Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
This week, His Own Heart wraps up its three-part series on spiritual nudges. In Part 1, we saw that the nurturing of an intimate prayer life with God is an extremely important ingredient for recognizing and dealing with those nudges that Christ-followers feel from God via His Holy Spirit…even when those nudges make us somewhat uncomfortable.
In Part 2, I took a deep breath and shared with you one of my own uncomfortable nudges. That nudge dealt specifically with the modern interpretation emphasized by Western – and specifically American – culture regarding principles of judgment given by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount as seen in Matthew 7:1-2.
This notion of peer-to-peer judgment creates a touchy subject; a touchiness often escalated – as far as society is concerned – by the particular lens through which this series is written. For that reason, please allow me to reiterate that the suggestions of this series are made from a both-and perspective: made, in other words, both with a loving dedication to the interest of mankind and a firm commitment to the truth of the original, infallible text of God’s Word.
That said, I went on to suggest in Part 2 of the series that the passage of focus is actually not a condemnation of peer-to-peer judgment for followers of Christ. Jesus’ words, in their original Greek rendering, instead condemn hypocrisy in the life of the believer. Jesus simply calls us to examine and correct our own behavior or attitudes before we attempting to examine those same behaviors and attitudes in others. Admittedly, the simple call can be less simple to answer; but if we miss this step in the process, any judgment we make becomes skewed by our own bearing of those same behaviors and attitudes that need correction in our lives.
Right about now, you may be asking yourself why this matters; what points you’re supposed to take away from this series; what to do with those points once you take them away. I’m glad you’re back for Part 3.
Here’s the thing. So, somany followers of Christ find themselves today pulled frantically between two extremes – what the world says God says and what God actually does say – each time the topic of judging finds its way into a conversation. In all honesty, I’m one of them. You too? I feel at times like I’m drowning in a dilemma – and going under for the third time – in situations where I’m trying to balance compassion with truth and maintain my convictions in Christ. Several weeks ago, a friend suggested that in those moments the adage who am I to judge anyway becomes the go-to excuse for squirming out of these conversations lest the proverbial log stuck in her own eye be exposed. She had a point, and I need you to go here with me for a moment to see something.
Is this go-to excuse acceptable for the Christ-follower in light of the intended meaning of the passage as originally rendered in the Greek? Because make no mistake: in no way, no shape, no form is Jesus forbidding or excusing us from the act of judgment in these two verses; He asserts instead that Christ-centered, healthy habits of judgment begins at home, in our hearts, where we live.
And in doing so, He’s giving you and me the responsibility as His earthly ambassadors of first pursuing holiness in our own lives – in a daring, deliberate, devoted way – in order to then be able to approach the uncomfortable task of reaching out to others who’ve gotten off-track or flat-out lost their way along the Christian journey.
Once we begin to understand the heart of Jesus’ original statement, an irony begins to evolve; one that calls for a realigned theology of sorts, one in which the conversation can get messy. The passage from Matthew does forbid believers from accusing others of judging. The very judgment we condemn, in other words, is the exact action that we ourselves are committing here. If I call you out for judging, for example, I’m judging you for judging and we’re caught up in a vicious cycle of hypocrisy which was never Jesus’ intention in the first place. The whole point here is that Jesus is calling out those who judge others for doing precisely what they themselves are doing – in the case of this passage, for negatively judging someone for being judgmental.
Christ drives this point home even more clearly through His response to the Pharisees who, ready to stone her, bring to Him the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). What the Savior does and does not do in this passage is vastly important to the principle set forth in Matthew.
- He does force the men to look at their own sin. What’s missing in many of our English translations is the presence of the demonstrative adjective this in Christ’s phrase, let any who is without [this] sin cast the first stone. The men turned away because they were condemning her for the same sin of which they themselves were guilty.
- He does not indicate to the men that judgment in and of itself is a sin.
- He does extend grace to the woman by sparing her life.
- He does not – and this is big, so don’t miss it – He does not brush off her sin and send her along to repeat it. His final directive to her, in fact, is for her to go and leave your life of sin. Interestingly, through this specific directive, Jesus is placing the woman into a position of exercising good judgment via repentance and a 180-degree turn from the wayward life she’s known
When we return, in fact, to the passage from Matthew that shapes this week’s post, we see that in the verse immediately following it, Jesus expects His followers to actively exercise judgment of their own: Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6). By definition, these instructions require us to identify who the dogs and swine are of whom He speaks. We are also expected to identify the wolves in sheep’s clothing whom we will know from their fruits a few verses later in Matthew 7:15–20. Several chapters further into the book, Jesus gives clear guidelines for confronting a brother who sins, outlining a progression of steps from discussing his error with him privately to taking the matter before the whole community (Matthew 18:15-20). Likewise in the fifth and sixth chapters of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes the Christian community’s responsibility to judge its members.
There are a number of other passages sprinkled throughout the whole of Scripture that call for the righteous person – one who conforms to the Word of God instead of popular culture – to make righteous judgment when nudged to do so:
- Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:9);
- The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just (Psalm 37:30);
- With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth (Psalm 119:13);
- Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly (John 7:24);
- The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”(1 Corinthians 2:15-16);
- Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? (1 Corinthians 6:2);
- Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).
Now, given the fact that God’s Word is perfect and that, by definition, not one phrase within its pages can contradict another, how can we say that Christ is staunchly forbidding His followers from making any form of judgment in the opening verses of Matthew 7?
Still feeling the heat of that burning question, to judge or not to judge? Take heart, my friend: the issue is complex – and something that requires us to nourish an intimate prayer relationship with God as discussed in Part 1 of the series. But as we conclude this final post, please let me encourage you to consider three take-aways concerning that burning question.
One aspect often ignored in the judge/judge not debate is that – as we saw above – judgment actually starts at some level with a declaration of what is good. To eliminate the act of judging from the life of the believer, therefore, would eliminate not only the practice of condemning the unjust but also of affirming the just. Judgment involves distinguishing between the good and the bad as well as the indifferent; it can’t simply be relegated to the declaration that something is bad. The fact is, then, that to go through life without judging is an impossibility because every decision we make implies that a definite value judgment underlies that decision.
Sadly and incidentally, the don’t judge mentality parroted to Christ-followers today often orders us to judge this as right and good; condone it or you’ll sin. Admittedly some actions don’t require a distinct moral judgment, but others do require that we take a position. To take no position is to judge it or condone it to be morally correct. Consider, for example, that tolerance of lying, stealing, cheating or any number of sexual sins indicates an implicit acceptance of each. And any society touting the don’t judge mantra will sooner than later fall into utter chaos. Look no further than the current attitude of rebellion, Sodom-esque living and social entitlement in America to see this fall in action as we speak.
As a second take-away, consider this: were it not for judgment – particularly negative judgment – forgiveness between man and man or man and God would be impossible. The very existence of forgiveness is tangible only through the presence of a negative judgment that is superseded by the extension of one’s grace or mercy towards another. Since Christ requires that we forgive each other of our wrongs, the requirement both assumes judgment and encourages a merciful response to it.
The third and final take-away brings us back to the actual message of the passage from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. As we discussed last week and this week, the crux of Jesus’ words here commands us, as His followers, to seek out and deal with our own sins before we try to assist anyone dealing with the same issues. The premise of the passage – that good judgment requires a pure heart – holds critical importance for ingesting not only the rest of Matthew’s account of the Gospel, but also for successfully living a life for Christ to its fullest potential. It is equally critical that we understand through this passage that Jesus emphasizes repentance and right action, and that He purports that once these things are in place, good judgment can be made and is in fact a necessary aspect of life.
The follower of Christ who grasps and lives in love by these truths should never allow his or her honest, humble witness to be shamed or silenced by the popular mantra, don’t judge, or accusations of being self-righteous or legalistic. As we have seen over the past three weeks, such charges made of ideas taken out of context drastically damage the intent of the passage, misshaping it into a pretext for defending reprehensible behavior.
So…that’s what has been nudging me. I’m thankful to finally and prayerfully have it on paper; and even more thankful that you’ve given me your time by reading it. May you be blessed this week, and may you find the courage to give attention to – and act upon – God’s precious nudges in your life.
– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.