“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye. “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot an turn and maul you. Matthew 7:1-6
These are some of the most frightening verses in the Sermon on the Mount! Why? Because of verses 1-2. “Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Terrifying Scripture, eh?
The word “judge” in the Greek is “krino” meaning to distinguish, to decide, to condemn, to conclude, to finalize. It is to consign someone to hell, to damn them, to call someone worthless and confess they’ll never amount to anything.
Let’s face it! Judgement is God’s business, not ours. And Christ is warning us that if we usurp this business and start dishing out harsh critical judgements then we’d better be prepared to take it. This is advice the church would do well to heed, for far too many fellowships have dissolved into seething cauldrons of harsh people, bristling with criticisms, self-righteously picking at the sins of others while overlooking their own.
When persons wax critically, they foster an atmosphere that’s the opposite of grace. A kind of negativity takes over that can make unbearable any marriage, family, job, town or church. One has but to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to see what Jesus is talking about.
From Scripture I find at least six reasons why I’m not good enough to judge.
1. I never know all the facts.
God has a complete appraisal of the situation. I do not. The obstruction, literally “the log in my own eye,” keeps me from complete vision.
I had a gentleman in my church once, a kindly pharmacist by day, and an alcoholic by night. I disdained him for how he failed the church, made his family miserable. Then I found out in college he broke his hip playing baseball. It didn’t heal properly, and he was in chronic pain. Thus the pharmacist who used his skills to soothe others, was hurting himself and unsoothed. And I had cheapened my own soul
By judging him.
A second reason I make a poor judge is because. . .
2. I am prejudiced.
Jesus said it is never possible for me to see clearly because so much pain and junk in my own eyes keeps me from being impartial in evaluating others. I am literally swayed by self, others, passion and hurts such that I can’t be objective.
While a freshman in college I was told, “Don’t take Dr. Heusel for English!” I got her in a blind class registration, tried to bail out of the class but couldn’t, so I made the best of it, and found, to my surprise, a fascinating teacher. Later I learned her detractor was a poorly disciplined student who’d garnered a “D” in her study.
A third reason I may not judge is. . .
3. My own sinfulness.
It’s not that I do not know enough, that I am prejudiced. I also am not good enough.
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “I’ve had more trouble with myself than with any other person on earth.” Indeed, I’ve got my hands full dealing with me. I don’t have time to fix you!
This should have been the case with the pharisees. What with logs in their own eyes, the shouldn’t have had any time to be digging at the specs in other’s eyeballs! But such was not the case.
For instance, Jesus attends a dinner party in the home of a devout pharisee. No one affectionately welcomes Christ. No one even cleans His feet. Christ has been invited to supper that He might be probed, dissected, critiqued, challenged. In the midst of this acrimonious evening comes a harlot. She somehow slipped in to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears of remorse over her own misspent passion. Then, unbraiding her long hair, something only a wife would do privately for her husband, she began to wipe Jesus’ feet clean.
The pharisees were non-plussed, “If this man were a prophet he’d know what sort of woman he’s let touch him,” they sniffed. Yet Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Leave her be. She’s done a beautiful thing for me. For He who is forgiven much loves much. But he who is forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-8:3).
Clearly, the Pharisees in this instance were so absorbed in Jesus’ “sins” and the woman’s sins that they missed completely their own. And in all their judgement of others they missed Christ. They simply couldn’t see Him.
But in her repentance and love, the woman found Him.
A fourth reason I’m no good at judging is . . .
4. Being conscious of my own sins I take comfort in the faults of others.
Once in high school football practice, the coach chided me for not executing a block properly. “Here!
I’ll show you!” He said. He crouched down and proceeded to do the block all wrong himself. Getting up, he looked peeved, then growled, “Crotts! You’ve messed it up so badly no one can do it right!”
Isn’t there some of that justification in us all? We’re constantly measuring and rating others, looking for flaws, for variances, for failure. And when we find it, we gleefully and, I might add, publically, point it out. Oh how we love to rub a little luster off the crown of another. “See there?” we inwardly muse. “They’re wrong. I feel better about myself.” Yet a fifth reason I’m not to judge is . . .
5. I am jealous.
Shakespeare called jealousy, “The green-eyed monster.” In his play Othello, the villain Iago admires the beautiful wife of Othello, Desdimona. With great prejudice and malevolence Iago sews falsehood, distrust, and murder that he might destroy what he cannot have himself. And such is in the human heart– yours and mine.
Fail not, my friend! Fail not to at least glimpse here what Christ Jesus is saying. I may not judge because of ignorance, prejudice, sinfulness, jealously and the distortion in my heart.
But, finally, I may not judge because of love. In Matthew 7 here Christ is saying we have no right to pick at the specks in others eyes.
The apostle Paul elaborated on this in I Corinthians 13:4 following. Among other things Paul observed, “Love is patient.” “Love is kind.” “It does not envy.” “It’s not proud.” “It keeps no record of wrong.” “Love never fails.”
Love, in other words, takes the prickliness out of us. When my three children were little and we took a car trip, the back seat was a constant blather of, “He touched me!” “You get on your side!” “Mom, make him stop it!” As my children matured they came to love one another. Now they are close and do not mind it. They actually seek each other out.
A woman in this parish speaks of “duck oil.” “I coat myself with it daily,” she remarks. Then when people slight me or disappoint me as they are want to do in so many ways, the injury just glides off my back like water on a duck’s back. Indeed! “Love covers a multitude of sins,” wrote Peter (I Peter 4:8).
God’s The Only True Judge
Though Jesus doesn’t say it in the text, He infers it throughout His sermon. God is the only true judge. He is our rewarder. (Mt. 5:12, 6:4, 6:6 etc.) He is your critic, the final arbiter of all things! (Mt. 7:23).
Paul picked up on this truth in I Corinthians 4:3-5. He told the church, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 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 judgement 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 every man will receive his commendation from God.”
Notice Paul mentions three critics here: 1. People. 2. Self. And 3. God.
Abraham Lincoln said of his critics while president, “If I had to respond to everyone who is a critic of my administration, this office might as well be closed for business.”
Then there is self-criticism. It too can cripple us into inactivity. T.S. Eliot’s character “Proofrock” is an example. A balding, middle-aged single man is cowered before a lovely woman because of his constant self-evaluation. It’s literally “the paralysis of analysis,” frozen in indecision.
The third judge beyond self and others is God. And Paul says He is the only one whose judgement counts. Great Britain’s Winston Churchill once made a speech. At his conclusion, the audience thundered their appreciation with applause. As the crowd quieted down, a lone heckler in the balcony blew a raspberry. Churchill, without skipping a beat, said, “I know. I agree with you. But what are we among so many?” The point is: Don’t be so hard on yourself. God loves you. He applauds you so it’s okay to celebrate His grace in you.
And there will certainly come a day when the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-righteous, all-loving Lord will cause us each to stand before Him. “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of all men.” I take it to mean nobody is going to get away with anything. “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time.”
Until then, be humble. Look not at others. Mind yourself, your own eye. And as George Loch wrote, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
Concluding Judgement Verses Discernment
All that! Now this. Jesus rather enigmatically seems to reverse Himself. He preaches,”Do not give dogs what is holy. Do not cast your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces!” (Vs. 6) This sure sounds like judging to me! “You dog!” “Pig!” “I’m not wasting the effort on you!”
Indeed! This is a hard saying, part of the tensions to be found in Christ’s sermon masterpiece. “Let your light shine before men that they might see your good works.” (Mt. 5:16). “Beware of practicing your piety before men.” (6:1). He tells us to pray in the closet secretly. (6:5-6). Then He proceeds to pray the Lord’s Prayer publically. (6:9). He tells us not to judge. (7:1-5) He tells us to judge the nature of men and women before we get involved.
I’m not certain anyone can relax the tensions here. Such sayings are paradoxical, enigmatic. We must live the mystery, walk this tightrope of faith. It is like two sides of a coin. It’s impossible to see both sides at once. While describing one side, we still must remember another side is to be seen.
All I can say about not judging and yet understanding the totally depraved dog and piggish nature of humans is this: People don’t need Jesus until they need Jesus. Until the Holy Spirit elects to convict them, to call them to faith. And until we can join God in that work, all ministry to such a one is a waste of time.
Jesus is simply saying, “Don’t push your faith on unwanting individuals. Share it with the receptive.” Such seems to me more the wisdom of discernment than cruel-hearted judging.
It’s frightening, isn’t it? “Do not judge or you will be judged.” Same full measure!
I close with an old poem only partially memorized, the author long since forgotten to me. But it keeps me in check.
The poem is called, “The Critic.”
A little seed lay on the ground
And soon began to sprout.
“Now which of all the flowers around,” it mused,
“Shall I come out?
“The Lilly’s face is fair and proud,
But then, it’s fashion’s old.
The rose I think is rather loud,
And then its fashion bold.
Nor yet the Canterbury Bell.
I’ve never cared for blues.”
And, so, it criticized each flower.
This supercilious seed.
Until it woke one summer morn,
And found itself a weed.
Lord, teach me it is enough for you and me to fix myself.