Who Can Judge?

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Good evening everyone! We’re continuing our series in the final part of the Sermon on the Mount and tonight we’ve reached Matthew 7.1-6. Let me pray before we look at that now:

Father God, please help us to see more clearly who we are and who you are. Please convict us of where we have strayed from your ways. And please move us by your Spirit to not just hear your teaching, but to put it into practice. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Jesus says in Matthew 7.1 ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’ –(don’t judge others, so that you are not judged yourself). It certainly has a very contemporary ring, doesn’t it? Taken as it is, out of context, it sounds like a slogan promoting tolerance, people would hear it and this ‘yes! Don’t judge others. Don’t be judgemental. Hold your opinions that’ fine, but don’t criticise the opinions of others and they won’t criticise your opinions. That’s the way forward’.

If you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian and you’re watching this evening, maybe tolerance really matters to you. Perhaps one of the things that puts you off Christianity is the perception that Christians are judgemental finger-pointers.

Well, we will come to tackling judgemental attitudes in a moment, but I need to firstly clear away two misunderstandings or misapplications of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.1.

Firstly, when Jesus says: ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’, he is not saying that we should avoid talking about final judgement! Jesus spoke very plainly about judgement and hell. If you don’t believe me, just read the book of Matthew, the whole gospel. Just a few verses later, Jesus says:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7.13-14)

So, friends, we cannot use Jesus’ words here as an excuse to avoid speaking about final judgement. Indeed, Matthew 7.2-5 show us that God will call each of us to account for how we live. And that’s actually the strongest motive not to be judgemental in our attitudes to others, because God himself is judge, not us.

Secondly, Jesus is not saying that we should avoid making moral judgements. It’s God who judges, not us, but we’re not left guessing what he requires from us. God has spoken clearly through the words of the Bible to teach us which attitudes and actions are godly and which are ungodly, which are wrong and which are right and which priorities are healthy and unhealthy spiritually speaking. When Jesus returns as Judge, he will hold us to account for how we have responded to his teaching, including this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. So we must make good moral judgements and not fall in to the way of relativism in the culture around us. So, we can’t use those words of Jesus to excuse us coming to clear moral judgements and expressing them either.

So what does Jesus mean here? What exactly is Jesus warning us against here? Let’s read again Matthew 7.1-2:

Judge not, that you be not judged [Why?] For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Literally, with the judgement that you judge, you will be judged and with the measure that you measure, you will be measured. Jesus is pointing us forward to judgement day, when he himself as Judge will judge each one of us. He will call us to give an account of our lives before him. In effect he is saying to each of us this evening: ‘If you presume to take my role as Judge of others now, you’re forgetting that I’m the judge of everyone including you when I return. And I will judge you according to the judgement that you have judges others with’.

What’s next is intriguing because Jesus presses home this very solemn lesson with a comedy sketch! Matthew 7.3-5:

Why do you notice the speck [NIV: sawdust] in your brother's eye, [a small particle] but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [the NIV translation has ‘plank’] 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.

Imagine for a moment two men (let’s call them John and James) working in a large North American sawmill, sawing up giant redwood trees. These two men are a bit blasé about their work, so they take off their safety glasses (naughty, naughty) while the production line manager is off on his lunch break. During the lunchbreak, sure enough, both of them have minor accidents.

John at one point starts blinking and touching his left eye. He has a just got a little bit of sawdust stuck right in the corner. James when he was cutting up a very heavy plank of redwood, the very heavy plank got stuck in the saw and then jumped out on him, and pinned him to the floor and he’s got the plank over his face. James, who is being squashed by the large plank of wood, then says to John, “Oh I notice you’ve got a bit of a speck of dust in your eye. Can I come over and help you?” It’s at that point the manager returns from his lunchbreak and shouts at James: “Oh shut up, you clown! Get that plank off your face first! Then you can go help John!” It is a ridiculous scene, isn’t it?! James is ridiculous because he’s got a bigger problem than John; he can’t see anything, but he can’t see that he can’t see. But here’s the catch! We laugh at the man with the log or plank in his eye, we think ‘what a wally’, but then we realise that we’re looking in a mirror. We’re actually laughing at ourselves, because we are guilty of this very same hypocrisy every time we show a judgemental attitude towards other people. And how often we do this! How often we are to be hasty, too hasty to notice the faults of others over our own! Matthew 7.3:

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?

How often we’re too hasty to correct the faults of others, before our own. Matthew 7.4:

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?

The laughs are over. It’s time for some serious self-examination. The ‘brother’ that Jesus uses here in his illustration suggests probably he is focussing primarily on relationships within the church – the Christian community, so I’ll start there.

So where can we spot judgementalism in the church, in our relationships to each other? I think of the proud sermon listener. Maybe that’s you! You’re sitting there thinking “Oh brother John really needs to hear this! I hope he is watching now!” Or there’s the proud pastor who has eagle eyes to spot all the spiritual faults of others, but seems to be blind to both his own faults – and to how positively God is working in the lives of others. He looks down on Christians who are struggling spiritually and crushes them, rather than helping them.

You can have proud churches too. They might make the right judgement on things but they do so with an air of condescension, they speak with a ring of contempt in their voices: “Church X is so disorganised. They’re not clear theologically on issue Y. They have little vision to reach Generation Z.” There’s the proud home group member. She looks down on others because they are less committed in their attendance. She tuts as some of them share pretty unspiritual prayer requests.

And the very same principle we’ve been talking about inside the church community can apply to our relationships outside of the church family too. Think about proud parents at the school gate. They mutter to themselves: “I can’t believe they let their children get away with that! There’s so little discipline in that family!” These parents are always exaggerating the faults of other families and always minimising their own. And it’s going to be very hard for them to admit failure in the future when they have problems. There’s the proud father in his family; very critical of his wife, criticising his children for the bad habits of grumbling, that they’ve partly picked up from him and his bad example. The office worker; she’s undermining her boss all the time behind his back and dismissing constructive comments about how she could improve both her work and her attitude around the office.

Friends, have we not been looking in the mirror for the last two minutes? Why is it so natural for us to be these people? Why do we push logs in our eyes? Why do we eagerly pounce on the faults of others and ignore our own? Why are we hypocrites? Or if you over the last few minutes have just been waving your finger over the people I’ve just been reading out, then perhaps pride has a far deeper hold over you than you realise. Because all of us there, should be seeing ourselves in the mirror. I know that has been a painful exercise, but we need it, because our pride blinds us to reality and pride propels us into hypocrisy. We have got to get real and Jesus helps us to get real. What’s the solution? It’s there in Matthew 7.5, Jesus says:

You hypocrite, first take the log [take the plank] out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

The solution is to humble ourselves, because fundamentally the Christian with a judgemental attitude is a Christian who has forgotten the gospel of grace. He has forgotten that the only way we can approach God on judgement day is because of God’s wonderful mercy towards us in sending Jesus to die for our sins. She has forgotten that the basic attitude of every Christian is that of a broken humble spirit before God, as Jesus says at the very start of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If we proudly forget God’s mercy to us, we will become proudly judgemental towards others but, if we always thank God for his mercy, we will extend his mercy towards others. The mark of a Christian is not a judgement person but someone who merciful in their dealings towards others. Brothers and sisters, what a difference it would make if we took Jesus’ teaching seriously. I think it would really transform the way we relate to each other as brothers and sisters in church, because if we cultivate the healthy attitude of thanking God for his work in the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we cultivate that healthy attitude as coming to God as sinners and confessing our sins, remembering the gospel of grace, then we have found a healthy antidote to judgementalism. After all, it is difficult to find fault with our brothers and sisters in Christ if we’re always finding great evidence of God working in them and how he’s preparing them and using them for his service. That puts us in a great position, that when we do need to say hard things to them out of love, we’re doing it with the right spirit, we help them spiritually when we take the bit of sawdust out of their eye.

I think if we took Jesus teaching here seriously it would transform the way we engage with our culture too, so when we rightly hold totally firm to the Bible’s teaching on the ethical issues of our day; particularly to do with our humanity (the sanctity of life, sexual ethics, gender), important issues that we’ve got to stand firm on, God’s design is good and it’s true for everyone, but the way we stand firm on those issues is important. We will do so with humility not pride. We will do so in the spirit of ‘But for the grace of God go I’, in the spirit of ‘I’m a sinner too but Jesus came to for sinners and he sent his Spirit to help us live God’s way’ and we won’t do it in that’s cold, critical, judgemental spirit which can sometimes mark our voices at times when we speak up on those issues.

People may still be angry with our strong clear message. They may wrongly call us judgemental, simply for expressing that message. We’ve got to leave that between them and God, but let’s not be put off and let’s not put them off by a proud judgemental attitude.

That’s my first point. God is Judge, so don’t be judgemental towards others. My second point is this: God’s word is precious, so don’t be foolish in your evangelism (Matthew 7.6):

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.

At a first glance it might look like Jesus is contradicting what he has just said! Why is he calling some people ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’? Surely that sounds a bit judgemental? Well remember point 1 – let’s not make hasty judgements about Jesus! The context here is evangelism: sharing God’s words with others. And Jesus emphasises two things in this verse. Firstly, he emphasizes the preciousness of the gospel message we’re called to share with people around us. It is described as holy and being like valuable pearls. Secondly, Jesus describes the ferocity of some opponents of the gospel, who are described as dogs or pigs who may both show contempt for the message that we share, and then turn and attack us.

Jesus is making the point that when we share this precious message of eternal life with people, of how Jesus died and rose again to make God’s enemies into God’s children if only they would turn and trust in him, when we share that message with people around us and encounter sustained hard-hearted contempt for it, it’s time to call it a day. The people you are speaking to don’t deserve to continue hearing what you’re saying, you don’t deserve to get an unnecessary tongue-lashing from them and God’s name doesn’t deserve to dragged through the mud. It’s time to call it a day.

Do fishermen continue to go out fishing for tuna when they know a hurricane is on the way? Likewise, we shouldn’t be cavalier in our evangelism. We’re not fanatical auto-piloted evangelism robots who are programmed to “Share the gospel regardless!” No, there’s a time to stop our evangelistic efforts.

This is consistent with the rest of the Bible’s teaching on evangelism. Here’s what Jesus said during his briefing to his disciples on their first big mission trip. Matthew 10.14-15:

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

And in Acts 28, after the Jews in Rome did a mass walk-out while Paul was preaching, he publicly declared that he would stop preaching to them and turn to the Gentiles. Acts 28.28:

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.

As with Jesus’ teaching on judgementalism, we must be careful to guard against misunderstanding or misapplications of what Jesus is saying here. Firstly, Jesus is not saying that if people don’t listen to you straight away when you talk to them about Jesus, you should give up! I think if that had been the case for many of us listening this evening, we wouldn’t be Christians today, humanly speaking. No, we need to avoid the temptation of laziness in our evangelism. We must be faithful in sowing God’s Word, the seed, even when there’s apathy or hostility and things are tough.

Secondly, Jesus is not saying that we should do a ‘risk assessment’ before we evangelise to try to minimise the possibility of persecution. No, we need to avoid the temptation of cowardice in our evangelism, we need to be bold. Paul’s example in 2 Timothy 2.10 is one we should follow too:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

So we can’t use Matthew 7.6 as an excuse to stay quiet about Jesus either. So how does it apply in practice? I think it’s like this; when you encounter sustained hostility or sustained apathy in response to your efforts to speak to someone about Jesus, you should not plough on regardless. It’s time to stop and think and pray. And maybe you should stop speaking to them about Jesus. At least for now.

If they are despising your Gospel precious message, if they are not listening to you, if they are reacting angrily or giving you the cold shoulder, then to be blunt, your evangelism is doing them more harm than good. It’s doing them spiritual damage because all they’re doing is hardening their heart to God and his word. It’s time to call it a day. It’s time to pray and look for someone else who will listen. In his helpful commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Don Carson writes:

Over the years I have gradually come to the place where I refuse to attempt to explain Christianity and introduce Christ to the person who just wants to mock and argue and ridicule. It accomplishes nothing good, and there are so many other opportunities where time and energy can be invested more profitably.

I think of the wisdom of a well-known Australian evangelist. After his evangelistic talks, he would wait around in the room to talk to people. If he sensed they just wanted a theological battle, he would quickly close down the conversation and say goodbye. But he would have all the time in the world, all the time that was needed, to talk to people who really wanted to know the good news about Jesus.

As I’ve been preparing this talk, I’ve come across three members of our church family for whom this command from Jesus I think is a ‘word in season’. This word from Jesus lifts the burden from feeling that they ‘have to just keep going regardless’. It’s freed up time and energy from them for evangelism elsewhere. And it has stopped God’s name from being unnecessarily dishonoured. I wonder if this might be a ‘word in season’ for you too this evening?

So that’s Jesus’ teaching for this evening:
- God is the Judge, so don’t be judgemental towards others!
- God’s Word is precious, so be discerning, don’t be foolish in your evangelism!

Don’t you feel the need to pray? To avoid judgementalism as you speak about judgement and make good moral judgements? It’s so easy to be judgemental. It’s easy to fall one way or the other. We need wisdom and it’s so easy to stop sharing the gospel with people just because we’re lazy or because we’re cowardly. But then there is a right time to stop sharing the Gospel with people and we need to know which is which. We need to pray for wisdom. We need to pray and that’s the subject of next weeks’ instalment of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s all about prayer! Let’s also pray now and commit these things to God as we finish:

Please help us to know when to stop sharing the Gospel with others and when to persevere. Help us to be bold in speaking about the final judgement and help us to be clear in making distinct moral judgements, yet please help us to avoid that trap of judgementalism. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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