Judging Others (Matthew 7:1-5)

7 "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.

Blurred Vision

There's a teenager who's at odds with her parents because they've laid down the rules that she can't go see a certain movie because they don't think it would be good for her moral and spiritual development. So, she storms out of the room and yells, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged!"

Or a person takes a certain position on a moral issue counter to cultural norms, and a local group criticizes them. Immediately, their friends rally around and suddenly become very biblical, saying, " Do not judge, or you too will be judged!" Have any of you heard this phrase used?

Well, these folks don't really understand the phrase because they're taking the phrase "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" completely out of context to meet their personal needs. And regrettably some folks have used this phrase to convey the idea, "You live your lifestyle and I'll live mine." But this is not the point Jesus was making in our Gospel reading.

One of the key biblical verses in understanding Matthew 7 is Matthew 5:20, which says, "For I tell you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." In other words, we must have a different kind of righteousness from what the Pharisees and teachers had. They wore their righteousness on their sleeves and it was superficial at best.

Our righteousness must grow out of a heart committed to God. And understanding the message of our Gospel reading is part of that context.

As Jesus looked at the religious situation of his day, he saw that judging others had become a great religious problem. The Pharisees and teachers played the role of critic. They were quick to pass judgment on those who didn't live up to their standards and expectations.

When Jesus was in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the sinful woman anointed his feet, Simon said, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is - she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39). The Pharisees, in their self-righteous arrogance, had created a special class of people called "sinners," as if they themselves were not.

The Pharisees were used to judging others self-righteously. And Jesus said there are problems with this kind of judging. This way of judging is overly critical, always going around with a nit-picking attitude, digging and searching for faults, always suspecting the worst in people.

So Jesus says that we're not to judge. Now he's not talking about the judgment in a courtroom. He's not talking about judging open and obvious sin. He's not talking about judging false teachers. What he's talking about is a rushed, unloving, and "holier than thou" type of attitude. We sometimes call this "jumping to conclusions". And it's this attitude and jumping to conclusions that's at the very heart of most gossiping and rumor spreading.

Jesus wasn't saying we should never assess people with some discernment, but rather we should not have a harsh, judgmental spirit. Jesus doesn't give us permission to cease being human to play God, and wants us to repudiate the temptation to be God. And that's what really drives our overly critical attitude: a belief that we can see as God sees. " I can see your motives. " I can see the way you're thinking. " I know all the things that have led you to this point in your life. This is the kind of thinking and attitude Jesus wants to eliminate.

Think about it whenever we cast judgment, we often time do so based on what we've seen or perhaps heard, and many times that's not enough to provide the whole picture. Human judgment is limited to the information we've received as a result of our personal evaluation of the person or situation, and often times that just isn't enough to make an accurate judgment of someone or their actions.

The Native Americans had their way of saying this: "Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins." And there's a lot of wisdom in this statement. How well do we really know the people we're judging?

Let me offer an example. A person brought up in a Christian home can't really know the temptations of a person brought up in a totally sinful environment. The fact is that if we realized what some people have to go through, instead of condemning them, we might be astonished that they've succeeded at being as good as they are.

There's a story about a newspaper reporter that serves as a great example of what we're talking about. A reporter was once searching for a story about the laziness that existed throughout the South, when he saw a man in his field, sitting in a chair and hoeing his weeds.

This had to be the ultimate in laziness. So the reporter rushed back to his car to start his story when he looked back a second time, and what he saw changed his entire outlook. He saw that the pants legs on the farmer hung down loose -- the man had no legs. So what seemed at first to be a story of laziness turned into a story of great courage. And I suggest we each have a story or two of casting judgment, only to be proven wrong when all the facts become known.

God made the point that "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Samuel 16:7). That's why we don't have the right to sit in judgment on someone else's motives, because we don't know what they are. Only God knows all.

The truth is we can't know everything in everybody else's heart. We can't know the motives of others. We can't see as God does. We need to give others the benefit of the doubt.

When you entered church this morning each person or family should have received a small 2X4. So lets discuss the meaning of this 2X4 in the context of the speck of sawdust and plank in our Gospel story.

"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? Or 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? 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."

You see there's another problem with the so-called righteousness practiced by the Pharisees. Not only was it overly critical, but it was also hypocritical. It was two-faced.

When we see others its often times from a far-sighted perspective. We see them clearly, but because we're far-sighted our vision gets blurred as we begin to look at ourselves. So with a blurred vision we tend to look past any of our shortcomings. Yet when we look at others our vision seems to become all the clearer. And this is the hypocrisy Jesus was denouncing.

We're not qualified to sit in judgment of 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.

Perhaps Jesus used the illustration of a plank and a speck of sawdust because he was a carpenter; that was familiar to him and it was familiar to the people around him. But if he were living today, he might have used an illustration describing a person watching the Maryland-Duke game last night or a golf game.

Have you ever listened to a person watching golf especially when a bad shot is made? They'll criticize the golfer's swing, the club selection, and the lack of focus on the golfers part. But have you ever thought -- If you're so good at knowing what to do, then why are you sitting in a chair watching the game instead of being out there playing?

So 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 some pressure off to point the finger at others for a while. It makes our sin seem not so bad after all. 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. So, Jesus warns us that we've got to clean up our own act before we tamper with the lives of others.

When we spend our time pointing our finger at others, our attention is distracted from our own sin, and that's the real danger of judging. We're all sinners, and we're to work together as the body of Christ to overcome our sin. And lets face it, the only sin that we have control over is our own, and therefore confronting our sin should command our greatest attention. And that's the purpose of the 2X4 you received. It's to remind us that we are not to judge self-righteously or be hypocritical.

Now it's also important for us to notice that Jesus didn't stop when he said don't judge others. Jesus didn't instruct us to stay out of other people's business. Rather, he gave us the responsibility of helping our brothers and sisters: "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (7:5).

What's the loving, Christian thing to do when someone comes to us and has a speck in their eye? Turn and walk away? No! They've got something in their eye and it needs taken out, they need help.

Suppose a child comes to you with a splinter in his or her finger. Their 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 is 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!

So to summarize the meaning of our Gospel reading we can say: Jesus provides a warning for us to avoid the extremes of judgment. And we need to be careful not to become harshly judgmental, looking for faults, taking the opportunity to look down on others from our position of self-righteousness.

But neither are we to overlook sin. We need to be able to recognize sin for what it is, because any attempt to overlook or justify sin on any grounds is itself sinful.

In John 8, Jesus is confronted by a mob pushing before it a woman that was caught in the act of adultery. The mob tried to use her, as if she were a thing, in order to trap Jesus. The Jewish law said she must die. Roman law said that she couldn't be killed without their permission. There was never any doubt about her guilt, nor was there any doubt as to the seriousness of her action.

So what did Jesus do when confronted by this sinner? First, he refused to look down on her. He wouldn't allow the mob to treat her as a thing. Rather he forced the mob to consider their own sin.

But, second, he didn't justify her behavior. He wouldn't refer to her action as anything other than sin. He forgave her and challenged her to stop sinning.

And Jesus will do the same thing for us as well. As we remove the plank from our own eye and seek forgiveness from God, we will begin to see with an uncompromising clarity Jesus' call on our life. So reach out to the divine optometrist and receive his prescription for healing your blurred vision.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade