Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6
We have come to the last chapter in the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is going to finish the sermon talking about relationships. How should we relate to other Christians? How should we relate to unbelievers? How should we relate to God?
It is impossible to live the Christian life alone. Everything Jesus requires of His disciples will involve other people or God Himself. And Jesus is fully aware that we will have great difficulty keeping His commands, because relationships are exceedingly difficult.
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.
What does Jesus mean when He commands us not to judge other people? Does He mean we should never form or express an opinion about someone else? Is Jesus telling us to turn a blind eye when we see faults in other people?
This has become an important moral issue for our culture – in fact it may the only moral issue remaining. We must affirm the life choices of every person, or else we will be labelled intolerant. Is Jesus endorsing that mentality?
I don’t think so. In verse 6, Jesus says not to give what is holy to dogs or to cast pearls before swine. He’s clearly talking about people. How am I supposed to follow his instructions if I can’t judge whether a person is a dog or a swine? Jesus would be celebrated if he posted verse 1 on social media but quickly cancelled if he posted verse 6!
We can go even further if we consider some of the other teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He told us to be different from the world around us. He told us that our righteousness must exceed that of the religious leaders. How are supposed to avoid the false piety of the hypocrites or the worldly ambition of the pagans unless we look for it and make some assessment of other people and ourselves? That type of judgment is obviously not His concern.
What kind of judgment, then, is Jesus talking about? I believe that Jesus is concerned with a spirit of condemnation. A prideful or self-righteous spirit. A feeling of superiority. It’s being uncharitable. It’s taking delight in someone else’s failure. It’s hoping that someone gets what they deserve.
Pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones provides some helpful ways to spot this type of judgment.
People with a spirit of condemnation are often hypercritical. Constructive criticism is a good thing, because you desire to build a person up and make them better. Hypercritical people enjoy finding faults in others. They dig to find them and love exposing them.
People with a spirit of condemnation always hope for the worst. They like watching people fail, especially if the failure makes them look better.
People with a spirit of condemnation are quick to pass judgment on someone that is not really of any concern to them. How much of our time do we spend sharing our opinions about people we don’t even have any direct dealings with? Do we find pleasure in being malicious towards people we don’t even know that well?
People with a spirit of condemnation often turn their own prejudices into principles. What this means is we decide something is wrong because we don’t like it or agree with it, even though Scripture says nothing about it, and then we judge others based on our self-made principle. This includes things such as political opinions, parenting decisions, and cultural preferences.
People with a spirit of condemnation will often express an opinion without knowing all the facts. Instead of going to the trouble of actually getting to know someone or finding out what is really going on, we decide we’ve got it all figured out and condemn them.
What this attitude shows is that we aren’t really concerned with truth or holiness. We don’t really care about what the other person did or said. We simply want to condemn the person. We feed off of it.
This is the type of attitude Jesus condemns. He says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” In other words, have you forgotten what you deserve? How can we condemn people when we deserve the same punishment? Who among us can cast the first stone?
And then, Jesus goes on to teach that we shouldn’t judge because we can’t do it well. We are incapable of helping someone remove sawdust from their eye because we have a 2X4 in our eye.
There’s a rare brain condition known as Anton Syndrome. It’s a condition where the person thinks they can see, but their brain isn’t processing the data correctly. Their eyes are healthy, but their brain doesn’t know what to do with what they are seeing. The patient may describe seeing things that aren’t really there.
This is how we all are when it comes to our spiritual diagnosis. We all feel equipped to judge other people, but we really aren’t capable of doing it well. The only person with the power to condemn is Christ because He is the only pure person in the universe. When we try to condemn others, it is always hypocrisy because our reality is just as distorted by sin as theirs.
The exception to this is church discipline, which Jesus institutes in Matthew 18. There is a way of dealing with unrepentant sin in the church, but it’s a group effort by the elders – never an individual Christian passing judgment.
If we really want to help others, we must always be willing to start with ourselves. Have I condemned this person wrongly? Am I actually concerned for them? Do I really care about them?
I love how Jesus uses the analogy of removing sawdust from someone’s eye. Do people normally help other people get specks out their eye? No, because it isn’t easy to do. I get my own specks out of my own eye because we have mirrors now.
How many of you like the idea of someone sticking their finger in your eye? Exactly. If I’m going to let someone help me with that, I have to really trust them. It would be a delicate procedure. It would take patience.
When we go to someone in love to help them see their own sin, we have to approach it with patience, care, sympathy, and calmness. It is a delicate thing to deal with people on this deep a level. It would be unloving to ignore sin, but we can’t expect to really help someone if we are unwilling to love in a delicate, patient way. We’re dealing with their soul.
This week, I heard a counselor say that we need to prepare our hearts for this type of encounter. The posture of my heart needs to look like this [knees]. If I go to the person with a standing heart posture or even eye level, it won’t be received well.
But what are we supposed to do with verse 6? To be honest, it is a very startling verse. Look at it again:
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.
What does this mean? I believe what Jesus is doing here is providing us with a very practical check or balance against what He just said in the previous verses and even in the previous chapters. This verse is giving us permission to exercise some discernment in our relationships.
Jesus expects us to let our light shine before the world. But he’s not asking us to keep trying to share the Gospel with people who have already rejected the message and may even seek to persecute the church.
Jesus expects us to deal charitably with our brothers and sisters in Christ and He expects us to carefully approach their sin with a goal of restoration and healing. But He’s not asking us to go confront the sins of people outside the community of faith expecting change.
That’s exactly how His Jewish listeners would have interpreted this, because dogs and pigs were considered unclean, and the Jews had nothing to do with those animals. The dogs were not cute, fluffy pets – they were wild and often dangerous scavengers.
My family spent some time out west in the mountains this summer and we saw several bears in the wild – both Grizzly and black bears. There are signs everywhere instructing people not to feed the bears. You also have to be careful with food and trash. Bears that become too comfortable around humans are the bears that usually attack humans.
I think that more closely captures for us what Jesus means when He says they may turn and attack you. God will provide opportunities for the Gospel to reach His lost sheep, but we should be cautious with the world. It is pointless to try and correct someone who is not going to receive it.
There are other places in the Bible we can find this teaching.
8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his disciples to preach the Gospel. But look at his instructions:
11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
This is the type of discernment I think Jesus encourages in Matthew 7:6 – don’t try to give the good news to people who clearly don’t want it. The Spirit will go before us and prepare the hearts of God’s people to receive His word. If it’s not being received, keep moving.
And then speaking of false teachers and people who walk away from the church, Peter says this:
21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
Notice he calls them dogs and sows, which is a female pig. Same language as Jesus.
All of this may sound harsh, and we do need to temper our response to it. Jesus spends five verses telling us not to judge and only gives us one verse cautioning us to have discernment. That’s likely because Jesus knows our problem is usually hypocrisy.
We might summarize the message of all six verses in this way. Exercise caution when you are dealing with other people’s souls and especially when you are handling the invaluable message of the kingdom.
It’s helpful to remember how God has dealt with us. He is slow to anger and abounding in grace, but God is also just. He has dealt with our sin carefully and mercifully in Christ Jesus but rejecting Christ and refusing to repent will result in judgment.
This is especially important for people in the church who think they are saved but have not truly repented.
Remember the words of Hebrews 10:
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.