This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6
Sermon prepared by Rev. Henry Kranenburg, Hamilton, Ontario
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Introduction: Of course you do...
You know people who do that kind of thing, right? And many of us – maybe most of us - know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of people who judge others.
Now in all honesty we don’t have too much of a problem with it if someone judges that I am one of the nicest or smartest or best looking people they know. But that’s not usually what we think of when we talk of ‘judging.’ Usually we think of people who have made critical judgments about us, directly or indirectly. Comments that can hurt and make us feel inadequate. So when Jesus says ‘don’t judge’ then we say, “good for you Jesus; you tell ‘em.” And we want to say to people: “Listen to Jesus and back off.”
But you have to hold off for a moment before reacting. Because Jesus isn’t saying “now you, don’t let others judge you.” Nor is Jesus saying: “and when they do don’t pay attention.” Jesus isn’t talking to you about others judging you. He’s saying “this is about you: you don’t judge. I’m not talking to your neighbour or your husband or wife or some proud people in your church or circle of friends. I’m talking to you. And if you want to be a disciple, this is something I want you to have a look at.”
So, here in Matthew seven, where Jesus addresses a number of issues about relationships, we listen to what He has to say about this matter of judging in a Christian community. The focus of the message will be on the first five verses. We’ll look at them in three parts: first the issue of judging; second the danger of judging and third a concern about hypocrisy.
I. The issue of judging:
First then we look at the simple issue of judging. But to get there we have to consider a few things about the text. It seems pretty clear here from the English translation what Jesus is saying: “do not judge.” But then you have to ask a question: how literally do you take that?
There are some people who have taken Jesus’ words very literally. Like Leo Tolstoy who thought this verse was the basis for abandoning the whole judicial system. Or the man who left his church because they judged that his affair with another woman was a sin. He believed that the church’s judgement was out of line with what Jesus says here: the church shouldn’t judge.
Well you can add to that the story in John eight about the woman caught in adultery where Jesus says: “if any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And you look at Scripture verses that speak about humility and the danger of self-righteousness and the call to consider others better than yourself and the admonition to be slow to speak and quick to listen...
”Don’t judge,” Jesus says.
But what exactly does that mean?
Here the principle of using scripture to interpret scripture is very important. We have to start by recognizing something basic: there is a sense in which we of course can’t live without judging in some way. We make judgements about all kinds of things… Like if it is safe to cross the street, or what time is a good time to get up, or what tasks are higher priorities for this day. Jesus is not saying that we give up making those kinds of necessary judgements.
Nor is Jesus implying that cake-baking contests are wrong or talent shows are now inappropriate or the Olympics are unchristian or employers can no longer screen employees. All these matters require judgement of people and their abilities and how they might fit into whatever it is we’re doing.
In fact in verse six Jesus implies that pretty directly. There is no way you can follow what He says about not giving dogs what is sacred or not throwing pearls to pigs if you don’t make some judgements about who are dogs and who are pigs. And elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Bible God’s Word makes clear that we have to judge all kinds of things in all kinds of ways.
So we’re still left asking: what does Jesus mean here?
Well, in the context of this passage and in the context of what God says elsewhere, it’s safe to say that the judging Jesus is talking about here is the kind of judging that simply condemns people. The kind of judging that wants to put people in their place. It’s the judging that has a spirit of criticism and that isn’t really interested in forgiving or understanding or working something out or simply trying to connect with the other. It’s an attitude of putting people down when you think they are wrong, rather than finding ways to build them up.
The judging that Jesus is talking about here comes from the kind of person who is a fault-finder and often negative about other people who don’t see things the same way they do. The kind of person who will look for questionable motives in what others do, wondering what advantage they’re trying to get out of something or someone else. The kind of person who will blame other people for the stuff that’s wrong in their own lives…
The judging that Jesus is talking about is the kind of judging that somewhat arrogantly assumes we know it better than others. And when we are convinced of our own competence, we place ourselves in the position of playing god over the lives of other people: we simply judge them without intent to build any kind of relationship with or help them.
All of us need to look at that, because you have to remember: Jesus is talking to those who want to be disciples. If you want to follow Jesus, you have to look at where you are in terms of judging others. There is enough of the Pharisee in everyone of us that needs us to take this seriously.
II. The danger of judging:
Then secondly, we need to understand the danger of that kind of judging, which is the second point. And at the heart of why it is so dangerous is that it misses ‘God’s heart’ for people. You see, having a critical... condemning... judgmental spirit is not compatible with really knowing God in Jesus Christ. If you know God in Christ, then you are a forgiven person. But Jesus makes very clear that a forgiven person is a forgiving person. If I really know what God has done for me in Jesus, then I know that more than anything God cares for the souls of people, and for their wellbeing. And if I am going to be a disciple, then I have to care for the wellbeing of souls as well.
But then you need to add something a little frightening to that. Judging others is also dangerous, God tells us, because the way we judge others and the measure we use is also what He will use with us. Both here and elsewhere Jesus makes clear that God’s judgment will take into account the judging that I have done with people in my life. And while we may know and understand and even agree with that, just how aware are we of our attitudes, our criticism, our judgements of others? When was the last time you took time to examine how you are doing in that department? Because it is so easy and so ‘human’ – in the earthly way – to assume that people do an injustice to me when they judge me negatively, but when I judge others it is because I am right and better and more competent to do that.
But Jesus says: watch it. Be careful. Whether it has to do with people’s actions, or lifestyle, or children or weaknesses or sins or worship preferences. Be careful, Jesus says.
So when you think about someone, or assess them, you have to ask whether you are doing that with an attitude of wanting to understand them and who they are before God... if you are doing it with a desire to build up and grow the church and kingdom. Or if you are doing it in any way to put someone down, or put her in her place, or condemn him, or pass on gossip. Is our attitude one that shows concern for the other person like we read awhile ago in Ephesians four? Does it have a desire to restore the person if in fact they have sinned? Because if we judge with an attitude of simply putting people down, well... that will influence how God will judge us. But if we judge with an attitude of caring and helping and building and forgiving, well... the measure we use will be measured to us.
So what Jesus is doing here is giving the call for His disciples to be as honest and generous with others as He has been with them. That doesn’t mean suspending critical faculties and judgement and ignoring sin. Rather it means doing that in love for God and others, and with great care for the others’ good in Jesus Christ.
III. A concern about hypocrisy:
Then thirdly we get to Jesus’ concern about hypocrisy. Jesus speaks very strongly here; would be disciples need to sit up and take note.
You see, Jesus isn’t saying anymore, like he did earlier, “don’t be like the Pharisees, and make sure your righteousness is better than theirs.” He says to the people sitting around him there on the mountain: “you hypocrite, take the plank out of your own eye before you start taking specks out of others.” So if you’re thinking Jesus has some passion here about this issue, you’re right. He’s talking directly to the people sitting around Him... because it is me who has to have a serious look at this, me who in my faith can get a little self righteousness and holier-than-thou and not even realize it because it is so easy to think more highly of myself than I ought.
You see Jesus knows that we have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the seriousness of our own. We tend to have a rosier view of our own opinions and a jaundiced view of anyone who thinks differently. So Jesus hints at a picture, kind of a humorous one. The picture of a doctor with a big telephone pole sticking out of her eye lecturing someone about getting a speck of sawdust out of theirs.
The point of Jesus is not that if you’re judgemental you’re a bigger sinner than your neighbour. Rather Jesus is saying that if you honestly know yourself... and if you know who you are in relationship to God, and you know the sin for which Jesus had to die... and if you really know the human heart and our need before God, then you know that what you may see on the outside of someone else’s life is relatively small compared to what it is Christ died for in your life.
If you know this, you will be conscious of your own guilt before God, and the price Jesus paid for you. And that has to lead you to be more generous and humble in relation to others. Because then your interest will not be simply to classify people and their behaviour, but to love and help them as God has helped you.
The problem, however, is that we can be hypocrites in this. Maybe you have heard before that the word hypocrite was the early word for actor. An actor is someone who portrays a life that is not their life in reality. So Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t be concerned about sin in our community – of course we should be. No, Jesus is saying that it’s hypocrisy, acting what isn’t real in our own life, if we portray that we are concerned about righteousness but in reality are primarily interested only in the righteousness of others while closing an eye to our own.
Why is that? Because real disciples, if they are genuinely concerned about the problem of sin and what it does will be concerned about their own sin first. And once we have genuinely dealt with the reality of sin, and the reality of guilt, and the reality of confession, and the reality of forgiveness between us and God, then and only then can we be in a position to help others – and not simply judge them.
Without a doubt, Jesus definitely calls us to work with each other, speaking the truth in love, encouraging and admonishing. We have a responsibility for each other, and if we see sin we have to deal with it – Jesus says that too. But it’s our attitude, our motivation... it is the condition of our heart that really determines if we are building and discipling in love for the other person, or if we are just being judgemental.
This is a pretty serious passage, certainly if you’re serious about being a disciple and about growing in and building faith in the community of believers. But maybe it’s especially serious – and timely – because of our fleshly tendency to self-righteousness, and critical judging of the motives and behaviour of others. It’s serious because we have a tendency to fool ourselves, not so much about what Jesus says, but about how we are doing with it. That’s what Jesus draws our attention to. That’s why when it comes to judging and criticizing we have to be so careful. Because it hurts, not just the other person, but also me, and what it means for me to be a disciple.
Conclusion: ...but be careful
There’s a story about a mom who was in one of the rooms of her home when suddenly she heard a scream from where her three year old son and one year old daughter were playing. She ran there and asked: “What happened?” The boy tearfully and angrily told her that his sister had pulled his hair. Well, his mother felt bad for him and tried to explain to him that it really wasn’t his sister’s intention to hurt him. She was just one year old and she doesn’t know that it hurts to have your hair pulled like that.
Feeling she had done a good thing in helping her son understand the circumstances rather than just getting mad at his sister, and hoping they were okay again, the mom returned to her work. Within a couple of minutes she heard another scream, but this time it was her daughter. She ran to the room and asked what had happened. Hardly looking up from his toys her son quietly said: now she knows.
Well, if you know what it feels like to be judged wrongly or with little care or sensitivity, than you know how it can hurt. It also means you know what not to do with others. But that’s not the point of the illustration... The point is this: if you know what it is like to be judged by God correctly and then forgiven, and called to get up and leave it behind and move on and grow in strength and follow the Spirit, then you know the attitude you ought to have with others. That’s the discipleship to which Jesus calls you and me again today.
That means that a good challenge for any one of us in response to this is to take a moment today to ask someone who knows us a little if they experience us as judgmental, or critical. Ask them if they experience us as encouraging and up-building even if we are the kind to more easily call a spade a spade. And then consider how you can grow from what you learn.
But whatever you do take it seriously because this is the call of the Lord… and the measure you use will be used for you too. Build each other up in the way of the Lord for this is His word to those who would be His disciples. Amen.
Order of Worship
- We Gather Before God
- Call to Worship: Psalm 133 [anticipating the call to live in harmony and good relationship]
- Silent Prayer (followed by: Spirit of the Living God – PsH 424
- *Opening Songs: Lord Most High and You Are Holy
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven - PsH 475
- *Opening Prayer: Lord God, we are gathered here in your name. Together we confess that our help is in you, and we rely on your promise that you will never forsake the works of your hands. May your grace, mercy and peace rest upon us as we worship. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
- *Song: Let the Redeemed or To God Be the Glory – PsH 473
God Calls Us to Reconciliation
- Call to Confession: 1 John 1:8-10 [a call to honesty and reality about ourselves and our sin]
- Prayer of Confession
- God’s Will for our Lives: Ephesians 4:25-32 [a call to honesty and the building of relationship, anticipating what the passage/message will also have to say about that]
- Song of Response: How Good and Pleasant is the Sight – PsH 514
We Hear God's Word
- Prayer for the Guidance of the Holy Spirit
- Children’s Message
- Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6
- Sermon: “Judging Others”
We Give God Our Response
- *Song Medley: The Servant Song, Change My Heart, O God, and Father, Make Us One
I Love Your Church, O Lord – PsH 510 and Christian Hearts in Love United – PsH 513
- Congregational Prayer
- Offering our gifts
God Sends Us Into the World
- *Hymn: God, the Father of Your People – PsH 322
- *Prayer for God’s Blessing: Hebrews 13:20-21
- *Response:My Friends, May You Grow in Grace or Father, We Love You – PsH 634