about who is or is not a false prophet. Later on we find in Matthew 18:15 we find that Jesus tells us to go and reprove a brother that sins. That can not be done unless we are able to judge/discern whether a person did or did not commit sin. The rest of the New Testament is full of similar commands and warnings that can not be carried out unless we are able to judge in the sense of discerning right and wrong and acting upon that.

We must remember that the context here is a contrast of true righteousness with the self righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Gospel records are full of their condemning judgement of anyone who did not meet their standards. In John 8:15 Jesus said to them, “You people judge according to the flesh.” In John 7:24 Jesus told the multitude in reference to their improper judgement, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” It is this type of condemning, self righteous judgement that Jesus is talking about.

John 9 is one of many examples of this attitude in them. In this chapter we find that Jesus has healed a man born blind. All of those that knew him were astonished at the miracle and they brought him to the Pharisees. Look at their response in John 9:14, “Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Again, therefore, the Pharisees also were asking him how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees where saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.”

As the story continues, we find they do not believe the man who was formerly blind, so they call in the parents. The parents attest that this is their son, but they do not answer any other questions because as John 9:22 points out they were afraid of the Jews because “the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.” They bring the former blind man back again and question him concerning Jesus.

John 9:24, “So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” (They had already decided that Jesus was a sinner because He broke one of their rules about keeping the Sabbath). John 9:25 He therefore answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said therefore to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen; why do you want to hear [it] again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28 And they reviled him, and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 “We know that God has spoken to Moses; but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” 30 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and [yet] He opened my eyes. 31 “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will, He hears him. 32 “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 34 They answered and said to him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they put him out.

Their self righteousness blinded them from seeing what was right in front of their noses resulting in their condemnation of Jesus because He did not keep their traditions. Jesus had made clay and told the man to go wash. Both were violations of their prohibitions of doing work on the Sabbath but not God’s command of keeping the Sabbath. They also unrighteously condemned this formerly blind man because he would not bend to their narrow-minded prejudice but held to the truth instead.

Another example of their self righteous condemnation occurs in the previous chapter. In John 8:3 we find that the Scribes & Pharisees had caught a woman in adultery, and they brought her to Jesus and 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 a woman; what then do You say?’ Verse 6 tells us their purpose was to find a ground to accuse Jesus. Jesus response was that he “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.” And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And 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 had been, in the midst. And straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ And she said, ‘No one Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin not more.”

Now notice in this story that the woman was caught in the very act of adultery, yet only she was brought. Where was the man involved? Their desire was not justice or righteousness. They simply wanted to catch Jesus in doing something against the Law of Moses. In self righteousness they looked down on the woman and condemned her. Contrast that with Jesus response to her. Jesus did not excuse her sin, but He did not condemn her. He offered her hope.

Jesus tells us here in Matthew 7:1 not to judge in the way the Scribes and Pharisees self righteously condemned others. It is looking at others and thinking that you are better than they. This self righteous judgement can be recognized in several ways. First, unrighteous judgement is pleased to hear something unpleasant about others because they think that shows they are better than them. True righteousness mourns over the sin of others and is merciful. Second, unrighteous judgement is seen when a person judges based on prejudice rather than the principles and precepts of Scripture. That is what they did in the case of the man born blind. Third, unrighteous judgement is also manifested in the criticism of motives which can not be discerned. Opinion is given without knowing all the facts and no interest is given in gaining an understanding. Unrighteous judgement condemns simply because the person is doing something differently than you would do it.

We must not judge unrighteously. We must also be careful of how we criticize others. True criticism is beneficial and helps the other person become better. The condemnation of unrighteous judgement is only negative and destructive.

One way to avoid Pharisaical judgement is to remember Jesus said not to judge in that manner because there will be a

Just Return

God will judge us. We need to keep in mind that we will stand before God and He will judge us. Do we want Him to treat us the way we have treated others? Remember that earlier in the Sermon on Mount we were told “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.” The reason you are not to judge in a self righteous manner because you will be judged, and you will be judged according to the manner that you judged others.

This principle is backed up in James 3:1 where James warns, “Let not many of you be teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgement.” This is the same principle found in Luke 12:48 that to “everyone who has been given much shall much be required.” If we know what God has said then we will be held accountable for it. When we say this is right and that is wrong, then we will be held accountable for that. The self righteous religious leaders placed themselves in the seat of Moses (Mt 23:2) and they were going to be judged according to Moses. Matthew 23 contains Jesus’ woes against them because they would not do the things they told others to do (Matthew 23:3, 13f).

Someone might say, “then it is better to remain ignorant in order to avoid God’s judgement.” Not so, for your criticism of others regardless of how well you know the Scriptures prove that the knowledge of right and wrong is already written on your conscience. Paul says this in Romans 2:1. “Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgement, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” If you criticize someone else for doing something and you do it yourself, you prove you know right from wrong because you have seen the wrong in someone else.

In reality this passage proves once again that true righteousness comes from God, because no one can live according to Jesus’ injunction here apart from God, and apart from God’s grace & mercy we all stand condemned by our condemnation of others. Self righteousness condemns itself in its judgment of others. True righteousness does not neglect the standard of holiness, but it seeks it while relying on God’s grace and mercy for themselves and others. When that standard is not upheld they mourn over the sin and offer mercy.

Get the Log out

It is important that we understand that this passage does not end at Matthew 7:2. It is connected to Matthew 7:3,4 &5 that let us know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are to be discerning and that we are to give proper criticism of others, but only after we have examined ourselves first and put away the sin of self righteousness.

The word speck here (karfoV / karphos) does not mean something small like a particle of dust, but instead something the size of a small stalk, twig or possible a splinter. Though small in comparison to a log, it is not an insignificant object in the eye. Jesus is not comparing a very small sin or fault with one that is large, but between one that is large and one that is huge. The point being that the sin of the critic is greater than the sin of the person he is criticizing.

Some have tried to list rather minor ceremonial infractions as the sins that would constitute the speck while putting gross, indecent, and repulsive things as the log size sins. But the context here indicates that the log size sin is that of being self righteous. It is self righteousness that Jesus has been speaking against all through the sermon. It is self righteousness that is so blind to its own sinfulness. It is self righteousness that by its very nature seeks to justify itself while condemning others.

In our earlier story concerning the man born blind who was healed by Jesus in John 9, we find that Jesus is speaking to him in John 9:39 telling him, “For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, ” We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

They were busy condemning others and telling them all the sinful things they were doing, but they had the greater blinding sin of self righteousness. As mentioned earlier Jesus blasts them in the “woes” of Matthew 23 in which He calls them “fools”, “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “serpents” and “brood of vipers” because the evil they brought on others in the guise of being righteous. They shut men out of the kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13), they made proselytes “twice as much a son of hell as [them]selves” (Matthew 23:13 15). They kept the minutia of the law while neglecting the more important things like “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:13 23). They gave an outward appearance of righteousness but inside were full of robbery, self-indulgence (Matthew 23:13 25), hypocrisy and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:13 27).

The Pharisee in Luke 18:11-14 is the classic illustration of the man who sees the specks in others but is blind to the log in his own eye. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a taxgatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

The man was a religious leader who was supposed to point people to God, but until he got the log of self righteousness out of his eye, he would be unable to help his brother get the speck out of his. Matthew 7:5 tells us plainly that the log is to be taken out first and then the speck worked on. Please understand that you are to

Help Your Brother

This goes back to our earlier discussion of what Jesus means that we are not to “judge.” He is speaking here of the self righteous, unmerciful, prejudiced and unwarranted condemnation of others based on human standards & understanding. We still have the responsibility to be involved with one another and helping each other overcome sin. Leviticus 19:17 says that to not reprove a neighbor would be hatred. “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor.” 1 John 2:9,11 tell us that hating our brother indicates that we are still in the darkness and not walking in the light. We are to love one another and that includes “admonishing one another” as Romans 15:14 tells us to do. Matthew 18:15 tells us that we are to go to our brother when he sins and reprove him in order to win him back. To leave a person in their sin violates Scripture’s command to us and demonstrates that we do not love them.

Paul said it this way in Galatians 6:1,2 “If any man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, let you to be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”

Let us not fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus’ teaching here to “judge not lest you be judge” means that we are to be tolerant of sin and refrain from criticism of those that are sin. Let us remember the whole passage in its context and make sure that we have examined ourselves and that the log of self righteousness is out of our eye. Let us then go to our brother and help them with the speck in their eye. Let us make sure that we judge sin based on the Scriptures and not on man made tradition. We are to speak the truth in love, not in condemnation. We are to go with all humility, grace and mercy, not arrogant, self righteous pride. We are to come along side and bear their burden with them.

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