So far in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has given us quite a comprehensive picture of the believer’s life. He started in the Beatitudes talking about our relationship to ourselves and to God (5:1-16), then to the Word of God (5:17-20), and key elements of the OT law (5:21-47), Christian disciplines (6:1-18), money and possessions (6:19-43). Now he turns to our relationship with others.
From 7:1-12 Jesus is going to give the best inter personal relationship guidance you could get. Today, from 7:1-6 we’ll look at the negative, (next week we’ll look at the positive). It is simple but incredibly profound. If you want to know how to act with friends, work colleagues, friends Jesus is going to say “stop being critical”. He is going to identify self-righteousness as the root cause of more relational strife than you would believe, and prescribe the gospel as the only solution.
Read Matt 7:1-6
That first sentence is frequently thrown in the face of Christians. Unfortunately, sometimes rightly so (I’ll show you why now)! But, it is a big stick that people haul out to beat Christians. And all the more in the 21st century where people are less and less inclined to stand for their beliefs and truth, and more and more inclined to be inclusive and permissive and morally lax. You commit social suicide when you take a stand against sin. People fight back, “but that is their choice, who are you to judge?” And this mentality is infiltrating the church.
Judgement: what is forbidden (1a)
What is Jesus really against? Is he saying that truth and error don’t matter and that we should let acceptance and tolerance reign? Surely not. There are many ways to demonstrate that this is not what the Bible teaches. The easiest is to look at Jesus himself. He would be the worst hypocrite if this were true: you could look almost anywhere in the gospels, but since just look at what he is going to say in this chapter: he makes the judgement call of “hypocrite”; he calls his hearers to judge who are the hogs and dogs (7:6); he calls them to ‘watch out for false prophets’ (7:12). All of these require a person to judge. It is impossible that he is asking us to suspend our analytical and discerning abilities at the door of faith.
We are still to test, evaluate and discriminate when it comes to truth and error (Paul – Galatians 1, Matt 18, Lev 19:17 – hate is not rebuking, Jesus and Pharisees – Matt 23). There is a right sense in which sin is to be confronted. It does need to be identified and challenged.
The key is to remember that, in the whole Sermon on the Mount Jesus is NOT showing us how to find true faith as opposed to worldliness and godlessness; rather is it true faith and the religiosity of the Pharisees who have an external for of godliness but it hollow and actually offensive to God because of pride. So Jesus is addressing the judgemental, critical attitudes of the Pharisees; the way that they had set themselves up as the morality police; an ugly, self-righteous, disparaging, condemnatory attitude. John Mac A therefore suggests that we would better translate 7:1 “stop criticising” – we must judge and evaluate, but an ugly spirit of criticism that pulls others down so we feel taller is rooted in self-righteousness. Stop criticising. So…
Criticism: why it is forbidden
Now, before you think, “well at least I’m off the hook now” – too many Christians are critical like the Pharisees! And to the degree that this is true, Christians are deserving of the “don’t be so judgemental” snap from non-Christians. There is a certain gracelessness in some Christians lives – they are characterised more by presumption and criticism than grace and long-suffering. So Jesus give us one reason (in three parts) why criticism is out of place:
You’re not God (1)
Read Matt 7:1
There is only one person who is fit to judge – God. You are not the final court. We do not know the motives and thoughts of other humans and their actions may not make sense to us, but that is because we are limited and He is unlimited. Every time you criticise someone you are taking the place of God – you are acting as if you are all-knowing, but you are not.
In the case of obvious sin there is a Biblical standard: someone is cheating on their husband; someone is beating their wife – you don’t need to know the heart or motives. But when it comes to the way they raise their children, what food they eat, how they dress, what they spend their money on, when they read their Bible…
Every time you criticise somebody because they don’t do something the way you think it ought to be done, or because you think you have understood their motives, then you take the judgement throne of God.
You are placing yourself under your own measure (2)
And he says there is a consequence to doing this… Read Matt 7:2
When you set yourself up as a perfect, all-knowing judge you also set yourself up for judgement by the perfect, all-knowing judge: God himself. WOW! He is not so much saying, “if you judge your friends and family harshly they will also be harsh with you” – although that is true! Primarily, he is talking about your standing before God.
The idea is that it would be completely preposterous if a judge who made his rulings by the laws of South Africa all his life was caught committing a crime. He could not at that point protest that he wants to be judged by a different set of rules. In fact, you could forgive the judge who presided over his case for expecting better from that guilty judge.
God is a perfect judge who judges justly, but he is also full of mercy. If you judge ungenerously, gracelessly then you too will be held to that standard. Do you want to find God as on who covers our sin, or do you want to be exposed uncompromisingly for all your flaws and failures?
You are condemning yourself to judgement when you judge others. In fact what often is happening is that we are seeing and judging something in others that we don’t like in ourselves. We are biased – bribed by our own self-righteousness, pride and ego. Your own criticism exposes your own heart. We exaggerate others faults and give ourselves grace.
Illustration: parents do this to their children all the time. They expect perfection in school and in f the sports field, but if they were judged by that standard (work, sport) they would be crushed. We are so good at being lenient with ourselves and critical of others.
You can’t see clearly (3-4)
Read Matt 7:3-4
The illustration in these verses is ludicrous. There is no way that you would let me near you to perform the delicate task of removing a speck of dust from your eye if my eyes were covered by a floor board. You are poking around in the dark! Spiritually you are poking in the dark when you criticise others. We are unfit judges because we are fallible, limited, and biased.
On more than one occasion in the past I have had people come to a church I have pastored for another local church. I have unfortunately seen in myself a willingness to hear the shortcomings of other churches and ministers and why ECCC or UCC are exactly what they need. My heart has been ready to criticise – to make myself feel better about my church and ministry by standing on what I perceive as others failures and shortcoming. But the joy of my criticism is short lived! What has happened is that they person finds fault in ECCC or me. Or I phone the minister from which they have come only to find out I have judged prematurely, criticised based on half-truths and not knowing the motives of the heart – hasty and undeserved.
Here is how he concludes
Deal with your own stuff first (5)
Read Matt 7:5
Jesus says: the time and effort that you put into criticising others you should put into heart inspection, self-reflection, repentance and prayer over your own sin. Only then will you be on any assistance in helping others!
Notice he also says that when we have dealt with our own self-righteousness and sin then we will be able to help others.
Discerning when to speak (6)
Read Matt 7:6
Hogs and dogs – no time really, but what Jesus is saying is that you need to be discerning. You can spend your life in a tirade against sin. You can rail against every evil you see and people will avoid you like the plague. We all know that person who is unpleasant to be around, always point out error and fault (if you don’t know that person in your circle, it might be you).
So what is the plank? Is it a specific and larger-than-life sin? No, the plank that enables us to see everything that is wrong in someone else’s life, but makes us blind to our own sin is self-righteousness. It sets your heart on the judgement seat from which you are harshly critical.
It was self-righteousness of the Pharisees that would drive them to hang Jesus us on the cross. Jesus would not submit to their superiority; he would not toe their line. And so they judged and condemned him to death. That is what moralism does – it sets up an unforgiving system of judgement and exclusion.
However, the glory of the gospel is this: it was the self-righteousness that killed Jesus, but in his death he defeated self-righteousness.
So this morning you don’t take the plank of self-righteousness out of your eye by your own effort but by the gospel. You have to lean into the grace and mercy and love of Christ. When you are “poor in spirit”, realising that you are a sinner deserving to be judged, condemned and exposed, and ye your sin has been covered; you have been embraced in love, you are accepted and not rejected. That will change the constitution of your heart and defeat the power of self-righteousness. There will be a mutiny in your heart, a rebellion against self-righteousness and to mercy and humility. That is the power of the gospel!
Please use / augment / discard these questions so that your group has a fruitful discussion
- Have you ever had someone say words to the effect, “But the Bible says you shall not judge, who are you to judge me?” Share your experience.
- What does Jesus NOT mean when he says, “Do not Judge”?
- How do the following passages exclude judging sin, or the judgement of civil authorities?
- Matt 18:15-17
- Matt 23 (you don’t have to read the whole chapter to get the gist),
- Rom 13:1-7 (the right of civil authority to judge and punish)
- How does the context (Jesus addressing the Pharisees) then help us understand what Jesus is referring to? John MacArthur suggests we should have the idea “Stop criticising” (ugly, critical spirit, self-righteous, judgemental). How is that helpful in our understanding?
- Why are we not fit to be critical/judgemental?
- What is the risk of being critical/judgemental (verse 2)?
- What is the fatal human flaw with regard to judgement (verse 3-4)?
- What is the point of verse 5?
- How seriously do we take this as Christians?
- What does it mean that Jesus doesn’t exclude the need to “remove the speck”?
- What is the point of verse 6?
- What would you prefer to receive – justice or mercy? How does the gospel help us change to become more gracious?