************ Sermon on Matthew 7:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 21, 2001
"The Right Kind of Judging"
"You are not supposed to judge." This phrase is a good description of our age, isn't it?! We live in an age and in a time that generally abhors the making of judgments. We live in an age that accepts all and rejects none. We live in an age of accommodation and compromise. Our age dislikes strong men with strong opinions. It has no room for determined women who know what they believe and stick to that belief. It does not tolerate those who are willing to rock the boat because of their philosophies. It has little use for those who have strong principles, the courage of their convictions, and a clear sense of right and wrong.
"You are not supposed to judge." Our society has taken this to new heights. We have reached the point where teachers are discouraged from grading a student's performance, parents are forbidden from spanking or disciplining their children, and those who work with youth are forbidden from ever suggesting certain behaviors or lifestyles are unacceptable.
"You are not supposed to judge." Most modern Americans no longer believe there are objective standards by which to judge. There is no right and wrong any more. There is no longer any agreed upon measure for human behavior. Modern Americans suffer from a fear of judging. Passing judgment on the behavior or beliefs of fellow human beings is considered an act of medieval, undemocratic intolerance. And intolerance, today, is viewed as the worst of sins.
"You are not supposed to judge." Unfortunately, this kind of attitude has slipped into the church as well. We are told that for the sake of the unity of the church a Christian should be indulgent and tolerant and refrain from criticism. There should only be respect for and appreciation of different opinions and lifestyles. Theological differences should be accepted without argument. Disharmony resulting in schisms should be avoided at all costs. Those who think this way have no place for theology, doctrine, and dogma because these can only lead to judgments of right and wrong, truth and lies, orthodoxy and heresy. Strong opinions, it seems, have no place in the church either. It has come to the point that many churches have little use for those who have strong principles, the courage of their convictions, and a clear sense of right and wrong.
"You are not supposed to judge." I am going to say something that I know most people in our society will disagree with. Perhaps there are some here who will disagree. I would like to suggest that what American society and churches need is more – not less – judgment.
I A Wrong Interpretation
"You are not supposed to judge." I want to ask you, is that what Jesus is saying here?
I can't remember the number of times sincere Christians have told me it is wrong to judge. And, they all point to Matthew 7:1.
"You are not supposed to judge." If this is the correct interpretation of Matthew 7:1, then it would be in direct conflict with what follows in the rest of Matthew 7. In verse 6 of our chapter Jesus says, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw pearls to pigs." No one can do this without a negative judgment.
"You are not supposed to judge." Later in this same chapter Jesus warns against false prophets who appear in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (verse 15). They appear to be very harmless and honest and invariably are "very nice." They look like Christians and sound like Christians. But we are not to be taken in by them. To be on guard against them also demands a judging mind.
"You are not supposed to judge." If this is the correct interpretation, then we would be in direct conflict with many other words in the Bible. In one of his letters the Apostle John writes, "Test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (1 Jn 4:1). Morever, the letters of the apostles are filled with admonitions pointing to the necessity of judging (Gal 1:8; 1 Cor 5:12f; 2 Tim 2:17-18; etc.).
"You are not supposed to judge." If this is really the case then the Spiritual gift of discernment is a waste. Those with this gift are able to judge quickly and rightly between right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral, truth and falsehood, light and darkness. In fact, they are given this gift so they can make such judgments for the good and safety and protection of the entire church.
"You are not supposed to judge." If that is really the case, then how is the church to go about exercising discipline? If that is really the case, then how is the state to go about punishing criminals and restraining evil? If this is really the case, then teachers should not grade papers and tests, no citizen should sit on a jury, no dictator should ever be called to account, and President Bush should not be pursing Osama bin Laden to the ends of the earth. If this is really the case, then there would be no need for forgiveness or apologies because both imply that behavior has been judged to be wrong or inappropriate.
"You are not supposed to judge." If this is what Jesus is teaching us, then those who are parents might as well untie the apron strings and go into retirement. You see, those who are parents are called upon to make judgments each and every single day. We judge our children's behavior, actions, attitude, and words. How else can we admonish them when they are wrong, encourage them when they are right, and teach them how to lead the Christian life?
I hope that everyone here realizes by now that it is incorrect to make the blanket statement, "You are not supposed to judge." When we refuse to make judgments, do you know what we are doing? We are giving in to the weak and spineless spirit of this age that gives in to everything, tolerates anything, and opposes nothing.
II A Right Interpretation
A Our Scripture reading cannot be interpreted to mean that we must never judge. Well, then, what does it mean?
The Greek word for judging in our text literally means "acting as a judge." Its specific meaning is "to pass a verdict or pronounce sentence; to declare that a person is guilty." So what Jesus is warning against is the terrible sin of condemning, of pronouncing judgment, in a final sense.
The best example of this kind of judgment is the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so quick to judge their fellowman. For instance, they threw out of the synagogue the blind man who was healed by Jesus (Jn 9:34). They looked down upon the common people and Gentiles who did not know the law. Think of the picture of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18. The self-righteous Pharisee was so quick to judge and condemn:
(Lk 18:11) The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector.'They thought of themselves as sitting upon the judgment seat of Moses. Actually, what they were doing was placing themselves on the throne of God. It is this kind of judging we are not to do.
B The New Testament makes it painfully clear that this attitude was not confined to the Pharisees. It was something that constantly troubled the early Church; and it is something that troubles the Church of God today too.
"Do not judge." "Do not place yourself on the throne of God." We need to take this to heart. If we are honest with ourselves we must confess that in our lives there too often is a readiness to condemn. Too often we not only criticize someone's opinion but go a step further and criticize and condemn the person too. It is this kind of judging we are not to do.
C Those with a judgmental attitude fail to show love. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us love is patient. But a judgmental spirit is impatient. Love is kind. But a judgmental spirit is unkind. Love is not rude. But a judgmental spirit is always rude. Love is not easily angered. But a judgmental spirit is easily angered. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes. But a judgmental spirit constantly attacks, never trusts, and always hopes for the worst. We are not to have this kind of judgmental spirit.
D A judgmental spirit tends to elevate something minor and judge and condemn people on the basis of this minor matter. The best example here is what Paul says in Romans 14. Paul tells the church at Rome to avoid judging one another on matters of food and drink and viewing one day as being more important than another. Not only did the Christians at Rome elevate these matters to a place higher than they deserved but they also condemned one another on the basis of these matters. But Paul tells them that this is all wrong. "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking," he says, "but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). One may observe one day as being holy and someone else may observe another day as being holy. But the thing to remember, he says, is that "we will all stand before God's judgment seat" and "each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Rom 14:10,12).
Now get this: on these matters of food and drink and holy days there are right views and wrong views; the Bible speaks clearly about this. But they are not matters so essential to the faith that we on that basis can begin to condemn one another.
Today, instead of talking about food and drink and holy days we can talk about matters like hand-raising or clapping in worship, the kind of music that we think is appropriate for worship, and other matters of worship style; we can mention Christian education; we can mention women in church office. All of these have right and wrong views according to the Bible. But none of these are important enough that we can condemn those who disagree with us. We are not to judge and condemn one another on the basis of minor matters.
III Why We Need to be Careful
A I think you realize by now that we are called upon to make judgments. However, as we look at Matthew 7 we see that Jesus teaches us three reasons why we are to be careful in our judging.
First of all, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." If we condemn others, than our Lord will condemn us. Though we are Christians, and are justified by faith, and have an assurance of salvation, and know we are going to heaven when we die, we will be passed through a purifying flame by the Lord if we condemn others. When you condemn others you are exposing yourself to judgment and will have to answer to the Lord for those things. You will stand ashamed before the Lord.
So if you do not want to be ashamed, if you do not want to lose something of your future reward, if you want to build well upon the foundation of Christ, you have to be careful now. You have to be careful NOT to condemn others.
B There is also a second reason we have to be careful in judging. "Do not judge," says Jesus. "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
People who are always ready and quick to condemn others, will be judged according to their own standards. In the same way as they deal with others, others will deal with them. To use an old expression, a man will be paid back in his own coin.
Now, don't forget, we are talking about our relationship to God. Which means that God will judge us, His children, according to our own standards. The psalmist talks of this:
(Ps 18:24-27) The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. (25) To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, (26) to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd. (27) You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.If you are quick to condemn others for greed, the Lord will hold out all the greed in your life. If you are quick to condemn the sexual sins of others, the Lord will put on display all the sexual sins of your life. But if you have been slow to condemn and quick to forgive, then the Lord will be the same way with you. If you have been righteous in all your ways, then the Lord will deal righteously with you.
C And then there is a third reason why we have to be careful in judging. Jesus says,
(Mt 7:3-5) "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? (4) 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? (5) 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.Nobody with a beam in his eye can see things clearly. That is the problem here. They can't look at those around them clearly. They can't look at themselves clearly.
For this reason, we must underline the word "look" in verse 3. Jesus speaks in our passage of people who are so quick and ready to condemn others. Such people look for wrong in the lives of others. They seem to derive a malicious sort of pleasure from putting their finger on the weak spots in the lives of their neighbors. It is almost as if they enjoy spotting evil, wrong, and things they disagree with.
Here is another problem. They are so absorbed with looking for the evil in the lives of those around them that they become totally blind to their own faults.
Jesus reminds us that we can never judge another without first judging ourselves. That way we can never consider ourselves above a brother or a sister who is struggling with a sin in their life. And, once we know our own sinful heart, then we are more mild and careful and prudent in our judgment of others. And, when we do have to admonish, we do so as a co-sinner, as an equally fallen saint. In this way we treat each other as brothers and sisters and as equals in the Lord. None of us, in other words, can consider ourselves as being better than others.
I am reminded of what Jesus said when a woman caught in adultery was dragged before Him: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." That's a good thing to keep in mind. None of us are without sin. All of us are also fully deserving of the wrath of God.
D And then there is a fourth reason, one not mentioned by Jesus in our passage. But it is one I have learned from experience – it is that things are not always what they seem.
Topic: CharitablenessThe point is that things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. So we have to be very careful in our judgments.
Subtopic: Judgment Forbidden
Title: Too Many Umbrellas
The story is told of Mr. Jones who picked up the wrong umbrella in a hotel lobby and was about to walk out when the rightful owner called attention to his mistake. Embarrassed, he offered his apologies. Finding his own, he went on his way.
The incident, however, reminded him that he had promised to buy both his wife and daughter an umbrella. To his delight he found that a local store nearby had them on sale, so he bought two. Just as he was getting into his car with his unwrapped purchases, he saw the man he had encountered earlier. He was eyeing him suspiciously. Seeing the three umbrellas hooked over his arm, the stranger exclaimed sarcastically, "I see you had a good day after all!" Although Mr. Jones blushed, he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.
This story reminds us that this business of making judgments requires hard work. We need to make an effort to know all the facts and hear all sides. We need to consult the Bible to see what it teaches. We need to pray for Spirit-informed discernment. Making judgments is hard work done by responsible and compassionate people.
The Lord does call us to make judgments. But, we have to make sure we do the right kind – not the wrong kind – of judging.
May the Lord give us the grace here to discern what is right and what is wrong.
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