MEDITATIONS ON JESUS’ SERMON ON THE MOUNT: MATTHEW CHAPTERS FIVE THROUGH SEVEN
“Do not judge, or you too 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. 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. 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” (Matthew 7:1-6, NIV).
We’ve probably all seen them in the media: top ten lists. The ten best-selling books for the year. The ten greatest actors of all time. The ten greatest athletes in sports history. The ten most popular fast food chains.
Here is a list you may not have seen: the top ten Bible passages most often misunderstood. If such a list were compiled, this verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would probably rank near the top: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
This passage is frequently used (at times, by well-intentioned Christians) in support of the idea that God’s will for His people is that they refrain from labeling any actions done or words spoken by others as either right or wrong.
Living in an age of political correctness where everyone wants to get along and few wish to take a firm stand on controversial subjects, the thought is sometimes expressed: “Who am I to judge others, since I am far from perfect myself? And doesn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?”
Yet a careful consideration of this section of Scripture—and reading it in its context—actually reveals that the Lord is not instructing us to refrain from all forms of judging. Rather, He is condemning the kind of judging which is reserved for the omniscient God—the judging of the thoughts and motives of our neighbor’s heart. He is also forbidding self-righteous judging that is done without mercy or love, which is inclined to magnify and condemn others for their faults while lightly passing over one’s own.
The Pharisees were known for that kind of judging. They were quick to point out the sins of those they considered less holy than themselves, but they did not see the need for repentance of their own sins. They did not think they needed a divine Redeemer to cleanse them of their guilt before God (compare the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14). So the Lord shared this godly counsel with His disciples about the importance of taking the plank out of their own eye (that is, recognizing and repenting of their sins), so that they might then be able, in the right spirit, to remove the speck that was in their brother’s eye (that is, leading him to repent of his sins).
When such judging is done according to God’s Word, it may also be necessary at times to recognize those whom the Lord Himself considers to be “dogs” and “pigs.” Dogs (mangy street dogs, not cuddly house pets) and pigs were some of the most despised animals in Jesus’ day. When Jesus says that what is sacred must not be given to dogs nor pearls thrown to pigs, He is making the point that the precious gospel treasure should not be shared with those who scorn it, with those who show by their words and actions that they have no appreciation for it. Sharing the gospel treasure with such people would make as much sense as giving a diamond ring to a street dog or a necklace of pearls to a pig.
So we see that this passage of Scripture does not forbid every kind of judging. Jesus forbids unwarranted judging while at the same time He encourages the kind of judging that is done according to His Word. He teaches us to look into the mirror of His holy law, to recognize the serious nature of our transgressions against our God in thought, word, and deed, so that we might, in turn, approach His throne of grace in godly sorrow and repentance (Romans 3:19-20,23-26). Then He would have us—as people thankful for His precious gospel treasure—do what we can to help our brother see his need for the Savior too.
This is the right kind of judging…judging that is pleasing to God…and which serves for the spiritual and eternal good of our neighbor.
Lord, help us so to do!