Judge One Another (part 3)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Follow me on a little thinking journey. Two little letters changed the way I viewed Jesus’ words (Matthew 7:1-5) about judging one another. Two letters. “So…” It’s amazing how often the little transition words in the Bible change the way you view things. They shift emphasis and bring up questions.


With this one little word, Jesus is introducing the golden rule as a summary of what was said before. It’s like saying… important-stuff, convicting-stuff, life-changing-stuff, therefore the golden rule. Gotta be honest, I had to think about this for a while. From an interpretive standpoint, there are a couple of ways to look at this.

1) The golden rule could be an entirely new point in the Sermon, entirely disconnected from the previous thoughts. After all, Jesus preached according to the passage breaks in the Bible, no? (My Bible has a bold heading The Golden Rule right before that verse… Jesus was just following the outline, right?!?)

2) The golden rule could be a summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount. In other words, as Jesus dealt with the heart issues behind anger, lust, revenge, etc. He might have been saying, “Hey, you could sum it up like this…”

3) The golden rule could also be a summary of the instructions immediately preceding. Now the verses right before (Matthew 7:7-11) are also familiar. They deal with asking, seeking, and knocking – not exactly “human interaction” kinds of verses, so this wouldn’t make sense with the golden rule… UNLESS the asking, seeking, and knocking is also somehow tied to the verses right before (Matthew 7:1-6), which is our passage on judging one another. Did you follow that?

For the record, I’ve come to choose #3. Quickly stated, here’s why. That little “so” makes me think it’s not a new point. Furthermore, The Sermon teaching deals with the sinful heart behind sinful actions. Why, then, would Jesus sum up the Sermon by telling us just to act nicely? Jesus is in the business of heart change, inside-out kind of stuff, so this makes no sense as a summary for the WHOLE sermon. It’s pretty easy to put on a happy face and treat someone nicely, all the while loathing them in your deceitful heart. The golden rule, golden as it may be, doesn’t fit as a sweeping heart-change statement. The golden action has to be tied to something else. I think it’s tied to our passage on judging.

I mentioned a few posts back that, at times, I dislike the section breaks common to most Bibles. Particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, they make it look like Jesus gave 22 different nuggets, each with catchy bold-faced headings, instead of ONE sermon. These breaks have the tendency to lead readers to see passages as disconnected. In this case, I think the passages are connected. I think the teaching on judging, along with the asking, seeking, knocking, and golden rule-ing are related.

On a big picture level, I think Jesus was saying something like this… “Hey (funny how it always starts with hey in my head), I’ve just dropped a whole B-52 of truth bombs on your noggin. I’ve forever altered the way you look at your interactions with God and man. I’ve redefined the way you look at sin (no joke… read Matthew 5-6). I’ve revealed a standard so shockingly impossible that I know what you’re doing… Instead of thinking about your own problems, you’re thinking about the guy or gal sitting next to you. You’re deflecting instead of reflecting. Stop it. I mean, you wouldn’t want them doing that to you, eh?!?”

We all do this. We hear sermons or read passages that should be convicting our hearts. We should be enjoying a moment with our indwelling Savior. Instead, we are overrun with thoughts that sound something like this…

“I wish (haughtily insert name here) were around to hear this… then they’d see.”

Jesus knows how we operate… and Jesus happens to be a great preacher. So He goes ahead and addresses the issue mid-sermon. That’s why I love His preaching. He reminds me where my heart is supposed to be when I’m sinfully focused elsewhere. The more I look at the golden rule, I don’t see it as a call to treat others with outward pleasantry. That would be quite mundane, lacking the supernatural. Any wicked servant can do that. I see it as a call to treat others well in our hearts. In order to do that, we need to stop deflecting and start reflecting. We need the transformational power of the gospel.

So (little transition word) thinking more about our judgment passage (Matthew 7:1-5), while I do believe there is a call for Christians to judge one another, I also believe that there is a time, a place, and an attitude for such interaction – and this wasn’t it. Jesus was laying out heavenly, Kingdom-come-crashing-to-earth standards. He was preaching truth… and the people were drifting. He was inviting them to sit as His feet, to be convicted and changed by the truth of His flawless Word… and they were more interested in casting stones.

Sure, that might’ve been true in AD27, but obviously that never happens today.

Maybe you’re planning to gather with the church this weekend. Maybe you’ll feel that draw to spend time at the Lord’s feet. Maybe you’ll hear a good sermon. If you’re into picturesque meetings, maybe it’ll be on a mount. Prayerfully seek Jesus and ask that your mind would be sober and focused on Him. Humble yourself before His teaching and know that He has a Word for you just as much as He does the guy or gal sitting two rows in front of you. Don’t miss such a precious moment by staining it with pride. Let the Redeemer pick you up, the mess that you are, and call you beloved.

I realize I didn’t jump into those asking, seeking, and knocking verses… I guess that means I’m not finished with this subject just yet.

Judge One Another (part 2)

“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)

First verse – love it. Second verse – love it. Third verse – see? Fourth verse – I told you! You should see it by now. Take your judgment elsewhere… Jesus said so. Folks can probably recite with some accuracy those first four verses. Let’s be real, they come in handy sometimes when we just don’t want to face the truth. What happens when we realize there is a verse five? Uh oh. Same sermon. Same context. Less palatable.

“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.” (Matthew 7:5 ESV)

According to Jesus, the problem isn’t that we judge one another. The problem, as is the case throughout the Sermon on the Mount, is the sinful human heart behind the judgment. Our hypocrisy blinds us from making right judgments. How can sinners judge sinners? A wonderfully valid question, mind you.

But in nearly the same breath as He raised the caution flag regarding hypocrisy, He encourages judgment as a good thing, provided the whole “log in your own eye” issue is addressed.

OK, maybe so, but who is Jesus talking about here?

Great question. (obviously… I asked it!) Context matters. Is this a blanket statement for all of humanity? (I started the thoughts that will follow last week in a post here.)

NERD ALERT: Commentaries are fun. Bible dictionaries are fun. Without such literary aids, how else would I know that there are no fewer than six… SIX… interpretations of the sermon on the mount. If you don’t care what they are – skip the list. If you dig a good dig, read my admittedly biased bullets with an adventurous spirit.*

  • Interim Ethic – Jesus was introducing a crazy tough ethic for the immediate days (AD30-ish, a long, long, long, time ago) to impact the globe because the Kingdom was knocking. The end was ultra-near. But since the Kingdom has not yet consummated a couple thousand years later, this interpretation doesn’t hold much weight.
  • Classic Liberalism – Jesus was providing an unfolded roadmap to a better, more progressive society.
  • Lutheran Orthodoxy – Through the Sermon, Jesus was describing an impossibly high ethic designed to show us the hopelessness of achieving on our own the righteousness God demands. The Sermon then becomes a broad gospel invitation to trust the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness. While our inadequacy is pretty obvious in other parts of the Bible, the challenge here is that this interpretation has little direct Scriptural support.
  • Existential – The Sermon aims to orient lives to a heavenly perspective. There is no literal, coming Kingdom, but there is a heavenly ideal. Make a better future, people!
  • DispensationalIn this system of thought, there are distinguished periods of law and grace. As such, historically, God has dealt with people differently during each. Extreme dispensationalism would say salvation has come via different means to people at different times. The key to this view of the Bible is based on knowing how God is dealing with people at that moment. The Sermon, then, was an offer of a millennial kingdom to the Jews. This potentially narrow view could then render the Sermon irrelevant in the “church age” (today) because the Jews then rejected the Kingdom – though it is still reserved for the future millennial kingdom. I get confused just talking about dispensationalism.
  • Straightforward – Jesus was preaching to people following Him who were living in a sinful world waiting for the King to come fully and finally establish His Kingdom. The Sermon is a heavenly, Christlike standard that followers of Jesus should strive after, even if we will never get there until He comes back. You could also toss in a handful of inaugurated eschatology here to say that Jesus brought a taste of this standard – along with the power to even try – via the Holy Spirit as the Kingdom crashed to earth with Him. Personally, it may be worth noting, I like this one.

Wake up! Back to the passage. Two chapters prior, Jesus “went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:” (Matthew 5:1-2 ESV)

Jesus taught them.

Who is them? (such a grammatically horrific question)

I hang on to that straightforward view. Jesus was teaching His disciples, those who were following Him. There were crowds around, undoubtedly containing folks who though He was crazy. But His target audience? Followers. Disciples. Christians. Super important in applying this Matthew 7 text, as well as the rest of the Sermon.

So who does the judging? Christians.

Who are the recipients of Christian judging? Their brothers and sisters (a.k.a. “other Christians”).

This is church business.

Does that mean Christians can’t offer judgment (a human determination between options, the evidence and support for which has been gathered via the human senses) to non-Christians? Well that’s sticky, because any fruitful discussion of the gospel will inevitably involve pointing out the reality of sin. I’m going to come back to this in a later post.

For now, let’s stick to the first point – Christians are instructed to judge Christians.

BUT… there’s always a but.

* Check out the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for elaboration on the six interpretations above. 

Judge One Another (part 1)

“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.)

Bible Thinking Thoughts

Most often, when preparing a message, I have way too much that I want to say. (which is why I usually say way too much, occasionally in mild disorder) While I was writing my most recent message (obviously I don’t preach every week!), I was thinking I might enjoy writing out a few posts on the thoughts that got me there… who knows? Maybe you’ll be blessed in a study of the passage – or maybe you’ll pick up some nugget of truth for studying Scripture in general.

Often the most widely known verses in Scripture are understood and applied entirely apart from their context. It might shock you to know that Philippians 4:13 or Jeremiah 29:11 don’t exactly mean what you thought they meant when you had them tattooed on your forearm. (Don’t worry, they’re still great verses with amazing promises – don’t start planning that cover up yet)

The Word of God is alive. (Hebrews 4:12 – which also has a context!) And as such, God can certainly speak to anyone at any time and in many ways. But the reality is, every passage in the Bible has a singular interpretation, one meaning. Granted, there may be multiple applications… but the meaning doesn’t change. Our responsibility is to prayerfully dive in to mine out the specific interpretation, so we don’t arrive at misguided applications.

For my most recent sermon, I jumped into Matthew 7 and the oh-so-familiar passage about judging one another. I always like to start with asking relatively simple and normal questions… Who: Who is in the scene? Who is speaking? To Whom are they speaking? And the song continues with What, When, Where, and Why.

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is speaking in this passage. Matthew 7 is part of the larger portion of Scripture called the Sermon on the Mount. (covering Matthew 5-7) Nothing cryptic here… Jesus climbed a mountain and began to preach.

My (incorrect) tendency is to take this blessed sermon of the Lord’s and chop it to bits. Please don’t take this next comment as dodging responsibility or passing the buck, but I believe modern Bibles help us to make this mistake by breaking everything into sections. Paragraphs that belong together are torn at the seams. A story that is recorded over multiple pages is diced up until you forget that what you’re reading happened right alongside something three pages earlier.

I understand the value of breaking up the text. But I also see the danger.

Our sound bite culture thrives on the complete absence of context.

I think we’ve always been good at this. Our modern culture is certainly driven by memes, 140 characters, emoticons, and abbreviations. We even remember many great modern speeches or events by a single line… in fact, we often only remember these single lines:

We hold these truths to be self-evident… 

Ask not what your country can do for you… 

I have a dream… 

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall… 

I would imagine you know who said each, maybe even where, when, or why. But do we remember them because the lines, in and of themselves, are great? Or is it because they became symbolic of something so much larger and greater? Sometimes the lines are great, most often they just point to a great moment.

In one sense, and I mean this with the greatest reverence, the same can be said of the Sermon on the Mount. We remember lines, or at least ideas.

Anger runs deeper than our actions.

Lust too.

Turn the other cheek.

Love our enemies.

Judge not, lest ye be judged. (coming back to that one!)

It’s all in there. And just as in mere human speeches, there is a danger of misunderstanding or forgetting the context and, in doing so, misplacing the bigger picture. Was Jesus standing to offer a series of fascinating one-liners? Or was He standing to paint a bigger picture?

I liken the chop-chopping of the Sermon on the Mount to treating Jesus as though He were Mitch Hedberg. (This is the part where you Google Mitch Hedberg, heeding my warning that though he was 100% brilliant, he was most certainly not 100% clean) Hedberg was known for his one-liners. Jesus is known for getting just a little deeper.

I was recently required to read the Bible two times in two years using two different translations. On one level, it was a blessing. Every day I was swarmed with context – big picture stuff. If you’ve ever read a book like Isaiah or Job in just a few sittings, you know the blessing. It’s not easy, but it’s a blessing. Central ideas fly from the page.

(On another level, I missed digging into those very same passages. I studied deeper where I could, but nowhere near where my brain wanted. I missed digging so much, that when I finished the 2nd year, I spend the next four months in Galatians – from one extreme to the next.)

I believe proper study habits, of any subject, require a balance of context and detail. The Word of God is no different. We cannot ignore context without ignoring the big ideas of Scripture. We’ll miss the scarlet threads without context. We’ll miss redemption in the midst of pain, joy amidst difficulty, etc.

Moment of conviction: Did you meet the Lord in His Word today? If so, what did you read? What was the context? Do you know? Did you care? There’s nothing wrong with finding comfort in the 4:13’s and the 29:11’s of the Word. But they take on so much more meaning when we understand them in context.

Of course, even Christians… even pastors… even scholars disagree on context at times. But that’s never a reason to ignore context. In fact, those discussions are often enjoyable for different reasons. To choose ignorance, though, is simply destructive. Maybe you don’t like history. Maybe you don’t like to read. That’s OK. But you owe it to yourself (and your forearm tattoo) to understand the Word that moves you.

Guard your hungers

(thoughts from my 5/2/13 message given at Cru @ SRU titled Satisfaction)

God desires to be our satisfaction in life. And so God will not let anything short of Himself provide any type of long lasting satisfaction. People have a tendency to focus on sin that is carried out, when Jesus taught that it is often the sinful inclination that condemns us. By the time our hearts have processed and produced the mere thought of sin, we are guilty. It was a conversation on this sinful appetite that led me to the beatitudes and Matthew 5:6.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” 

To be blessed is to be happy. It is to be free – free of worry, anxiety, stress or fear. Jesus kicked off the sermon on the mount with a series of sayings that describe what it means to be blessed in the kingdom of God. Jesus revealed this kingdom mightily in His lifetime. He spoke of the kingdom often (as a King would, could and should!). The kingdom of God, though, defied all expectations. Jesus spoke of a kingdom peopled entirely by the broken and downtrodden. He spoke of a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Is it any wonder folks just didn’t get it?

Blessed are those who hunger. There are two kinds of hunger. First is a hunger of deprivation. That is to say, there is hunger because nothing is available to satisfy the hunger. The second kind of hunger is one of desire. It is a craving from deep within for a particular something that can only be satisfied by that particular something. Often these hungers walk hand in hand. Often a hunger of deprivation can be gratified more easily by gratifying the accompanying hunger of desire. So if I’m starving (American suburbs starving, not third world starving) and I could really go for a peanut butter sandwich, then my hungers would most easily be satisfied by eating a peanut butter sandwich. If I reach for a steak, chances are all overeat on the steak because it’s not quite what I wanted. The deprivation might eventually be satisfied, but the desire will still exist.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. I can most easily describe thirst as the product of a day’s labor in the sun. When the work is complete and you reach for that first sip of ice water, the moment just prior to drinking the water would be my definition of thirst. It is a longing for refreshment.

Now put the first half of the verse together. Blessed are those who hunger  and thirst. Happy are those who are deprived, desirous and in need of refreshment. Think about the last time you were hungry and thirsty. Were you happy? Did you feel blessed? Did you feel free? Jesus’ view of the kingdom turned the world upside down, toppled secular values and reordered all human priority. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.

If this is the case, then it makes all the difference where our hungers and thirsts are directed.

For those who hunger and thirst for wickedness. That is to say, for all who hunger and thirst for that which does not line up with God’s view of righteousness, their satisfaction, at best, will be short lived. In Job 20, Zophar speaks that God will one day purge the bellies of the wicked. Their sinful appetites will only lead to devastation and destruction. (Zophar’s application of this truth toward Job is off the mark and harshly given, but God’s intolerance for sinful appetites stand as true).

Instead we are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness. To be righteous is to be in the right before God, to desire what God desires, to align our will with His. God understands our incapacity to achieve righteousness on our own through adherence to His law. This is what makes God so awesome. He makes righteous those who seek after His righteousness through faith in Jesus. This is why our hunger and thirst matter so deeply. When directed towards the source of true righteousness, our hunger and our thirst truly become blessing.

Then comes the promise. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Satisfied. To be satisfied is to be filled to completion, filled to contentment. Our hunger and thirst for righteousness is met with a promise that God will indeed fill us to completion. In Jesus, we find gratification for our deprived and desirous souls. In Jesus, we find refreshment – an oasis in a spiritually dry land. This satisfaction is both immediate and eternal. We experience satisfaction now, but we will not know the fullness of this filling until He returns in glory. The promise is securely established and guaranteed by the blood of Christ shed for our sin and His victorious resurrection from the dead.

Guard carefully your hunger and thirst. Direct your appetite to that which is lasting. Follow Jesus.

As I said, God makes righteous those who seek after His righteousness through faith in Jesus. As our desires and deprivations are directed toward the King of kings, the source of all righteousness, God grants us a level of refreshment unattainable through earthly means. With this refreshment, though, comes a hunger and a thirst for more. This is why our greatest happiness, our greatest freedom in this life (blessed are those who…) comes with hunger and thirst for Jesus. As the promise of satisfaction is fulfilled through our justification and sanctification, through a salvation that is by grace through faith, we find ourselves experiencing kingdom joy and a great longing for more of the One who is righteousness, the only One who can truly satisfy.