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The Life of Jesus - Series 4: Episode 16

Don’t be a critic and judge of others

| Martin Charlesworth
Matthew 7:1-6
Luke 6:37-42
Luke 18:9-14

Using different examples, Jesus exhorts his disciples not to set themselves up as judge of others but rather to forgive them. This is not teaching for everyone - only for disciples. Let God be the judge.

Using different examples, Jesus exhorts his disciples not to set themselves up as judge of others but rather to forgive them. This is not teaching for everyone - only for disciples. Let God be the judge.


Hello welcome to Series 4 and Episode 16, which we've entitled: ‘Don't be the critic and the judge of others’. We're in the Sermon on the Mount and this is Matthew 7: 1 - 6. Thank you for joining us and I hope that many of you will have been following the Sermon on the Mount in Series 4 - because there's quite a number of talks. We're now on the sixteenth talk - as we go through this amazing teaching of Jesus.

Introduction and Recap

For the benefit of those people who haven't been following, or are not entirely sure about the context, let's remind ourselves - as we've done in previous episodes - that the Sermon on the Mount takes place at a very strategic time in Jesus' ministry. He's spent a lot of time preaching around Galilee, his home district in the north of Israel, and gradually gathering disciples. This came to a climax at the end of Series 3, when he went up a hillside (or mountain) in Galilee and had some time of prayer overnight, and then chose twelve of his disciples to become his Apostles - his designated representatives (or ambassadors) who are going to share his ministry and take the Kingdom forward alongside Jesus. As soon as he'd done that, he then - on the same trip, on the same mountainside - gathered his disciples and a crowd as well, and started teaching fairly systematically. This seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to form a new community of faith; and the beginning of the development of the community of faith which will subsequently become the Church. He's got the twelve founding leaders in place and now he is producing some key teaching for those disciples. This teaching is aimed at committed disciples; it's much admired by outsiders but they don't follow its principles and some of those principles you can't follow without faith anyway. The Sermon on the Mount is for the discipleship community and many of you, hopefully, will affirm that you are disciples and followers of Jesus.

This text (Matthew 5 to 7) is an incredibly important text for you to know well, to study and to follow. We're hoping that it will help shape your life and bring strength to your decision to follow Jesus and be one of his disciples. It covers attitudes - we looked at the Beatitudes at the beginning. It covers the question of where this discipleship community fits in with the Law of Moses, as we saw in Matthew 5. It deals with a number of specific ethical issues, which we saw in Matthew 5 as well, and then a number of religious practices - prayer, fasting and giving - were described in chapter 6, in the first half, before, in the second half, Jesus taught quite extensively on materialism and money. That's been the subject of the last two episodes and, if you haven't read those episodes, I'd really encourage you to do so because they're radical and Jesus proposes that his followers shouldn't be worried about money; they shouldn't be accumulating money. They should be seeking provision for their life (to have their needs met) but should be focused, overwhelmingly, on the Kingdom of God and giving their energies - not to storing up material wealth anymore than they need to, but rather to advancing his Kingdom. His teaching ended, with this wonderful verse in Matthew 6: 33: ‘“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”’ The Sermon on the Mount is amazing because we move from one radical teaching to another, very quickly. There's so many remarkable things that Jesus says here - they're very challenging. The last two episodes and their connection with money and materialism will have been challenging to many people.. They've been challenging to me. I have to keep re-evaluating my own attitudes. Every time I come to scriptures like those, I find myself challenged refined and refocused on the priorities of God's Kingdom. I trust those have been a blessing to you.

Now Jesus moves to another very powerful issue and this is an issue of attitudes. He is going to address the way human beings tend to discuss and describe other people in very negative ways. It's common in many societies: gossip, anger, malice, accusations, condemnation of all sorts, pour forth from us humans. We tend to find it very easy to criticise other people and, for the Christian disciple, this is quite a challenge in our public life - how we relate to people. How do we engage with this tendency to see the negative in other people and in other institutions and, sometimes, in other ethnic groups? This particular teaching challenges that right to the core. Read with me Matthew 7: 1 - 6:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. 6“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”’

Matthew 7:1-6, NIV

You may ask, what on earth is this teaching about? It's clear that something big is at stake here; Jesus is being very punchy, very forthright, in the things that he says. There's a key that we need to use to unlock the meaning of this passage and that is: what is the meaning of the word to ‘judge’ that Jesus uses here? The Greek word, that's written down by Matthew, can be translated in a number of different ways and we're going to think about that so that we are quite clear. ‘“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”’ The central meaning that Jesus is using for the word ‘to judge’, is to make a negative and final judgement about somebody or something else. A bit like a legal judgement made by the judge at the end of the law case. I don't know whether you've ever been in court, or seen a legal judgement? You can see them on television and in films, frequently, and in that situation the judge stands apart from the actual events that are being debated. There's an accusation against an individual person perhaps, and then there's a defence. There might be lawyers involved and the judge's responsibility is to make the final judgement decision. If the person is guilty of any particular crime against the law of that country, then the judge will condemn them - it'll be a negative judgement. It will also be (to all intents and purposes in most cases) a final judgement which will lead to negative consequences. In my own country the defendant (or defendants) who are being accused of a crime stand in the court in a certain place and, if they are condemned, then they are immediately removed from the court into prison. They don't get out; they go straight into prison. The negative consequences come if they have a prison sentence or if they have to pay a financial fine. That fine is demanded very quickly. The judge is not under scrutiny. No one is asking any questions about the judge; he or she is not a direct part of the immediate issue. They're standing back and looking at it with authority, with legal status, and they can make a decision as to whether they feel there is a crime that has been committed by that person (or persons). They're given all the facts and they make a decision.

Jesus is using the word ‘judge’ in a sense similar to that. We are not to finally and negatively condemn other people for their actions, through what we might describe as a judgemental attitude. It's being judgemental - the attitude of having the right to finally and firmly, decisively and negatively, assess other people - that is being criticised. Jesus said, “It is not for Christian disciples to adopt a judgemental attitude towards other people.”  This does not mean we may not notice that they've done things wrong or we may not express an opinion about it - but we won't express it in a forceful, final, judgemental way. We'll be aware that we're not the judge in the absolute sense; we're not set apart - we're actually involved in human life and we can make mistakes and do things wrong just as much as the people we are observing.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Jesus, interestingly enough, deals with this particular issue, later on in his life, in a story that turns into a parable that I'm mentioning to try and give you an example of what Jesus probably meant when he said, “Do not judge.” If we turn to Luke 18: 9, we have in a parable that is quite well known. It's the parable of 'The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.' Here's how the story goes: two men go up into the Temple one day to pray. (the Temple in Jerusalem, the central place of worship of the Jews) One of them was a Pharisee. We already know - and we'll find out more about this - that the Pharisees were one of the strictest and most religious groups in all of Judaism and they prided themselves on the fact that they obeyed the Law of Moses, they fasted, they gave their money to the poor and they prayed regularly. They fulfilled all their religious duties and they tended to have a rather proud attitude. A Pharisee goes to the Temple in order to pray - and many people did that. There was lots of space in the Temple; you could pray privately and walk around the different courts and choose a quiet corner, or stand and pray aloud. Then he sees near him another man who's come to the Temple who is a tax collector. He knows him to be a tax collector. The tax collectors were considered the most irreligious of the Jewish people. They didn't go to the Temple very often; they didn't go to their synagogue on the Sabbath day very often. They were known to be semi-criminals who were working with the Roman authorities collecting tax but the Romans allowed them to collect extra tax from people, without telling them that it was extra tax, and keep for themselves the extra that they might earn. They became very rich, corrupt, very materialistic and very un-religious.The Pharisee saw this man and immediately thought to himself, and said

11“‘I thank you (God) that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”’

Luke 18:11-12, NIV

His attitude was to judge the man in a final way - to put himself above him, to consider himself to be superior at a very fundamental level. It turns out the tax collector was very convicted of sin, very burdened by the failure of his life and the way he'd turned against God, and

‘“he (wouldn't) even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”’

Luke 18:13, NIV

So the story goes. The interesting thing, from our point of view, is the introduction by Luke, which reads as follows, Luke 18: 9,

‘To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.’

Luke 18:9, NIV

‘Confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else’ - that is what we mean by judgementalism. It turns out, in the story, that Jesus asked a question of the listeners, “Who was justified? Who was forgiven by God? The Pharisee who was praying very proudly, looking down on the tax collector; or the tax collector who just had his head down, was crying out to God from the bottom of his heart, asking for mercy?” He said, “Actually, it's the tax collector who received mercy, not the Pharisee.” The judgemental person turns out to come under the judgement of God himself - and that's the thing that Jesus wants to emphasise here. For disciples, we can't afford to have these hard and fast, fixed attitudes against other people. That's not part of the way that we are to live. If we are judgemental towards other people, we're likely to come under God's judgement himself.

An Example from Romans 14

This point is made clear in Romans chapter 14 because God's judgement, here, probably doesn't mean his eternal and final judgement but his refining judgement. Read this passage from Romans 14: 10 - 13:

10You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister ... why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.’

Romans 14:10-12, NIV

He's basically saying there, “Don't judge your brother or sister. Don't have a harsh attitude, as if you are the judge in a law court.” We're not entitled to do that.

The Speck and the Log

Jesus goes on and gives an extraordinary illustration about two men: one man trying to help another person who's got some little dust in his eye, or a speck of dirt from the road. I'm sure you know what I mean. This happens all the time, just some little irritation in the eye - a little bit of dust, a little bit of the soil, a tiny insect, something from an industrial process, something from the house. Children often have that and they call out to their parents, “Mum, Dad there's something in my eye!” and you have to go and open up the eyelid and very carefully try and get that tiny little irritant out of the eye. It only takes a tiny little irritant to make the eye water and for the person to feel some pain. Jesus tells this story and says, “Look, if you go and try and take some tiny little speck of dust out of someone else's eye, but you've got a whole plank of wood in your eye, how are you going to do it?” This is what we call hyperbole - an exaggerated story to make a point. Everybody knows there isn't such a thing as a plank of wood that can go in your eye - it's far too big! It's obvious it's a hyperbole. It's an exaggerated story but it exaggerates in order to make us think: “What could be that big thing that clouds my vision and makes it difficult for me to help somebody else in need, or sort some problem out in their life?” Jesus has got the answer to that. The big problem for us can be a judgemental attitude. If we have a fixed negative attitude towards someone and then we say to them, “I'd like to help you,” then Jesus said we shouldn't be doing that. We've made ourselves superior to them and we have assumed a right to sort out their lives.

As I say this, you can probably think of people who function like that - they're not difficult to spot in life - and the interesting thing about them is they're always right! Do you know anyone who is always right? Other people are wrong but they are never wrong - such a person is a judgemental person. A person who wants to correct another is often unaware of the wrong judgemental attitude with which they approach the task. When we approach our brothers and sisters in the Church, or other people we're dealing with, concerning things that maybe are wrong, or not working in their life - that they need to deal with - the point Jesus is making is, we approach them with humility, with openness, with flexibility. Maybe suggesting some possible things, rather than being dogmatic and dominant, or even controlling and self-righteous - like the Pharisee in the story that I told of the two men going up to the Temple to pray.

‘“First (of all) take the plank out of your own eye, and then you'll (be able to) see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”’

Matthew 7:5, NIV

Jesus is very aware that the Church as a community is gradually being formed. We're just seeing the early stages of it here: twelve Apostles and a wider discipleship group - they're just beginning to get established. Within three years: Jesus will have died; been raised again from the dead and ascended into heaven; the Holy Spirit will have come; the Church will be launched and these relationships between people will become incredibly important because a whole new family will be born. The Church is a family, a discipleship community, and our attitudes towards one another have to be very carefully watched because judgementalism, and a wholly negative attitude, will lead to divisions and splits and all sorts of problems in the church community - and that doesn't bring glory to God.

Teaching That is Not for Everyone

Then we come to verse 6, this is a very powerful and perplexing verse:

‘“(Don't) give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”’

Matthew 7:6, NIV

‘Dogs’ is a metaphor for outsiders, or Gentiles, people who are not Jews; and ‘pigs’ were unclean animals that were not allowed in Israel. The Jews were not allowed to deal with pigs, to own them or touch them. Jesus is basically saying that the Sermon on the Mount, the teaching he's given, is sacred and it's not to be given in a hurry to people who won't understand what it's all about. Some people are simply not ready to receive the message that the Sermon on the Mount brings. The Gentiles were not yet ready, at this particular time, to receive the sacred message of the Gospel, and so Jesus is saying, if disciples tried to teach the Sermon on the Mount to outsiders - outside the faith - it will be rejected and they also will be rejected. The subject of this statement is, probably, primarily the Sermon on the Mount itself. This is a very interesting point because Christianity is sometimes taught as though it's an ethical code and you communicate to outsiders and say, “These are the principles of Christian life” - about family life and morality, sexuality, honesty, integrity, hard work and loving your neighbour - all those kinds of things. Jesus is warning, here, don't just treat the Sermon on the Mount as something you can give to any person indiscriminately. This is aimed at the discipleship community. People outside the faith, primarily, need to hear the central Gospel truth about Jesus dying for them, about human sinfulness, about the need for change in their lives and, particularly, about the power of God's love and forgiveness through the cross. That's the message that is going to communicate effectively but the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (and other similar teachings of which there are quite a number in Matthew - ethical teachings, discipleship teachings) these cannot just simply be given to non-Christians and say, “This is Christianity, do it.” It doesn't work like that, this message is for those who are in the faith.

Luke's Account

I want to conclude this teaching by comparing Matthew's teaching here with the parallel teaching in Luke 6: 37 to 38, which gives an extended account of the teaching about not judging others where we started at the beginning (and this is where we're going to end). Luke amplifies this a little as Jesus teaches. Luke 6: 37 - 38:

37“Do not judge, and (you'll) not be judged. Do not condemn, and (you'll) not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”’

Luke 6:37-38, NIV

This is interesting because, in Luke's account, Jesus links not having a judgemental attitude with a few other things that are important. Number one: forgiveness. Very interesting. You see, sometimes we're negative and judgemental about people who have hurt us, or damaged our family or our lives and we harden our attitude against them and we become very judgemental towards them. Jesus says, “Don't judge,” but he also says, “Forgive.” He goes on to say, ‘“Give and it will be given to you.”’ There's even a possibility that you might be giving to the people who hurt you, who you forgave, who you're tempted to judge. Such giving will lead to a special blessing from God. Luke 6: 37 to 38, is Luke's parallel account of the Sermon on the Mount and, therefore, it is appropriate to link this teaching together. That's radical and that's revolutionary.


My concluding reflections, as we bring this episode to a conclusion. This teaching is obviously incredibly challenging. It causes us to be very self-reflective and I'd love you to spend a little time thinking about your own life. Have you fallen into judgementalism? Have you hardened yourself against people who hurt you and describe them in very negative and judgemental ways? If so, the Lord's speaking to you through his Word saying, “Don't be that judge. Let God be the judge and forgive that person.” We need self-reflection and we need humility; it's only from a place of humility that you can really help and shape other people when they do things wrong. God wants us to have discernment, awareness and understanding of right and wrong and opinions about that - there's no problem with that - but not judgementalism. Judgementalism fixes those opinions, makes them inflexible and separates yourself from the process of dealing with that particular issue - you become the judge. No, we're not the judge. God is the judge of people who may have caused us pain and sadness and hurt. Let him be the judge. We should be discerning and wise in our opinions, never negative, final and making ultimate judgements against people. Let's be humble; let God be the judge, and then we'll be able to build an effective life of discipleship and we'll have an appropriate humility that will enable us to have a tremendously powerful effect on other people. If you're humble, as you're dealing with them, and dealing perhaps with problems in their lives that need dealing with, then you walk alongside them to help them, rather than pointing the finger at them from a distance. Let God be the judge. Let us not be judgemental, but be humble and walk humbly with our God.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. What is the difference between having an opinion and being judgemental?
    2. Jesus uses hyperbole to make his point stronger. Critical people are often unaware of their own faults. Discuss your experience of this - in a non-judgemental way!
  • Discipleship
    1. Luke’s teaching in 6:37 - 38 links avoiding being judgemental with forgiveness and blessing. How could this work practically?
    2. Pray for each other to be humble in your dealings with people and let God be the judge.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. How do judgement and justice relate to each other?
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