Stuart Chase - 5 May 2019
Judge One Another (Matthew 7:1–12)
Recently, The Alberton Record published an opinion piece by a local resident complaining about road users who seem to lack a basic understanding of the purpose of the yellow emergency lane during peak hour traffic.
A great number of motorists think that it is perfectly fine to drive in the yellow lanes during peak time traffic.
I personally feel so unsafe when drivers do this as I feel that we all have to wait our turn and also drive safely.
An accident can happen so fast and those drivers are putting others in danger.
Worst of all is that they are driving in the lane that emergency services use to get to accidents. The yellow lane is only for emergency breakdowns or medical emergencies or when you need to rush to the hospital.
So why do motorists think that they can just break the rules? We all have to wait. It frustrates me because I will also see taxi drivers breaking the road rules in front of law enforcement and nothing is being done.
I read this piece online and, predictably, the comments section was filled with sarcastic comments about taxi drivers, who routinely ignore the traffic laws in this regard. “Tell that to the taxis.” “Tell that to the taxi drivers.” “They should impound taxis that don’t follow the road rules.” “The taxis do it all the time! No rules when it comes to them.”
My immediate thought, which I actually shared in the comments section, is that this problem is hardly limited to taxi drivers. I see at least as many private vehicle owners as taxis violating this rule. Initially, I was tempted to express a few extra opinions about this matter, but then I paused because, the truth is, I’ve done the same thing in the past. I’ve used the emergency lane as an additional lane simply because I didn’t want to wait in the queue. It occurred to me that it would hardly be consistent for me to complain about others doing the very thing that I have been guilty of myself. The words of Jesus sprang to my mind: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
As we continue our journey in the New Testament one anothers, I actually want to deviate slightly from the texts that are normally included in a list of the one anothers by diverting our attention to another passage. Though it does not directly include the phrase “one another,” it does speak in one-anotheresque language. In fact, when the principles of this particular text are applied to one another exhortations, it can be considered the golden rule of one anothering. I am speaking, of course, of perhaps the most famous chapter in the New Testament: Matthew 7. And I want to focus our attention specifically on Matthew 7:1–12.
These verses really form one section of the Sermon on the Mount. Depending on your translation of the Bible, there is probably a heading separating vv. 1–6 from vv. 7–12 (NKJV, NASB). The ESV actually inserts a third heading separating v. 12–13 from v. 11. These headings can create superficial distinctions when Jesus was actually driving at one thought. Sadly, while v. 1 and v. 12 are some of the best known in the New Testament, we fail to understand how the intervening verses tie these two famous verses together.
In this study, I want to briefly survey vv. 1–12, which really tell us to judge one another. We’ll consider how this text gives us a golden rule for judging one another, and I trust will see how this golden rule can be applied to all one anothering.
The specific context, as I have said, is an exhortation to judge one another, and Jesus gives us four principles to bear in mind when it comes to judging one another.
Judge One Another Sincerely
First, Jesus exhorts his readers to judge sincerely—that is, not hypocritically.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log 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.”
People today—believers and unbelievers—love v. 1. They use it to justify pretty much anything they want to do with the claim that no one should be able to judge them for it. But, as the context shows, Jesus only forbids a certain type of judging.
The word translated “judge” means to distinguish or discriminate. It can refer to mental or judicial discrimination, depending on the context. Most directly, it simply means to distinguish or discriminate between two options—in this case, to distinguish between right and wrong.
The word translated “not” is, in the words of one Greek scholar, “a primary article of qualified negation.” That is, it is not an absolutedenial, as if we should never, under any circumstances, “judge.” Instead, it means that there are certain conditions under which we should not judge. The conditions are stated in vv. 2–5.
It is necessary to understand the qualified nature of this judgement because we all “judge” in certain contexts. As much as some want to protest that there should never be any discrimination in any context under any conditions, the fact is, we discriminate all the time.
As an example, consider our upcoming national elections. The voting process is, in and of itself, a judgement: Voters discriminate between the candidates represented on the ballot. But the discrimination in the voting process goes deeper than that. When it comes to voters, discrimination is made between citizens and non-citizens, and between registered and non-registered voters. In South Africa, you must be a citizen, aged sixteen or older, on the voter registration role in order to vote. If you are younger than sixteen, or are a non-citizen, or failed to register to vote, you are discriminated against and cannot vote in elections.
A very timely example of discrimination was recently highlighted in the world of sporting news, after South African runner Caster Semenya lost her legal battle with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) over testosterone limits in women’s athletics. The IAAF ruled that female athletes must regulate their testosterone levels when competing, even if those testosterone levels (as with Semenya) occur naturally. The court issued a statement, which acknowledged that the ruling is “discriminatory” but added that “such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the Restricted Events.”
Even in our age of gender confusion, one cannot identify as a man and choose to compete in the women’s section of his favourite sport. At the least, athletes must participate in the category of the sex with which they identify.
The point is simple: We discriminate all the time. Discrimination, in and of itself, is not wrong. What makes the difference is the basis of the discrimination. Jesus tells us that there is a certain context in which discrimination—judging—is wrong.
In this context, the wrong way in which to discriminate is hypocritically. To explain, Jesus applies the illustration of a speck and a log. A person with a log in his own eye is in no position to help a person with a speck in his. If you are always prone to notice fault in others, but are never able to see fault in yourself, you are not in a position to help others with their faults. If you only want to correct others all the time, pointing out how wrong they are, but are never willing to receive correction yourself, then “judge not.”
But that does not mean that you should forsake the responsibility to judge. Instead, you should remove the log from your own eye, and once you have done that, you are in a position to help remove the speck from your brother’s eye. The goal is always to remove the speck, but if you don’t deal with your own log first your efforts will prove more harmful than helpful.
Judge One Another Discerningly
The second way in which Christians should judge is discerningly: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (v. 6).
Even though your goal at all times is to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, you must be discerning in the way that you go about it. You must carefully evaluate, not only your own ability to actually help your brother (vv. 1–5), but also your brother’s ability to hear you. You may be in a good place to judge, but is your brother in a good place to be judged?
“Dogs” and “pigs” were both considered to be wild, unclean animals, with which faithful Jews would have nothing to do. Jesus uses this hyperbolic language (like the hyperbolic language of a log in one’s eye) to illustrate an important point. Certainly, it would be irresponsible to take what was holy and precious and give it to dogs and pigs, who would only destroy it. In the sacrificial system, there were rules for different parts of the offering that had been consecrated to God. Some of it was burned entirely, some was consumed by the priests, some was taken home for the priestly family, and what was left over was consecrated to the Lord. It would be unthinkable to take holy meat and give it to the dogs. Similarly, a hungry boar, scavenging for food, would hardly appreciate the value of a pearl cast before it, but would destroy it in its quest to find food. It is a waste of time and resources, and a risk to yourself, to give to pigs and dogs that which they do not appreciate.
But here is the point: How do you know who is a dog and a pig? The only way to know that is to make a judgement—to discern whether your brother is ready to hear you, or whether you will simply be giving what is holy to dogs and casting your pearls before pigs. A certain discrimination is called for, and it is a discrimination that Jesus tells you to exercise. And if you feel ill-equipped to make that judgement, listen to vv. 7–11.
Judge One Another Prayerfully
The third way in which Christians should judge is prayerfully.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Left to ourselves, we are tempted to judge hypocritically and undiscerningly. We are prone to make judgements based on first impressions without considering things as carefully as we ought. Jesus here offers the necessary resource to avoid this temptation.
If we will be able to identify sin in our own lives, and be able to discern who are the dogs and pigs to whom we should not cast our holy things and our pearls, it will require divine wisdom. And divine wisdom is available through prayer (James 1:5).
Because God gives freely to those who ask, we can pray with confidence for the ability to discern wisely in our judgement. If we know what to ask for, and we ask for it with a correct attitude, we can be sure that God will give it to us. The promise in these verses is not a blank cheque. It is not an assurance that God will give whatever you want. It is a promise that he will give you the wisdom you require to make correct judgements.
Judge One Another Relationally
All of the above brings us to the most crucial point for our purposes: We should judge relationally. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (v. 12). “So” (or “therefore” in the NKJV) ties this verse to what has come before it. When it comes to judgement, you should judge in the way in which you wish to be judged. This implies everything we have just said.
The basic implication is that Christians want to be judged. That may sound strange, but it is a necessary implication of this text. If you are a Christian, you want to be like Christ, which means that you want to overcome sin in your life. And since you want to overcome sin, you will gladly invite criticism that is designed to correct you.
This is the way that God ordinarily works out sanctification in our lives. Sometimes, God directly and personally convicts you of sin; more often than not, God uses fellow Christians and fellow church members to point out sin in your life. If you are unwilling to receive correction from fellow church members, you are stunting your own spiritual growth. We should always be willing to receive correction if we will progress in our sanctification.
This is the implication behind so much of what we do as Christians and as a church. In baptism, we are publicly identifying with Christ and with his people, and thereby inviting the church to hold us accountable to a lifestyle that testifies of the new life we have in Christ. At the Lord’s Supper, we testify that we, with the rest of the partakers, are beneficiaries of gospel grace, and therefore we invite others to hold us accountable to walk in a way that is consistent with the gospel. By signing a church covenant, we agree to walk in a way that is consistent with our confession, and we invite our fellow church members to speak gospel truth into our lives.
Simply put, to be a Christian, and to be a church member, is to invite other Christians, and other church members, to speak gospel truth into your life and to hold you accountable to walk in a way that is consistent with that gospel truth. To be a Christian is to invite other Christians to judge you.
But while Christians want to be judged, they want to be judged in a way that is consistent with this text.
Ask yourself: Do you want others to judge you insincerely and hypocritically? Of course not. It is difficult to receive correction from those who are never willing to be corrected themselves. It is difficult to receive correction from those who are guilty of the very sin for which they are confronting you. While Spirit-filled Christians are happy to receive correction, they wish to receive it from sincere, unhypocritical hearts.
Do you want others to judge you undiscerningly? No. It is difficult to receive correction when we feel that others have not tried to understand our situation. It is difficult to receive correction when we have the impression that the corrector is acting in the heat of the moment. It is difficult to receive correction when we sense that the corrector has not searched the Scriptures to understand the nature of the sin and the way in which it can be corrected.
Do you want others to judge you without having first committed themselves to prayer? I think not. We want to know that our brother has bathed his efforts continually in prayer as he brings our sin to our attention. We want to be sure that he will continue to bathe those efforts in prayer and that he is committed to praying for our ability to repent and overcome our sin problem.
This is where we get to the point of our text: If you don’t want others to judge you hypocritically, undiscerningly, and unprayerfully, why would you judge others that way? Why do you confront sin in others when you are guilty of the same sin yourself, or are unwilling receive correction yourself? Why do you judge others without first giving careful thought to the biblical nature of the sin and how you will approach them and how you will be received? Why do you judge others without first bathing your criticism in prayer?
If you want to avoid the wrong kind of judging, consider three practical suggestions.
First, pray for God to help you see. Hypocritical judging is a vision problem. When we have a superiority complex, we have a vision problem. We need God’s grace to see so that we can identify our own plank before we help others remove their speck.
Second, model the practice of confession. Be quick to admit when you have done wrong. Confess your wrongs and do not hold onto them. Confess them to God and, when necessary, confess them to others. I recently heard someone speak of the discipline of keeping an autobiography of sin: of writing out specific sins and keeping a diary of them. He cautioned that this should only be done with a healthy understanding of the gospel—that God’s grace forgives and covers those sins—but it is one way to help you remember, in your practice of obeying Matthew 7:1–12, that you, too, are a sinner.
Third, consistently exercise the discipline of self-examination, asking yourself, before God, where your own faults and weaknesses lie. “Who can discern his errors?” asked David. He then prayed, “Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). We need to recognise that our faults are often hidden from us, and be intentional about prayerfully examining ourselves for those faults.
If you want to be genuinely helpful to your brothers and sisters in Christ, you must be willing to judge them—to discern right from wrong in their lives and be willing to come alongside them to help them do what is right. But as you do so, be sure that you are judging sincerely, discerningly, and prayerfully, or else you will never judge relationally.