“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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? 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? 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. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pics, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV)
There are texts in the Scripture that are dangerously familiar. What I mean is, there are verses and passages that we know so well that we actually have no clue what they say. Matthew 7:1-5a falls right into this category. I see a lot of emphasis these days placed upon these verses from Christians & non-Christians alike. The emphasis makes sense, really, given the individualistic nature of our culture.
You live your life, I’ll live mine.
To each his own.
Who are you to judge me?
In so many ways, we want to be left alone. But at the same time, our hearts hunger for real relationship with other humans. And the trouble with other humans is that we think. We process. We judge. Judgment, at its core, is simply to engage the senses and make a determination.
He is tall.
Her voice is loud.
Statements of fact which, when left alone, are mostly harmless. The trouble with humans is that we keep thinking. We don’t stop at fact. We add something of our own, adjectives, to give the situation a little flavor while making our opinion known. Obviously this can go a couple different ways.
His height is impressive.
Her voice is obnoxious.
We’re no longer observing. We are placing value on the situation. We are approving, or maybe condemning. Maybe we’re trying to sway other humans. Maybe we’re poets whose deepest desire is to evoke visceral reactions. Maybe we’re jerks. Maybe that’s just how we roll.
Where we find real trouble, though, is when we come to morality. At it’s core, the Sermon on the Mount is about the sinful state of the human heart. We’re sinful sinners, every one of us. When we begin to judge morality, we begin walking on shaky ground in our individualistic culture. Relativism runs wild these days. What’s right for me might not be right for you… right?
I start many of my sermons with a simple statement. I operate under the assumption that Genesis 1:1 is true. That is to say, I believe the one true God created the heavens and the earth. I believe He then communicated that truth to men along with about 66 books of related material. IF that statement is true, then the Bible necessarily holds tremendous sway. If there is one creator God, then He is necessarily the only One qualified and capable to establish the rules and judge the outcomes. His words matter. If you disagree with this statement, obviously we won’t see eye to eye. If you disagree and you are wrong, the eternal consequences are significant.
Morality itself has long been one of the avenues to proving the reality of God. I’m not going there today. But it is safe to say that morality bears weight in the human heart. That’s why a judgment in the neighborhood of morality is so delicate. We’re not just talking about impressive or obnoxious. We’re talking about right and wrong. Those can be fightin’ words.
The interesting consideration here is that, in God’s economy, right and wrong are not simply adjectives in the sense that they are human opinions. They are God’s opinions. If God is, then God is the only one entitled to an opinion with regards to morality. And that makes His opinions quite objective in nature. In other words, to call something right or wrong according to the Word of God is not akin to calling something obnoxious according to personal preferences, even though the reaction may be far more visceral in nature.
This is a big deal because we cannot avoid the human tendency to judge. As long as our senses are functional and our brain is electrically tuned, we will be making choices. If you find someone who says they never cast judgment, they’ve either had significant portions of their brain unplugged or they are straight-up liars.
We have views of right and wrong, an inclination to think about them, and a sinful tendency to share them without discernment.
The question at hand, then, is simple. Was Jesus telling us to back off? Could you sum up Matthew 7:1-5a by saying “to each his own?” More often than not, I hear believers and non-believers alike sum up these verses in so many words. Non-believers are not entirely interested in Biblical morality. Christians are weary of unloving condemnation. It’s easier to retreat, right?
Shortly after these verses on judgment comes the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). How we treat the idea of judgment will weigh heavily on how we treat others. And it’s all balled up in how we’d like to be treated.
(Spoiler for the next installment: I believe Jesus instructs His followers to judge other followers in matters of morality. I also believe that His instructions are centered on a call to Spirit-led self-examination and anti-stupidity. Read the passage again, paying close attention to 7:5b. I’ll keep building that case next time.)