Matthew 7:1–12 forms a unified section in the Sermon on the Mount. Some Bible translations divide these verses into two or three pericopes, but Jesus was addressing a unified thought: how to avoid a religious superiority complex.
A religious superiority complex is manifested, in this section, by judging others in a wrong way. That might sound strange: Aren’t we told not to judge at all (v. 1)? Actually, this text tells us how to avoid wrongjudgement and embrace right judgement as we pursue surpassing righteousness. Jesus says four things about right judgement.
First, we must judge sincerely (vv. 1–5). “Judge not” (v. 1) refers to a particular type of judging: hypocritical judging. To “judge” means to discriminate between two options: here, between right and wrong. We should be prepared to discriminate between right and wrong in others’ lives—so long as we first do so in our own. When we have discerned and repented of our own wrong, we are in a position to help others. If we try to help others without first judging ourselves, it will prove more harmful than helpful.
Second, we must judge discerningly (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 both your own ability to help your brother (vv. 1–5) and your brother’s ability to hear you (v. 6). You may be in a good place to judge, but is your brother in a good place to be judged?
It would be unthinkable to give holy meat, reserved for priestly families, to rabid dogs. Similarly, a famished hog, scavenging for food, would hardly appreciate the offer of costly pearls. It is a waste of time and resources, and a personal risk, to give to dogs and hogs that which they do not appreciate. Similarly, before you come alongside a brother to help him discern right and wrong in his life, you need to discern whether or not he is ready to receive your wisdom.
Third, we must judge prayerfully (vv. 7–11). As you prepare your own heart to help others discern right and wrong, and as you carefully evaluate whether your brother is ready to receive correction, you must bathe the entire exercise in prayer.
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. The remedy to this temptation is prayer. Since God liberally gives wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5), we can pray confidently for the ability to discern wisely in our judgement.
Fourth, we must judge relationally (v. 12). “So” ties v. 12 to what has come before. Jesus’ point is this: When it comes to judging others, thereby helping them to discern right and wrong in their lives, we must judge in the way in which we wish to be judged. If you want others to help you discern right from wrong (and, if you are a Christian, you do want that!), you must help others to do so. But since you want others to judge you sincerely, discerningly, and prayerfully, you must exercise your own judgement in the same way. All of this assumes that you will be in relationship with those you seek to help.
Sometimes, God directly and personally convicts us of sin; more often, he uses fellow Christians and fellow church members to point out sin and help us pursue sanctification. Unwillingness to receive correction stunts our own spiritual growth. We should always be willing to receive correction if we will progress in our sanctification. But if we want to be aided in our sanctification by others, we must be willing to aid others in theirs.
If you want to pursue God-honour judging, thereby helping your brothers and sisters in their sanctification, briefly consider three practical suggestions. First, pray for God to help you see. You need God’s grace to identify your own plank before you can help others remove their speck. Second, model the practice of confession. Be quick to admit when you have done wrong—to God and to those you have wronged. Third, consistently exercise the discipline of self-examination, asking yourself, before God, where your own faults and weaknesses lie.
As you reflect on Jesus’ exhortation to judge one another, examine your own willingness to receive correction and then commit, for the glory of God and the good of his church, to help others in their pursuit of Christlikeness.