Don't Judge Others (Matt. 7:1-6)
As Jesus begins to wind down his sermon, he returns to the theme of hypocrisy that dominated 6:1-18. In this case, he deals with hypocrisy in the way that believers address sin in each other’s lives.
Christians are to avoid having a critical spirit toward one another.
Jesus has set a high standard for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. In attempting to live a holy life, though, it can be easy to fall into the subtle danger of seeing ourselves as the standard of righteousness that others are to measure up to. We might see ourselves as superior to newer Christians and magnify the faults of more mature ones.
It’s this danger that Jesus now turns to address. Matthew 7:1 is one Jesus’ most well-known sayings as well as one of his most misunderstood. “Judge not” is often appealed to as proof that Jesus doesn’t want us to make moral judgments by saying that what other people do is wrong. But what he goes on to say in this section and later in verses 15-20 refute this view.
Rather, Jesus is telling us that we should refrain from having a critical, condemning spirit that is constantly looking for faults to find in others. Not only is this unloving, but it’s impossible to measure up the standards we’re judging others by. Jesus compares this to someone trying to take a speck out of another person’s eye when they have a log sticking out of their own! It’s a ludicrous and even humorous illustration meant to root out hypocrisy in his followers.
Everything in the Sermon on the Mount so far should keep us from seeing ourselves as superior to anyone. It’s hard to feel superior to a murderer, for example, when Jesus connects murder to anger (5:21-26); or to feel superior to an adulterer when he says that we commit adultery in our hearts when we lust (5:27-30). And it’s difficult to look down on Christians who pray less than we do when much of our praying is done to impress others (6:5-8). Verse 2 is Jesus’ way of asking us when we judge, “Are you really sure you want to go there?”
To be sure, believers should regularly be pointing out sin in each other’s lives. Keep in mind that in Jesus’ illustration, the second person still has a speck (sin) in their eye that needs to be removed. How believers go about removing the speck, however, is Jesus’ focus. Sin should lovingly be addressed by believers who in humility acknowledge and repent of their own sins first.
If verses 1-5 are Jesus’ warnings about being over-discriminating, verse 6 is a warning against the opposite error. Earlier, Jesus taught his followers to love their neighbors and their enemies (5:43-45), and so imitate God who shows kindness to all people. This combined with his warnings in 7:1-5 against might tempt his followers to refuse to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil. We must show kindness to our enemies while refusing to condone their sin.
Practically, this means that in our mission of shining the light of the gospel to the world (“pearls”), we’re going to encounter opposition. Some unbelievers will require great patience and persistence on our end, knowing that it may take months or even years of hearing the message combined with seeing our good works before they trust in Jesus for their salvation.
Others, however, will only engage in conversation with us in order to mock the gospel. They will be so resistant and hostile to our message that our persistence will cause more harm than good. We need to have wisdom to know when to move on and put our efforts toward others who will be more receptive to it.
- What is an example from your own life of you addressing someone’s sin while ignoring your own?
- When do you find yourself quick to criticize? What “specks” most bother you in others? Why?
- Read Luke 18:9-14. What does a critical spirit reveal about one’s relationship with God? How does the Sermon on the Mount equip believers to have a gracious spirit?
Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
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