The SERMON on the MOUNT (17)

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Matthew 7:1-6 (17)
This passage, at first glance, may seem to be separate from what has gone before, as though Jesus suddenly goes off at a tangent. But if we look at what Jesus has said so far we see that it is, in fact, a natural progression. He has examined the character of the kingdom citizen and how, if living as such, that citizen is fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law. This is not done to gain ‘brownie points’ but to please our heavenly Father in whom we trust for today and for eternity. Jesus, however, knows that it is only a short step from pursuing righteousness to becoming self-righteous and looking down on others, so He continues:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:1-2)
How glibly the first phrase rolls off the tongue. I have noticed that this usually happens when a person knows, in their heart, that what they are doing is wrong but they don`t like to be told. So they say ‘What right have you to judge me’, irrespective of whether their actions are right or wrong. I suppose what they are really saying is ‘Go away and leave me to do what I am doing’. Misquoting scripture like this, for our own ends, often leads to an extreme view. ‘Christ totally forbids the institution of any human court.’ (L Tolstoy) Jesus is not telling us not to judge at all but to judge ourselves as strictly as we would judge others. If Tolstoy`s interpretation is correct then Jesus contradicts himself in the next few verses. He warns us not to give ‘what is holy’ to ‘dogs’ or ‘pearls’ to ‘pigs’ (vs. 6) and to beware of ‘false prophets’ (vs. 15). One problem with so much of western Christianity is that it has taken on this farcical notion that we are not to judge but accept anything. A view more humanist than Christian. It goes completely against Jesus words to ‘make a right judgement’ (John 7:24) and the rest of the New Testament. ‘Saints are not simpletons.’ (C H Spurgeon) ‘In order to determine our behaviour towards dogs, pigs or false prophets we must first be able to recognise them, and in order to do that we must exercise some critical discernment.’ (J Stott)
What type of judging does Jesus mean that we are not to do? Think about the last time you judged someone. Be honest! Was it a censorious judgement or was it full of mercy, forgiveness and grace extended to them? Before we begin to judge others we should remember Jesus` Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, (Matt 18:21-35) forgiven a vast debt by the king, yet refused to forgive his fellow servant. It is the hypocritical type of judgement that turns a blind eye to our own faults while seeing them clearly in others. Is there any wonder that Paul wrote: “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on those who practice these things and then do them yourself, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (Rom 2:3)
“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.” (7:3-5)
Hilary often tells me to clean my glasses when I am struggling with precision work and it is amazing how much clearer things become when I take her advice. Jesus illustration of the speck and the plank, typical of Jewish humour, shows our tendency to be able to spot something in others, discernable only with a microscope, and fail to see something in ourselves that can be easily seen on a dark night by someone wearing sunglasses. We tend to forget that when we point the finger at others there are three fingers pointing back at us.
‘Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism; nor correction as such, but rather the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves’. (J Stott) The Pharisee in Jesus parable (Luke 18:9-14) saw himself as “righteous”, but who looked down on everyone else: but it was the publican, who judged himself rightly who “went to his home justified”. We should be radical when it comes to judging ourselves. Let the light of Scripture show up our ‘planks’ and then deal with them by confessing them, repenting of them and totally turning away from them. If we use other peoples faults as a smoke screen to divert attention from our own then, according to Jesus, we are hypocrites like the Pharisees.
We should note, however, that both had something in their eye which needed removing. If we imagine that because our speck is smaller than another`s plank we are OK then we had better beware and look in a mirror remembering than Jesus is our ‘yard-stick’. ‘The hypocrite`s error is not in his diagnosis, but in his failure to apply to himself the criticism he so meticulously applies to his brother.’ (R T France) “Therefore, you have no excuse-every one of you who judges. For when you pass judgment on another person, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Rom 2:1) There is a Sioux proverb that we should take to heart: ‘Before I judge my neighbour, let me walk a mile in his moccasins’.
“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 then turn and tear you to pieces.” (7:6)
We know, from what has gone before, that Jesus is asking us to have discernment so that we might deal correctly with people but it does seem a strange thing for Jesus to say. He is obviously not talking about literal ‘dogs’ or ‘pigs’ so we will have to delve deeper to find out what He means. Dogs of Jesus day were not kept as pets, but were wild scavengers and pigs were unclean animals. In one characteristic they are no different today than they were then, a point summed up by Peter: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and “A pig that is washed goes back to wallow in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:22) Jesus is warning that there are some who do not want to change but rather go back to their old ways.
Some interpret this as to do with witnessing; where it could be said that someone`s reaction to the gospel is animal-like an almost ‘trampling under foot’ of the message of salvation. In those cases they say we should refrain from witnessing. At this point I remember the hymn; ‘To God be the glory’ and the line, ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives,’ and suggest that we should be very reluctant to class someone as beyond-the-pale as regards the gospel. I agree the gospel should not be cheapened by declaring it to those who constantly mock but how does this fit in with what we have been considering?
Having first judged ourselves and removed our ‘plank’ and then are seeking, in love, to help our brother with his ‘speck’ problem, we will sometimes find that, rather than being grateful, he actually resents our help and prefers to remain as he is. This does not mean we should give up at the first set-back and we should examine our own motives and methods. There comes a point when a person, professing to be a Christian, is intent on pursuing a course of action totally at odds with the life of the kingdom citizen. That type of attitude has to be judged and dealt with correctly, otherwise it will be destructive for the church. “Don’t reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” (Prov 9:8)

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