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The Greatest Sermon Ever Told | How Not to Judge
January 14, 2024
1”Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or 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? 5You 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.
6“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.”
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Almighty and everlasting God, who governs all things in heaven and earth: mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and grant us your peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 67
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
Let all the peoples praise you!
Summary and Connection
Jesus says not to judge (verses 1-2), and then to judge (verses 5-6). We can’t live with judgment, and we can’t live without it! Instead, Jesus hints, his followers must live in it. Ultimately, we are called to live in God’s judgment. But what does that mean, and how do we get there?
We are returning to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus’ teaching on the good life. It is the life that you lead not to get into the kingdom of God, but because the kingdom of God has gotten into you. In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus is turning from right living before God to living well with others. And he begins with the topic of judgment. Judgment means at least two things. First, the judgment of condemnation, of sentencing, and of punishment. Second, the judgment of justice, of vindicating the innocent, and of setting things right. Of course, if we think about it, these judgments go together. To vindicate the innocent, someone else must be declared guilty. To set things right means a wrong must be corrected. So why does Jesus begin with “Judge not”?
“Judge not” is well known, quoted by Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s particularly powerful as a critique of Christians, who for years (at least in America) have been seen as judgmental and hypocritical: overly anxious to police the behavior of others and scandalously unable to practice what they preach. But though this saying is often taken to mean that Christians should not judge at all, it cannot sensibly mean that when Jesus goes on to require our judgment. We need to judge ourselves to remove the figurative logs from our eyes. Then, we can judge others and remove their specks. We also need judgment to avoid throwing holy things to dogs or pearls before swine.
The problem is not with judgment, but with our qualifications to judge. We are all hypocrites. As a thought experiment, the Christian writer Francis Schaeffer once wrote about the fairest judgment that God could give us. We would all be born with an invisible tape recorder around our neck. And it would only record when we said something about right and wrong, what someone should do or not do; in other words, it would record every moral judgment we ever made. At the final judgment, God wouldn’t judge us by the Bible, or the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, he would take the recorder and click play. And in that judgment, no one could stand. So we are inescapably hypocritical when we judge others. That’s the danger of judgment.
But Jesus ends with the necessity of judgment, and the puzzling example of throwing precious things to dogs and pigs. Jesus’ hearers immediately knew that these animals represented outsiders and those who reject the things of God. For example, Psalm 22 says, “dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me.” Jesus teaches that discernment is required when dealing with outsiders and difficult people. Otherwise, you run the real risk of being attacked! In case you were wondering, you are about six times more likely to be killed by a pig or a dog than by a shark. So this is serious for Jesus, and it ought to be serious for us.
How can we reconcile these two things — the danger of judgment, and the necessity of it? That’s what we’ll be discussing, but the clue is in the speaker himself, who though he is the judge of all the world, said that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
1. Looking at the Bible
Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- Briefly consider this question: Why begin the section on living well with others by teaching on judgment of all things?
- Read and compare verses 1-2 with verses 5-6. How do you reconcile Jesus’ instructions to judge not, and then to judge? What kind of judgment is he forbidding, and what kind of judgment is he commanding?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- When we look at the cross, we see Jesus, the judge, being judged for us. How does this open up:
- Jesus’ teaching on not judging?
- On being able to judge ourselves, and remove the logs from our eyes?
- On being able to judge brothers and sisters in Christ, and remove their specks?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- How does recognizing yourself as a sinner change the way you work for justice, advocate for change, or confront unjust systems around you?
- As a Christian, how does recognizing others as saved by Jesus change the way you correct others? Or, how do you think this would change if you were a Christian?
4. Looking at Our World
- How can we combine the call to be just, and the call to forgive? How can we call others out, and also call them back?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1a. The way we view others, and judge others, is probably the first indication of whether we can get along or not. Note the language of eyes, sight, and logs and specks that keep us from seeing accurately or helping each other. How we see one another is vital for a successful community. We need a delicate balance of honesty and transparency with one another, including about our faults and sins, and mercy and grace towards one another that begins with self-examination and humility. We have to see ourselves clearly as saved sinners before we can see others clearly as fellow saints. Community requires truth-telling, humility, and grace. Above all, it requires love. We need to follow Joseph’s example with his brothers, who when they feared Joseph’s judgment, assured them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Taking the place of God is always wrong, which is why Jesus says “Judge not.”.
Question 1b. What appears to be a contradiction in Jesus’ teaching is actually his way to highlight an important difference. That is, the difference between condemning, as if we were God, and discriminating, using our wisdom and knowledge to make distinctions and choices. One commentator notes that a better translation of verse one is “Do not judge unfairly.” As the Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
How do we reconcile these two things? The simple answer is that, while our Lord exhorts us not to be hypercritical, He never tells us not to be discriminating. There is an absolute difference between these two things. What we are to avoid is the tendency to be censorious, to condemn people, to set ourselves up as the final judge and to make a pronouncement on persons. But that, of course, is very different from exercising a spirit of discrimination, to which Scripture is ever exhorting us. How can we ‘prove’ and ‘test the spirits’, how can we, as we are exhorted to do later, ‘beware of false prophets’, if we do not exercise our judgment and our discrimination? In other words, we are to recognize the error, but we are to do so, not in order to condemn, but in order to help.
Question 2: These are prompts to get the group to think about what judgment means in light of the gospel. Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, who is the judge of all the earth (Matthew 25:31-32; John 5:27). Yet, he also says that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). How does this judge save? By bearing judgment instead of bringing it. Jesus was perfect, but it was our measure that was measured against him. He was holy, but he was trampled for our sake. The cross is a judgment against us: We are such hypocrites and sinners that we deserve the cross. But it’s also a judgment for us: We are so loved that our judge would bear the cross on our behalf so that he could declare us innocent! Now, Jesus frees us to live in God’s judgment. Because we are saved, we can admit and remove our own logs. Because we are sinners, we are gentle and loving when we remove the specks of brothers and sisters. Because we follow our great judge, we want to set things right in the world around us as we look forward to Jesus coming again: “For he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). One or more of the following Bible verses may be helpful to this conversation:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Question 3: These are personal application questions. It may be appropriate to share this somewhat well-known quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from The Gulag Archipelago: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”
Question 4: This is a personal application question. In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, King’s 1961 sermon on loving your enemies may be helpful here. He condemns the racists and the white supremacists, and yet he calls out to them in love. These powerful words are challenging, however, they come from someone deeply formed by the teachings of Jesus, and who gave his life fully believing in their truth:
[We] say to all those reactionaries who have…blocked the road to progress: We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will…we will still love you. (That’s right) But be assured that we will wear you down (Yes indeed) by our capacity to suffer. (Yes) And one day we will win our freedom, but not only will we win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process. (Yes, Lord) And our victory will be a double victory. This seems to me the only answer and the only way to make our nation a new nation and our world a new world. Love is the absolute power.