Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Matthew 7:1-5

This past Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning, Charles Osgood gave a brief history of the making of the King James Bible.  Throughout his narrative he wove familiar quotes from that version, demonstrating how many of our little sayings, quotes and clich├ęs are derived from that source.  Altogether I counted a dozen and I’m sure he could have gone on and on had he chosen to:  “drop in a bucket,” “twinkling of an eye,” “fight the good fight,” “the powers that be,” etc., etc.  I suppose the origin of these sayings was quite a surprise to many of the present generation – if they’d been watching.

Two passages that weren’t mentioned, but which we often hear are:  “Judge not that ye be not judged” and “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …” Often these sayings are paraphrased (Lincoln paraphrased the first in his Second Inaugural Address) and frequently they are used by the person who feels he is being judged or accused.

But did Jesus just give us this teaching to use as a defense for our behavior, good or bad?  Or is He instructing us to simply be tolerant toward others, no matter what their behavior?  Is He demanding moral neutrality on every issue?

There’s much more to His command to “judge not,” if we examine it in its immediate context as well as other passages having to do with judgment.

“Do not judge, in order that you may not be judged.  For you will be judged by the judgment you judge and you will be measured by the measure you measure with.” (Matthew 7:1, 2)

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look – there’s a beam in your own eye?’” (7:3, 4)

“Hypocrite!  First take the beam out of your eye and then you’ll see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (7:5)

One thing that we immediately notice is that Jesus Himself appears to be judging in this passage.  He apparently has noticed the beams in His hearers’ eyes.  “Hypocrite” (verse 5) sounds like a judgmental word.  He clearly is referring to people in verse 6, whom He refers to as “dogs” and “pigs.”  A bit farther on He speaks of certain people as headed for destruction (verse 13), of false prophets – wolves in sheep’s clothing (verse 15).  He compares people to trees, bearing good or bad fruit and says we will “know them by their fruits” (verse 16ff).  In fact, Jesus seems to be doing exactly what He warns His hearers against doing!  Is He telling us, “Do as I say, not as I do?”

Well I suppose we might say that, if we take verse 1 as it is interpreted in popular usage.  But if we make the reasonable assumption that Jesus does not violate His own moral standards, then we have to ask, exactly what is He warning against?

The Greek word translated “judge” here is KRINO, which very much like our English word, has a broad range of meaning.   Some of the possible meanings are:  administer justice; criticize; find fault with; condemn; hand over for punishment; but it can also have the meaning of decide, discern or distinguish.

In the preceding context (chapter 6), He has been warning His hearers against hypocrisy, greed and worry.  If we go farther back (5:17-48), He has warned His hearers of thinking that God’s Law is merely external.  He has demanded moral perfection (5:20, 48).

So it’s possible for one to take all these moral requirements and use them as a standard for evaluating others, to look around and comfort myself by noting that the others around me are no more living up to Jesus’ standards then I am.  I believe that this is one danger that Jesus is warning against here:  finding fault, criticizing, even condemning my brother.

There are two possible ways of understanding the warnings in verses 1 and 2.  They may mean that the standards we use on others will be the standards they use on us.  This would serve as a lead-in to verse 12, “the golden rule.”  “Whatever you want people to do to you, so you do to them.”

But it could also be saying that the moral standards we use in judging others will be the standards to which God holds us accountable in His judging us.  This is what Paul clearly says in Romans 2:1:  “Therefore, you are inexcusable O man, everyone who judges, for in that you judge the other, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same thing.”

I hope we can all see Jesus’ sense of humor in His illustration (verses 3, 4):  a guy with a 2x4 sticking out of his eye, groping at the eye of the second person, trying to clean out his eye while banging him and anyone else around.  I can imagine that it would be impossible to help the brother without bruising him or even breaking his bones with the wildly swinging 2x4.  Definitely doing more harm than good, if any good could be accomplished.  Perhaps the illustration is implying that sometimes our good intention – to help our brother – can actually do him (and others) more serious damage than his original problem.
It is easy and dangerous to stop at verse 4, because it is the next verse (5) that tells us what we should be doing.  We should be helping our brother deal with his fault.  The warning is against attempting to deal with our brother before dealing with my own sins and faults.  I am to make sure my sins have been dealt with through repentance and confession.  Paul again:  “Brothers, if a person is caught in some trespass, you the spiritual, restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness (see Matthew 5:5), looking at yourself lest you also should be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

Notice that in neither situation are we to just ignore our brother’s fault or sin.  We aren’t to use these passages as an excuse.  “Well, I can’t help him; I’ve got faults of my own to deal with!”  What Jesus (and Paul) is saying is something like, “Deal with your sin.  Then help your brother with his!”  In fact, it is only when we have done so that we will be able to help our brother.


gary said...

interesting bill. not sure about the sense of humor part in context of judging. a defination:humor is the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. ...
i remember a story in Genesis where lots relatives thought he was joking.
i am not sure jesus is trying to provoke laughter.

Bill Ball said...

Gary, I always appreciate your comments. You always have some great insights.

As far as Jesus using humor in this passage, I still see it. And I would imagine that many of Jesus' hearers would have seen it too.

I think that Jesus was using what is known as "comic relief." I have found, as a teacher and preacher, that I can say some very serious things and people will be more likely to accept them if I take the pressure off with a little humor.

He is not taking away from the seriousness of what He is saying. In fact, He is showing with this illustration, how ridiculous our judging often is.

See my post: "Did Jesus Have a Sense of Humor" -- 7/17/2008.