Transformed in My Actions

| Matthew 7:1-12

The Point:  The way we treat others should reflect the way we’re treated by God.

Judge Not:  Matthew 7:1-6.

[1]  "Judge not, that you be not judged. [2]  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. [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? [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? [5]  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. [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.  [ESV]

“According to the prevailing mind-set of our age, no one has the right to judge – or, more specifically, to condemn – anybody else. Sometimes the reasons are personal. Feeling the need to defend themselves, people ask, “Who gave you the right to judge me?” There are also philosophical objections to judgment. If, as certain philosophers say, there is no objective transcendent truth, then by what standard can one person judge another? Paradoxically, our airwaves and our personal conversations are laden with criticism and invective, yet we also claim to be opposed to judging others. We declare that no one should tell anyone else how to live, and that no one should impose his or her standards on others. Judge not is the sort of statement that our culture would eagerly embrace, without bothering to discover precisely what Jesus meant by it. But was Jesus really opposed to all judging? Would Jesus condemn anyone who condemned others? Would Jesus let each man’s conscience be his guide? The first step in discovering Jesus’ intent is to put His teaching in its biblical context. The last verse of Matthew 6 and the first verse of Matthew 7 both begin with prohibitions: Do not be anxious [6:34] and Judge not [7:1]. When Jesus says, do not be anxious, He forbids a negative attitude toward our own affairs – worry. When He says, Judge not, He prohibits a negative attitude toward others – a critical spirit. Just before that, Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness [6:33]. Here Jesus reinforces that command, saying in effect, “Do not criticize the unrighteousness of others. Address your own unrighteousness first, then perhaps you can address others.” So then, instead of judging the sins of our neighbors, we should ask God for grace to remove our own sins [7:7-11]. When Jesus says, Judge not, He does not mean that we must never criticize anything. There is nothing wrong with saying that a certain movie is a waste of time, or that certain apples taste bad. Jesus does not forbid evaluation of others. He forbids the condemnation of others. The grammatical form of Jesus’ command (a present imperative) implies that disciples should refrain from continual judgment, from a censorious spirit. Occasional outbursts of judgmentalism are of course not acceptable, but it is especially dangerous to fall into the habit of criticizing anything and everything. Still, people cite the saying Judge not as if Jesus never wanted anyone to disapprove of anything. But if we want to understand Jesus, rather than using His words for our purposes, we must remember that Jesus actually endorses judgment at times. He says, Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment [John 7:24]. Let me summarize the biblical teaching this way: Jesus prohibits a critical spirit, but does not forbid all use of the critical faculty. To follow Jesus, we must therefore discover why He says, Judge not, in Matthew 7, but says, Judge with right judgment, in John 7. Notice first that Jesus tells His disciples to make judgments in the very chapter that says Judge not. Later in Matthew 7, Jesus says, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves,. You will recognize them by their fruits [15-16]. That is, disciples must discern – must judge – who is a false prophet and who is a true one. Later in Matthew, Jesus says, If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother [15]. To obey this commandment, we need to determine – to judge – that our brother has indeed sinned. If the sin is serious (another judgment!), then we must speak to the problem and ascertain if the sinning party listened and heeded or not. Second, Jesus Himself made judgments, including negative judgments. He said, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness [23:25,28]. Jesus did more than disapprove or warn. He declared that certain people were bound for eternal judgment unless they repented [23:15]. The apostles also say that judgment is necessary, for example, John says, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world [1 John 4:1]. Paul knew that teachers who propound major errors must be confronted [Gal. 2:11]. Moses and Paul agreed that leaders must judge if a teacher is so dangerous that he must be removed from the assembly [Deut. 13:1-11; 1 Tim. 1:3-4; 6:3-5]. Such judgments are necessary to preserve the church [Acts 20:28-29]. Daily life also forces us to make assessments. Christian leaders must evaluate – pass judgment – on various issues. Responsible adults must make judgments or assessments daily. Whenever a father corrects a child, or whenever a teacher grades a test, judging takes place. These forms of assessment, or judgment, are inescapable. Therefore, Judge not, apparently prohibits certain kinds of judgment, but not all. Sometimes it is legitimate, even mandatory, to exercise moral discernment. Yet there are times to refrain from passing judgment. The context of Jesus’ teaching helps us decide when to refrain. The instruction to judge not comes after a long block of moral instruction. This setting suggests that Jesus wants to warn His disciples not to use His teaching to condemn others, although it is tempting to do so. Why not judge? Reason 1:  You will be judged.  When Jesus says, Judge not, that you be not judged [7:1], we must ask, “What is the judgment that we should avoid? Who will judge us, if we judge others?” Jesus means, “You will be judged by God.” Reason 2:  The Measure You Use on Others Will Be Used on You.  A literal translation of Matthew 7:2 might read: “With the judgment you use to judge, you will be judged.” That is, the standard we use to measure others is the standard that will be used to measure us. Paul says, In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things [Rom. 2:1]. If we know God’s standards well enough to judge others by them, then we know them well enough to be judged by them. When we measure others by a standard, it shows that we accept the standard, so that God can judge us by it. God can ask: If you condemn others for telling half-truths, do you tell half-truths? If you condemn those who break commitments, do you ever break a commitment? If you condemn theft, are you honest financially? If you hate careless remarks that hurt others, do you watch your words? Since we all violate the standards that we use to measure others, we are all liable to God’s judgment. But if we hope to receive mercy from God, we ought to show mercy. James reasons that anyone who judges or slanders a brother appoints himself to a superior position [James 4:11]. To judge a brother is to deny that he is your peer. The judge exalts himself over others, and that violates the law of love. The critic judges the law because he picks and chooses among its commands. He enforces one, by judging his neighbor, but ignores another, by failing to love his neighbor. Only God has the right to judge mankind. If we judge others, we usurp God’s role and forget to love. Thus, we invite judgment on ourselves. Reason 3: We Should Attend to Ourselves First.  Jesus asks, 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? [7:4]. Jesus is not saying we should never correct a brother who is caught in sin. He means that we can help others with their sins after we deal with our own sins [5]. Jesus teaches us to consider our problems to be large and our neighbors’ problems to be small. We tend to trivialize our sins and magnify the sins of others, but Jesus says that our sins should seem painfully large to us, while our neighbors’ should seem small. Jesus hints that we can be keen at discerning the flaws of others, but blind to our own sins. Our sin blinds us to our true appearance. We are ignorant of ourselves. Jesus next statement in verse 6 is startling. After forbidding judgment in the previous paragraph, Jesus now seems to require that we judge certain people to be dogs or pigs and not give them our pearls. In Jesus’ day, pigs were unclean animals and dogs were wild, unclean scavengers, not pets, so the assessment is quite harsh. Jesus’ teaching here about pigs and dogs sounds like the overstatement He often used: if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away [Matt. 5:30]. If we also have overstatement here, then Jesus does not actually want us to call anyone a pig, but He is teaching us that it may be necessary to assess our audience. There are times when the words of truth – such as the teaching Jesus has just given – will not get a fair hearing. Then we must be silent. It is futile to try to correct people who will not, in any event, receive it. Should we continue to offer God’s truth to those who have demonstrated their contempt for God’s truth?”  [Doriani, pp. 269-280]

Ask and It Will be Given:  Matthew 7:7-12.

[7]  "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. [8]  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. [9]  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? [10]  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? [11]  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! [12]  "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  [ESV]

“Jesus draws our attention to the gifts that God gives in answer to prayer by mentioning them first and last in this passage. The first word is, Ask, and it will be given to you [7]. The last word is, your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him [11]. Jesus wants us to ask, seek, and knock continually. This is clear in the Greek text with the use of present imperatives for ask … seek … knock, which signifies that an act should be performed continually. Scripture often encourages constant prayers for God’s blessing. This teaching can be understood in two ways. We could put the accent on the one who asks and say, “Persist long enough and you will get what you desire.” This “beggar’s wisdom” suggests that our petitions can wear God out, so that He finally grants us whatever we want, even if He was initially disinclined to do so. But Jesus places the emphasis on the God who hears, not on the man or woman who asks. He says that God loves His children and knows how to give them good gifts. If we ask, the Father will give what He knows we need. He says this three ways, and each seems to build on the other. Ask is a general term. In context, it means “ask God in prayer.” Seek implies that we may not know exactly what we are looking for or precisely how to pray [Rom. 8:26]. A child asks a mother who is close at hand, but when the mother is not visible, the child seeks her. When we seek God, we will find Him and discover what we should desire. Knock implies that we seek something that is inaccessible to us. We have tried and failed to attain something, to open a door. We cannot, but God can and will open it, if it is right for us. Jesus follows the threefold command with a threefold promise. We should ask, seek ,and knock because everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened [8], for God will open it. Jesus wants to assure us that God hears us and will give us what is good. He begins by asking a couple of rhetorical questions about the way human fathers behave [9-10]. Jesus then draws His conclusion, using a form of argument that He likes to use, called the lesser to the greater. It goes like this: if even sinful human fathers (the lesser) give good gifts to their children when asked, then the wise and good Lord (the greater) will certainly give good gifts to His children when asked [11]. This simple argument contains vital lessons about people and about Jesus. First, when Jesus says, If you then, who are evil [11], He assumes, as the whole bible does, that all humans are sinful. We are members of a race of sinners. We are radically selfish, inclined to rebel against God and to do evil toward our fellow man. But Jesus says that even sinful people can do what is right. Their hearts may be dark, but parents still care tenderly for their children. If human parents, crippled by evil, still treat their children well, then God, who is good, will certainly give good gifts to His children. Jesus does not say that God gives us all we ask for or all we want. Rather, He gives us good things. Ask, and it will be given to you is not an absolute promise, as if God must give us whatever we ask. When we pray, we do not rub a magic lamp. What a burden it would be to know that we would receive everything we sought in prayer! The thought would paralyze the prayers of a sensitive Christian. Who would be wise enough to pray if God gave us whatever we asked for, whenever we asked? Jesus knows the difference between wise and foolish requests. Almost all of us are now thankful that the Lord declined some request we once made. Sometimes, therefore, we receive less than we ask. On the other hand, He sometimes gives us more than we seek. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord wants to give us His kingdom and His righteousness. The Bible, incidentally, never shows anyone praying for happiness, never tells us to pray for happiness, and never promises that we will be happy. It does promise that God will make us holy. In Luke 11:13, Jesus says that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. He grants what we need to grow in holiness, not necessarily to have a carefree life. We need this holiness. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus calmly assumes that we are evil, even though we can do good things. Therefore, when we pray, we should first seek forgiveness of sin and deliverance from evil. Of all God’s gifts, this is supreme: Jesus bore the punishment we deserve for our evil deeds. Then He offered to wrap us in His holiness, his good deeds, if we believe in Him. Then, when God looks upon us, He sees Christ’s righteousness, not our sin.”  The Golden Rule is widely cited and widely abused. But a proper understanding of the Golden Rule begins with its context. Matthew 7:1-11 lists various obligations of a disciple. With our brothers, we should offer help, not judgment. With God, we pray with confidence, knowing He will care for us. With our neighbors, we should remember this summary: whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. Jesus does not mean that we should do to others whatever they want. Two immoral people could use “do unto others” as a rationale for indulging each other’s illicit desires. Jesus expects His disciples to want, for themselves and for others, what He wants for us. Sadly, we can so fix our attention on our own needs and desires that we are hardly aware of the needs of others. The whole bible sets the standard for what we owe others. But then, for our benefit, Jesus gives us summaries of the Law and the Prophets. So, to paraphrase slightly, Jesus says, “Do for others what your sense of justice would require others to do for you.” Later, He simply says, Love your neighbor as yourself [Matt. 22:39]. But we are quick to think first of ourselves, and thus we fail to keep the standard. We might wish we could do for others what we ask for ourselves, but we know we cannot keep it up. Once again, therefore, Jesus’ laws lead us to see our sin and our need for grace. We simply cannot keep His law. We cannot stop judging others for their failings. We cannot keep even the simplest summary of His teaching. What then shall we do? We must ask God for mercy to forgive and ask him to make us new. Then, Jesus says, it will be given to us. The Lord will give us His mercy, the forgiveness of our sins. The same Jesus who laid down all these laws also gave His life for those who would break them. He will give us His Spirit, so that we might see our neighbor with more of the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of love, and might serve that neighbor and serve our Lord.”  [Doriani, pp. 281-290].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What reasons does Jesus give why we should not judge? Why cannot Jesus’ command in 7:1 to Judge not be understood as a command to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people? What ingredients make up the sin of censoriousness? What important point is Jesus making in 7:3-5 when He talks about the speck and the log?

2.         In 7:6 what does Jesus mean by holy and pearls? Who are the dogs and the pigs? How should you apply this verse today?

3.         7:7-11 is an excellent example of the danger of taking biblical promises out of context. If we take these two verses out of context, it appears that God will give us whatever we ask and keep on asking for. But we must understand Jesus teaching on prayer in 7:7-8 in the context of His teaching on prayer in other passages such as Matthew 6:12; 21:21-22; and 26:39? What conditional element does Jesus give in 7:11 for understanding how God answers our prayers? How does this conditional element provide comfort and confidence to us as we come before God asking, seeking and knocking in our prayers?

References:

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, D. A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.

Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter Varsity.