I suspect that the most often quoted segment of the great Sermon on the Mount is from chapter 7 and the first few verses. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Why do you suppose these two verses are so often referred to in our own time? It seems that it is reached for under two very different situations. Many times it is referred to in order to tell us we have no right to judge the actions or words of some other person. It is then the message, don’t judge me or you will be judged as a result. The other side of it is that many refer to is as a justification for not making any kind of judgment about anything. A year or so ago I was informed that my name had come up for serving as a juror. On the day I was to be there we were called to hear the trial of a man who was accused of being a drug dealer. What was so interesting to me was that as the judge went around asking people if there was some reason why they couldn’t serve on a jury, several people answered they couldn’t serve because they didn’t believe it was right to judge anyone. Even more intriguing to me was the fact the judge allowed them to escape serving as a result. Both of these uses of the command from Jesus is a poor application and misses the real point of the verses.
This isn’t a restriction on all kinds of judging. Jesus will later command us to judge righteously and James commands us to have judgments that are tendered by mercy. The truth is if we continue to read the immediate verses to follow it becomes obvious that it isn’t a command to never make any kind of judgment in life. In verses 3-8 he said, “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? How 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? You 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. 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.”
First, when it comes to judging, we must start with ourselves. If we are searching for what is wrong in others without doing a close look at ourselves we are setting ourselves us for judgment from God and others. No wonder Paul told the Corinthians to “examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith, for do you not see that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you are reprobates” (2 Corinthians 13:50). Also, in I Corinthians 11 as Paul taught about the taking of the Lord’s Supper he said we are to examine ourselves and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup so that we don’t eat and drink in an unworthy manner. The whole picture of a person with a huge plank in their eye trying to lean over so they can somehow see a small speck of sawdust in another person’s eye is hilarious. My guess is that when Jesus gave this description he was laughing and all the people around him were laughing. Why do we need to judge our own hearts, actions and words? So that we know the truth about ourselves and can correct the problems and mistakes that are there. If we keep skipping through life never looking at our own failures we will never grow, get better or change anything for the better. Repentance always begins with a clear look at ourselves.
Second, after we have removed the plank from our own eyes we are able to look more closely and help the other person remove the speck in their eye. He isn’t saying that if it is just specks of sawdust then just leave it in our eyes, since it is so small. No, if you have gotten a eye lash or speck of any kind in your eye, you want it out as quickly as possible. But you don’t want someone with a log in their eye trying to muddle their way around to get your speck out. So, make judgement of your sins and failures first so you can help another person make the judgments needed in their life so problems can be solved.
Third, recognize that how we go about judging affects both how God and other people make judgments about us and our life or problems. If we judge with grace, kindness and mercy, we tend to have others look at the flaws in our lives through the those same lens to show us mercy, grace and kindness. But if we look at the other person’s flaws with a magnifying glass from a perch sitting high above them, then they tend to search for our flaws with even greater intensity and point them out with fervor. Later Jesus explains to us that if we see someone do something wrong we are to go to them by themselves and talk to them just between us and them so that their lives might be saved. This is a million miles from the notion of seeing something wrong with another person and getting on Facebook or some such site to write about the other person’s flaws. In such times we never produce needed change but anger that leads to attacks on us.
Finally, notice that he completes this topic with a call for making a judgment. Don’t give the sacred to the dogs or cast pearls before pigs. They will not recognize any value in them and simply destroy them. The only way we can avoid such poor use of those things that are valuable in our service to God is if we make some correct judgments in the matter. Remember when Jesus sent the disciples out on the limited commission. He told them to search for a person of peace when they entered a town and stay there to teach them the way of the Lord. But if they entered a house and learned they weren’t people of peace they were to leave them and shake the dust from their feet as a witness against them. In both cases it demands a judgment be made. We need to recognize the honest, peaceful person who will receive the gospel and be changed by it but we also must recognize the ones who are manipulating and abusing the very gospel of Jesus and move on to another person who has the heart to hear, learn and obey it.
Jesus was challenging us not to make a life of being the judge and jury for other people. We must not be fault-finders of everyone who disagrees with us. Instead make a mission of being a good-finder. It will bless you and the other person.