We come now to a very familiar portion of the Sermon on the Mount — perhaps it's the most well-known part of the Sermon in secular culture, whether or not people know it actually comes from Scripture or not.
Let's begin by reading together the words of our Lord in Matthew 7:1-5.
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment 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."
Unfortunately, there are many who take these words to mean this — "I have license to live my life as I wish, and you have no right to cast judgement upon me." So we have to be careful to let Jesus' words in these verses mean what he intended them to mean, and not what society might have us conveniently think them to mean.
J.C. Ryle gives a warning us concerning these verses… he states that this "is one of those passages of Scripture, which we must be careful not to strain beyond its proper meaning. It is frequently abused and misapplied by the enemies of true religion." And then he says this: "It is possible to press the words of the Bible so far that they yield not medicine, but poison."1 So how do avoid turning this truth into poison so as to come to understand what the Lord means?
We can begin by simply observing this important word "judge." The word "judge" in verse 1 and the phrase "you will be judged" in verse 2 are forms of the same verb. And that verb is used two other times in Matthew's gospel — once in chapter 5 where Jesus talks about what to do if someone would sue you (or, judge you… same word). And then again in Matthew 19:28 Jesus tells the Apostles that they will sit on 12 thrones in order to judge the 12 tribes of Israel. So in the other instances within the book of Matthew there is a definite legal sense that the word judge carries.
Yet the context is clear that what Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 7:1-5 isn't legal in nature. He's instead talking about a kind of judgement that has to do with divine assessments. It's a kind of judgment that not is made based upon civil law or governing bodies, but rather is a judgement made based upon divine law and authority. This is the kind of judgement that is akin to the words of Christ that John records in his Gospel account — where he writes, for example, of certain condemnations in John 3:17-18 —
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
And another example is John 5:30 where Jesus says, "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me."
Then simply in John 7:24 Jesus states: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." Or, "Judge how God would judge." That is a very similar kind of sentiment to what Jesus meant when he gave his instructions in Matthew 7:1-5. There's a kind of judgement that is wrong — it's one based on externals. But there's also a kind of judgement that is right (Jesus even just said so). And it is right because it is based upon the right criteria.
So our question for this morning from our text in the Sermon on the Mount is this — What are the criteria for right judgement? How do we exercise good judgement? We want to be those who honor Christ's instruction from John 7:24 as we judge with right judgement. So how do we do that? I think our text in Matthew 7:1-5 gives us 3 principles that guide us into good judgement:
1. Good Judgement Considers God's Perfection.
2. Good Judgement Considers Self's Problem.
3. Good Judgement Considers Another's Predicament.
1. Good Judgement Considers God's Perfection.
We've been working through the Sermon on the Mount piece by piece, bit by bit — which might lead us to consider one passage without rightly regarding its connection to another. And we also have the added limitation of chapter divisions that make us think that there might be logical breaks where they ought not be.
So when we get to Matthew 7:1, even though we observe an obvious break in our English versions from the chapter that preceded it, we should NOT conclude that Jesus intended a logical break in between what we have printed as Matthew 6:34 and Matthew 7:1. The teachings of these verses actually flow logically from one to the next.
This is how.
You'll remember that we thought of Matthew 6:19-34 as one unit in which Jesus teaches his audience about how they might have good spiritual vision — and it's about how me might be able to see heaven and its treasure as more valuable than earth and its treasure. Only then will we lay up for ourselves treasure in the right place — in the place where treasure will actually last. And the climax instruction of this teaching on spiritual vision is what we read in Matthew 6:33 — a verse we know well.
We are to seek first (protos is the word — not a number one in chronology, but rather a number one in priority) — we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
And just to refresh our minds as to the content of this command — we have to understand that when Jesus says that it is the "Kingdom of God" that we are to seek (instead of referring to it as the "Kingdom of Heaven" which is more common) — in saying this he is emphasizing the fact that our pursuit has to do with God getting his kingdom instead of us getting his kingdom.
This is first and foremost a kingdom that is all about God. We could apply the truth of Romans 11:36 — that the Kingdom is from God and through God and to God, and that to God be the glory of the Kingdom forever. The genesis of proper spiritual vision is the comprehension of this cosmic truth — that the whole of our participation in this Kingdom has nothing to do with ourselves. We didn't qualify ourselves to be in it. We didn't take the first step in order to be in it. We don't keep ourselves in it. We don't equip ourselves to persevere in it.
In light of the role of God himself in his kingdom, we are nothing but recipients of his gracious work. So we earnestly pursue and seek after and search for that which pertains to God getting what he has purposed in his Kingdom. We pursue the dream of seeing his glory fill the earth. We seek after his sheep scattered throughout the world so that they might hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow him into the safety of his pasture realm. And we search diligently God's Word to learn more of the inscrutable depths of his sovereign will and ways.
So we are to seek earnestly as the highest priority in our lives everything that has to do with the God-centeredness of his heavenly Kingdom. And, Jesus also says that we are also to seek as first priority God's righteousness.
I argued a couple of weeks ago that I think this is a reference not specifically to the righteousness that we are to evidence, nor to the moral righteousness of God as seen in his Word and his ways, but I think Jesus is telling us to seek after the righteousness of God by aligning ourselves to his justice. The word in the Greek is translated both ways. In the OT we find that righteousness and justice are distinct from each other but never separated.
And for us to prioritize God's centrality in his kingdom, then would we not also prioritize what it is that he wills and does and says and commands and desires? Would we not bend our fallen understandings of what is just and right to what God's definition of just and right is? Should we not seek to interpret our circumstances in light of God's revealed justice? (And instead of the other way around — where we might be tempted to interpret God's justice in light of our perceived circumstances?)
May we always begin with the justice of God in his character and in his works, and then have such knowledge define our sense of justice. And so we orient ourselves around what God deems to be just and right as of first importance, and then we move on to Matthew 7:1, where we are instructed about how to actually have good judgement for ourselves.
We could say that Jesus' logic is like this:
Matthew 6:19-34 instructs us as to how we should make right judgements about our own personal decisions, and Matthew 7:1-5 instructs us as to how we should make right judgements about the decisions of others.
Jesus orients our vision around the all-perfect justice of God in order that we might make good decisions regarding righteousness. And he also orients our vision around the all-perfect justice of God in order that we might make good decisions regarding relationships. Both of these texts (the end of Matthew 6 and the beginning of Matthew 7) — both of them are founded upon the perfect justice of God, and both of them instruct us in how to make judgement calls — one kind of judgement concerns ourselves and how we view our way of living, and the other kind of judgement concerns others and how we view their way of living.
And it is vital that we not miss how important as foundational reality is the justice of God. If God's justice is not the foundation of our evaluation of our own lives, then we are miserable. And we are bitter. And we are worldly in our thinking. And we become self-centered. And we only think about what pleases self. And we become arrogant in how we view our circumstances. If the justice of God is not at the heart of how we view life, then it is self-justice which is at the heart of how we view life. Such is the experience of the kind of person the psalmist was who wrote:
"When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you." (Psalm 73:21–22)
We are like bitter, unruly and ignorant beasts who seek to go their own way when we become the lone voice of justice in our lives.
But then notice the change that happens when God's justice is True North — the Psalmist writes:
"Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory." (Psalm 73:23–24
When God's counsel — his wisdom and his decrees and his will of justice — when that is our guide, then it is as if we are held by his right hand. And his right hand leads us right to glory.
But the justice of God is not only the foundation of our understanding of what goes on around our personal lives, but it is also the foundation for how we think about what goes on in the lives of others around us.
In that same Psalm Asaph knows this to be true as well — he continues in the next verses:
"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you." (Psalm 73:26–27)
God strengthens the heart by means of the truth of his justice how? Because he puts an end to everyone who is unfaithful.
Every single wicked deed, word or thought is ultimately a crime against God himself. So it is only right that this just God would say in Deuteronomy 32:35 —
"Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.'"
That truth from Moses' pen is cited by Paul in Romans 12:19 — "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.""
And in Hebrews 10:30 — "For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay."
And if indeed we know this inscrutably just God — if we know the One who justly decrees what is and what is not — if we know the One who sees and knows all things, who keeps a true reconing and Who will bring every thought into judgement — if we know the One who said that he alone owns vengeance, then we have come to understand the foundation for Jesus' instruction in Matthew 7:1. He simply says that in light of the fact that God's kingdom and justice are our primary pursuit — we ought to not judge.
Because God owns judgement, we ought to not judge.
But at this point we have to be careful to understand what God's justice has to do with Jesus' command precisely — Because these verses in Matthew 7 seem to be conflicting in that we find instruction to both not judge and to judge at the same time. And as Jesus said in John 7:24, we are to judge with right judgement. So we see that when Jesus instructs us to not judge at the beginning of Matthew 7, he means that we are not to judge based any criteria that comes from within our own selves...
And the reason is because of what he says at the end of verse 1 and in verse 2 — "[so] that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." Jesus is talking here about a kind of judgement. He's referring to the only other type of judgement that there is beside that which is founded upon the justice of God — There is right judgement based upon God's justice, or there is human justice based upon man's fickle and self-righteous sense of so-called "justice."
And Jesus is imploring us to not judge with that human-centered kind. Because if we do judge others by means of our own sense of what is just, then we have just made ourselves liable to the whimsical self-centered criteria of those whom we judge. We've lowered ourselves down to that level. We've removed ourselves from being in a place where only God can judge us, to being in a place where now the shifting and subjective scrutiny of men is applicable.
So I think it is correct for us to think of Jesus' instruction in this way: He means, "Judge not by human standards, so that you will not be judged by human standards."
And this rendering fits perfectly with the proverbial altruism of verse 2, where he says that "With the judgement you pronounce you will be judged (whether it be a God-justice-based judgement or it be a human-justice-based judgement). And with the measure you use you will be measured (whether it be a God-justice-based measurement or it be a human-justice-based measurement)."
So how do you want your judgement? Do want to be assessed based upon the unaltering and perfectly righteous judgement of God, or do you want to be measured by means of the ever-changing, never-true, always-critical judgement of man? Your answer to that question is determined by how you will judge others. Judge others based upon your own perceptions, and you'll be judged by human perceptions. Judge others based upon your own sense of competitiveness — so that you stack the deck in your favor so you can appear better, and if you do that then others will judge you based on their own home-cooking. If you judge others based upon what is a naturally easy standard for you to reach, then you'll be judged by means of things that are easier for others to attain than for you.
This is the great hamster wheel of human judgement. And most everyone in the world is stuck on this wheel for the entirety of their lives. In the race to be more humanly righteous than the other guy, most people formulate their own personal ways to evaluate others. One guy judges his neighbor because he's the better gardener. But his neighbor judges him because he's a worse painter. And so the wheel of human evaluation goes on and on.
Maybe you're stuck on this awful hamster wheel that will spin your soul all the way to hell. Maybe your whole life is has been spent trying to make yourself feel better than the other guy, so you invent self-righteous ways to evaluate yourself and others. Maybe you're like the person described in Psalm 36:1-4
"Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil."
Friends, there is only one cure to such a vain pursuit of self-flattery, and it has everything to do not with making yourself better, but rather with seeing yourself more accurately for what you really are. We all naturally have our eyes focused upon our own hearts — we look inward and try to find goodness there… And so when we don't find it we begin to judge ourselves in light of those around us to make ourselves feel better about the lack of real goodness. But what we desperately need is to have our eyes turned away from self and turned towards the only true foundation for right judgement — we must have our gaze fixed upon the righteousness and justice and holiness of God.
This is the best thing in the Universe for the weary human soul, because a true look towards what Scripture tells us about the holiness of God absolutely crushes us. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. God is supremely holy and pure and just and right. God is the Creator and all else is that which he has created. And his demands upon his creatures is complete and perfect adherence to his holy standard. And that is why we are crushed when we see God and his holiness — because we fall inutterably short of his glory.
We are the rebellious and sinful creatures whom God must crush in his righteous fury. And this reality must bring us to to point of complete brokenness… For when we are empty of ourselves, then we find the fullness of what God has provided to remedy our sinfulness. God cannot merely overlook the sins of his creatures, so he must pour out his wrath on a substitute in order for us to be saved from his hell. So a true look towards the holiness of God will always be accompanied with a look towards the holiness of the Cross of Christ — For it was at the cross that the perfect Son of God was crushed for our iniquities. There he was pierced for our transgressions. He who knew no sin was made sin for us. He bore in his body the curse of our sin.
This is the glorious truth of the atonement — where the sinless One suffered in the place of those who are sinful, in order that Christ might be treated the way we deserve to be treated and in order that we might be treated the way Christ deserves to be treated.
This suffering Son of God in human flesh died for sin and rose again on the third day in glory to prove that he will raise to life all of his people on the Last Day. And the glory and the holiness of this Gospel is to capture our hearts in faith.
Friends, if you are stuck in the mire of your own feeble efforts to commend yourself to a holy God by means of judging yourself next to others — then the only remedy is to see God's justice for what it is, and to see his Son's atonement as your only hope in all the Universe to be saved from your sin.
The only escape from the chains of self-righteousness judgment is faith in the Gospel, which tells us that Jesus the righteous One died in order to satisfy the justice of God in the place of sinners like you and me. I pray that this glorious Gospel has captured your hope and your love and your faith.
And if it has, then you are able to continually look towards this holy and just God in order that you might not judge men according to the flesh.
It's ironic that so many in our culture would demand that others not judge them, and that so many would congratulate themselves for not judging others, when in fact they are with the same thought being judgemental of God himself. They judge for themselves that their sin is not a big deal. They judge for themselves that they can define what is right for them. They judge for themselves that they have autonomy and the inherent privilege to define self and to define "God" however they so wish.
Psalm 2 is fitting.
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.""
They are those who in effect say to God — "We reject who you have presented yourself to be." Instead of submitting to his holiness and justice, those who judge others have commandeered God's holiness and justice for themselves. They have set up themselves as regents over the world.
And so the world has become a place where self is god.
But this not ought be the case for those who are a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus continues to tell us in the next verses. Not only does good judgment consider God's perfection, but good judgement also considers self's problem.
2. Good Judgement Considers Self's Problem.
In order to exercise the right judgement that Jesus alluded to in John 7:24, we'd want to be sure to follow his instructions here in Matthew 7:3-4 —
Jesus says, "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!"
What these verses demonstrate for us is the fact that we are significantly prone to not being able to discern our own problems. We all lack the ability to doing a really good job of self-diagnosing our issues.
The illustration is pretty straightforward: You might see a way in which a brother or sister is not viewing life correctly. (The flow of Jesus' teaching here indicates that there very well might be a legitimate concern that you need to raise with this person.) But the problem is that you aren't noticing the even larger problem with how you are viewing life. And more than that, how egregious is it if you rush ahead to tell the person about what you perceive before you have addressed your own problems first!
Notice that Jesus implies by his illustration that it's not just a problem to go and tell someone that they have something wrong with them before considering yourself. He says that it's a problem to even see the problem in the first place. How great is our need for meekness and humility. How great is our need to view ourselves rightly.
And that vital need is exactly what the Psalmist says is addressed by nothing else but by the Word of God. Do you want to be able to discern the logs in your eye? Do you want to NOT be so quick to see the faults of others when you know you should be more concerned with your own problems?
David gives you the solution in Psalm 19.
"The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."
May we not be guilty of the presumptuous sins. May we not be tripped by the hidden faults. May we not miss our own beams because we're too preoccupied with the specks of our brethren.
May we have good judgement by considering self's problem — It's the problem that we all have of not being able to discern our own sins. And it's a problem that is only addressed by the administration and application of God's Word to our minds and hearts.
But then once we have humbly addressed self. Once we have walked in the light of God's Word. Once we have been shown our faults. Our work is still not done. For Jesus does not say to merely stop judging by means of our own sense of justice. And he does not say to merely stop being concerned with the specks in the eyes of our brothers because we are so full of problems ourselves. He goes on to say that if we are exercising a judgement based upon the perfect justice of God, and if we have considered the problems that plague ourselves. He says that then we are to go ahead and judge.
He says in Matthew 7:5 —
"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."
Here is our Lord's instruction for being able to give a good judgement to a brother or sister because we are to consider another's predicament.
3. Good Judgment Considers Another's Predicament
Jesus doesn't say — "Go take care of the beam in your eye, but then you should just leave the poor guy with the speck in his eye to suffer until he can figure out what's going on."
Kingdom citizens are to be concerned about the very real possibility of another person being unable to discern a speck that it is their eye. We should be quick to realize that we ourselves are prone to not being able to discern our own faults, so it is certainly true that our brothers and sisters will have the same predicament.
Paul talks about this very scenario in his epistles to the churches.
He writes in Galatians 6:1 — "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." And he goes on in verse 2: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ"
In 2 Corinthians 2 he speaks to the congregation about how to not be too heavy in speck-removal work — There was one who was being heavily pursued by the church, and Paul said in verse 7: "you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him."
They had pressed him to sorrow, so Paul wanted to make sure it wasn't too much.
In Hebrews 12 we read of injured joints within the body needing to be healed and not wounded.
The very last words of James' letter are these —
"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." (James 5:19–20)
And then Jude instructs the church that there may also come times when we must save some by "snatching them out of the fire" — He implies that there might be some in the church who have a pollutant in their eye that is so severe that it is as if they are playing closely to flames from hell.
So we are very much to be watching out for each other's specks. And I think you can see from the texts that we've considered that there are two really important things involved with the consideration of another person's predicament:
- Those with specks in their eyes don't really realize that something was wrong. They are trapped. They are tripped up. And they're going to be sorrowful once they are told about it.
- Those with specks in their eyes are in need of the love of the Church. They are to be restored in meekness. They are to be brought back with tenderness and love.
And if these criteria aren't met, then we don't have a speck-picking predicament. We don't have a situation where we are to remove something from someone's eye. But, even with that said, we're probably all afraid of becoming a culture of people who are divisive and nagging and picky and utterly obnoxious. Some of you have been in that kind of environment. It's a terrible church culture to have. So how do we avoid that?
Well. I think the best place to start is with the simplicity of the teaching of our Lord.
Here in Matthew 7:1-5 he tells us about how we can be certain we are exercising good judgement. And if we follow his pattern then we know we're headed in the right direction.
He tells us to be concerned with God's perfection.
He tells us to be concerned with self's problem.
And he tells us to be concerned with another's predicament.
Ryle, J.C.. The Gospel of Matthew (Kindle Locations 1081-1084). Kindle Edition. â†©