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The Justice of the Kingdom, Part 1: To Judge or not to Judge?

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 31, 1997

Matthew 7:1-5

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Would you please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 7. This week we enter into a new section of the Sermon on the Mount. Having addressed the issues of the Christian's character, and his influence and his righteousness, and his piety, and his right ambition, the Lord Jesus now turns His attention to our heart attitudes in a series of relationships. Our relationships with our brothers, our relationships with those who are obstinately wicked. Our relationship with our heavenly Father. Our relationship with our neighbors in general. Our relationship to fellow disciples and the false prophets, and the Lord Jesus Himself. Even thought the Lord’s words may seem to be almost random, almost hap-hazard as He moves from issue to issue in this chapter, there is a connection as He deals with our heart attitudes. This passage before us today is one of the best known in all of the Gospels. And it is also one of the most well, most misunderstood. If you have ever been telling someone, "You know so and so, their doctrine is unsound," and have been met with the word, "Oh, well, you remember the Bible tells us not to judge." Or have you have said, "Well, you know, well so and so they are doing something that is out of accord with Scripture." "Oh, well the Bible says not for us to judge." Jesus is quoted as authoritative in those circumstances with "That’s what Jesus means by this command." Let’s hear God’s holy Word beginning in Matthew chapter 7, verse 1.

"Do not judge lest you be judged. "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. "And why do you look at 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,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the spec out of your brother’s eye."

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him again in prayer.

Our heavenly Father, we ask that You would enlighten our eyes that we might see the truth and that You would be the Spirit cause that truth to penetrate our hearts. That we would see ourselves as we are. That we would not fool ourselves into thinking that we are more righteous than we are and that we might see those areas where our lives displease You. Encourage us by Your word to be resolved, to be conformed into the image of Christ in attitude and thought and speech and teach us by Your word this day, we pray, all for Christ’s glory and Your peoples’ good. In Jesus’ name, we ask it. Amen.

This passage is a passage about our evaluation of other people. Especially with regard to their faults. How do we relate to people who are at fault? How do we relate to people who are at fault in their treatment of us? The Lord Jesus is speaking of that issue in this passage. But one thing that we learn here is the way that we think and speak about our neighbor reveals much about our own experience of God’s grace. If we are quick to condemn, then perhaps we have not been refreshed ourselves by the freedom of God’s mercy to us. If we are not ready to be merciful, then perhaps, we ourselves have not known, the mercy and love of God shed abroad in our own heart. So even as we learn here, Christ’s directives about how we ought to speak and correct those who are at fault, we have an opportunity, even in studying that issue to learn a little about our heart and to learn if we have grasped God’s grace in the way we ought to grasp it. Our Lord Jesus gives us here, in this passage three directions about how we are to conduct ourselves in regard to the faults of others.

I. Christians are not indulge in a critical spirit towards others.
   
The first one we find in verses 1 and 2. We learn there that Christians are not to indulge in a critical spirit towards others. Christians are not to indulge in a critical spirit towards others. Jesus says, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged, for in the way you judge, you will be judged. And by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." Now Jesus' words have been so variously interpreted and misunderstood in the past.

Let me first say what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not prohibiting judges to practice their trade in the courts of law. The Lord Jesus is not condemning law courts. Now Leo Tolstoy, the great novelist thought He was. He said, "Undoubtedly, Jesus here condemns all human invention of courts of justice." Well, that is not what the Lord Jesus is doing at all. He is not speaking to judges. He is speaking to His disciples. He is not complaining about what is going on in the judicial system in Israel. He is concerned about how professing brothers relate to one another in their speech and in their attitude. So He is not condemning courts of human law.

Secondly, He is not saying that we may never form an opinion about someone or some thing else. The Lord Jesus is not saying, I want all my disciples to forever suspend your critical faculties. I don’t want you to ever assess anyone or anything. And I don’t want you to care about what other people do wrong. He is not saying, turn a blind eye to every fault and every error that you see. This is very clear from the very passage. In verse 6 of this passage, He makes it clear that believers must make a distinction between people who are open to hearing the Gospel, and between those who are obstinately opposed to hearing the Gospel. And He says, we are not to give what is holy to dogs or to swine.

Now the Lord Jesus assumes there that we are going to make a judgment. A judgment between some people who are obstinately opposed to the Gospel, and others who are genuinely by the work of the Holy Spirit open to the hearing of the Word, and perhaps to the saving responding to it. And so the Lord Jesus is not saying, that we are not to have opinions. That we are not to make assessments. That we are not to ever think that someone else is in error, or has a fault.

But the Lord Jesus is also not saying that we may not form an estimation of a person’s spiritual condition. Why? Once again in this very passage, the Lord Jesus expects His disciples to do at least a little bit of basic assessment of where people are spiritually. The Lord Jesus is not making a blanket condemnation of any of these things.

Well, what is He saying, if He is not prohibiting those things, what is He prohibiting? Well, in a word, the Lord Jesus is prohibiting censoriousness. Now that is a wonderful fifty-cent word. And for all the children here who don’t own a twenty-volume set of the Oxford English dictionary, that word censoriousness simply refers to a person who is hypercritical. A person who judges others harshly or quickly, or unfairly, or destructively. A person who is quick to censure. A person who is quick to criticize and a person whose criticism is not designed to up build but is actually designed to destroy to tear down, and is harsh and is unfair. He is condemning censoriousness.

Now, censoriousness can happen in various ways. We can be censorious by judging too harshly or to severely. The Lord Jesus is reminding us here that we need to be careful about being too harsh and too severe in our own judgments. We must make allowance for circumstances. The Lord Jesus is going to tell a parable one day. And that parable is about a man who owed a king a great deal of money. And that king forgave him that great deal of money. And then, that man went back home, and there were a few people who owed him a tiny bit of money and he was harsh in the way in which he dealt with them. And when the king found out about it, he threw the man in prison because of his harshness.

The Lord Jesus reminds us in our evaluation of others, in our assessment of others, we must always be on guard against evaluating too harshly or too severely. We also must be careful about judging or evaluating rashly. And we can be rash in making an assessment of a person, either by making an assessment of them that is not based on reality. It has no grounds. As when we make a judgment of a person that we don’t know. We might judge a person on the basis of second or third or fourth hand information and that is a rash judgment because we don’t know that person or the circumstances of that person. A rash judgment also might mean a judgment that was born out of a grudge or out of a disagreement.

One of the saddest things that I had to endure in my young ministry was seeing two fine ministers of the gospel get cross-wise. They had a fundamental difference about a matter and they really did have a disagreement. It wasn’t just a misunderstanding. It was a disagreement. They had a philosophical difference. But because of that philosophical difference and because of the fact that they had to work together, they were suspicious of one another. And on two or three occasions things accidentally happened which exaggerated the difference between them and both of them, to whom I was a friend, would come to me complaining of the wicked strategies and intentions of the other towards them when I knew it was not the case. I knew that they had no evil designs towards one another. But they wouldn’t believer it of one another. I could sit back and see that they did not have evil intentions in their hearts for one another. But because of their disagreement, they suspected one another. They were harsh in their judgment of one another. And unfortunately, they were never, ever, reconciled in that particular matter. A critical spirit can be born out of a rash judgment based on a disagreement.

We must also be careful not to evaluate uncharitably, unlovingly, unmercifully, or with a desire to hurt our brother. We are always to have a loving attitude, even towards those who have faults, even towards those who have faults that have been committed against us, perhaps we such say especially towards those who have faults committed against us and we must correct with a desire to see them built up. But violation of any of those things is an indication of censoriousness. And censoriousness is an evidence of a lack of grace. When we are quick to criticize and to tear down, it is a sign that we ourselves have not adequately appreciated how the Lord has spared us from the judgment which we deserve. Now the Lord Jesus is not only prohibiting that we be censorious, He is also prohibiting that we may be autonomous in our estimations. We may not set up our own law. We may not set up by our own will, our own standards, for judgment.

Look at His words at the end of verse 2. By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. The Lord Jesus wants to make it clear that we may not set ourselves up as Lord and judge over any of His people. We are simply brothers and sisters in Christ. And therefore, we don’t make the rules. We may have opinions, which are our opinions, but we may not impose them as law on the rest of the Lord’s people. In our evaluation, we must always evaluate in light of His authority, the authority of the Scripture in this case, and not on the basis of our opinions.

There is a difference between scriptural principles and our personal preferences. And we may not judge one another on the basis of our own individually erected standards. We must not make our personal word law for everyone. When we do, we are judging one another in precisely the way that the Lord says for us not to do here. We must avoid saying what is untrue, what is unloving, what is unnecessary, what is unkind, and we must avoid setting ourselves up as judge in the sense of setting the standards for how others may behave as opposed as to looking at the standards of the word. If we break either of those patterns, we ourselves are engaging in what Jesus calls judging here. Instead, the Lord Jesus wants us to be humble in our self evaluation. He wants us to generous in our estimation of others, and He wants us to be gentle and loving when we are called to rebuke one another.

John Stott once said, "Jesus does not tell us here, to cease to be men by suspending our critical powers, which help distinguish us from the animals. But He tells us here to renounce our presumptuous ambition to be God, by setting ourselves up as judge and lawmaker." This is what Jesus is telling us in this passage. Not that we may not think critically, not that we may not assess or evaluate, but when we do so, we must generous, we must examine ourselves and we must be loving in our motivations, and in our intentions.

Jesus gives a warning in verse 2 as to why we ought not to indulge in a critical spirit. He says, for all of those of you who love to be critical, remember there will be a day when God Himself will be critical of the world. There will be a judgment day. We are going to be talking that day tonight in the evening worship services we look at Nahum chapter 2. He is reminding us that in our evaluation of others, we must remember that there is a coming day of judgment in which God will evaluate us and our charity in judging others will reflect whether we have experienced the charity of God towards us in judgment. If God has forgiven us much, we will be slow to rebuke and patient when wrong. But if we ourselves have not experienced the mercy of God, we may find ourselves trying to justify ourselves by being critical of others. And the Lord Jesus is warning against that.

Charles Hodge once said, "No man can be severe in his judgment who feels that the mild eyes of Christ are fixed upon him." Think of Peter in that courtyard. Could Peter have issued a harsh rebuke to the disciples who also fled the Lord Jesus in His hour of need? He himself had known the eyes of Christ on Him in the middle of his defection. Peter knew his heart and the Lord gently restored him. The Lord also changed Peter’s heart and made him patient with those who had faults themselves. No man can be severe in his judgment of others who feels that mild eyes of Christ or fixed upon him. The gospel of grace changes our hearts and enables us to bear with the faults of others. Not to be complacent about them. Not to ignore them. Not to be cowardly and refuse to rebuke those things as good brothers and sisters, but certainly to be patient with them and not to deal with them more harshly than we would with our own selves.

II. Christians are not be hypocritical in their views of others.
   
Now the Lord Jesus also teaches us a second thing in this passage, and we find it in verses 3 and 4. He teaches us here that Christians are not to be hypocritical in their views of others. Christians are not to be hypocritical in their views of others. We read in verse 3 and 4. Why do you look at 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, and behold the log is in your own eye?

The Lord Jesus gives us a very ludicrous picture here. The picture is of a man walking around with a beam sticking out of his eye, who considers himself such a morale expert that he can see specks in your eye at ten paces. And he is coming not at your invitation, but at his own invitation to help you get that speck out of your eye. Now if you have ever had a speck in your eye, you know that when you ask someone to help you get that speck out of your eye, that often times they have to draw very close and search for a while before than can even find what it is in you that you are trying to get out of there. And now, he has this expert with a log in his eye going around finding people who have specks in theirs. It is a picture that is supposed to be hilarious. It is supposed to be ridiculous and funny because it is. But morally it is not funny at all. Because the Lord Jesus is condemning here the pharisaical practice of harshly condemning others while refusing to examine our own lives for sin.

Again, Jesus is not saying, that we should never ever evaluate or correct one another. He makes it clear that He expects that to happen in verses 5 and 6. But He is saying that we must be careful of a fault finding spirit. If we have a tendency to be critical, the Lord Jesus is asking us to think about that tendency to be critical and ask ourselves the question, is this a sign that I have not fought myself the forgiveness of the Heavenly Father. For if we have been forgiven our great sins, should we not be able to forgive the sins of others.

Isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus speaks of the faults of others in terms of specks, but our faults in terms of logs or beams. The Lord Jesus knows that our tendency is to think other peoples’ faults are big. And ours are just little mistakes. Other peoples’ faults, especially when they have been directed at us, are horrible. But our faults, oh, they are just little moral glitches once in a while. It should be very easily smoothed over. And He reverses the picture, and He says, be careful about that faultfinding spirit. And He reminds us again to careful to examine ourselves before we presume to examine others. In verse 5, He says first take the log out of your own eye. First deal with your own faults before you go about the practice of correcting others. He reminds us to keep a sense of proportion about the sins of others. Again that picture of a small speck in others and a big log for ourselves. Our tendency is to be harsh with those who have harmed us or done us wrong. But the Lord Jesus says, I want you to be harsh with your own sin and I want you to be patient with the faults of others.

And then, going along with this, He calls us to judge ourselves more strictly than we judge others. Thomas Adams once said, "Men are like barbers. They trim all men but themselves." We do that in criticism don’t we? We are quick to criticize others, but slow to criticize ourselves. Matthew Henry once said, "Pass no sentence which you cannot in faith, ask God to confirm." That is a good pattern for dealing when the time comes to rebuke or correct. Pass no sentence, make no evaluation that you wouldn’t fell comfortable asking your heavenly Father to confirm. It will make us slow to pass sentence and careful when we do so.

III. Christians are to evaluate and correct one another in a spirit of charity.
   
This leads to a third thing that the Lord Jesus teaches in this passage. He teaches that Christians are to evaluate and correct one another in a spirit of charity. Even as censoriousness shows a lack of grace, and even as self examination ought to proceed our correction, the Lord Jesus teaches here in verse 5 that we ought to practice loving mutual discipline. He says, "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." Jesus says that the would-be eye doctor with the log in his eye, needs to be very careful before he goes about extracting that mote with that log still lodged in his own eye. Censoriousness, the Lord Jesus makes it clear here, is a sign of hypocrisy. It is an evidence that we have really not experienced the grace, the saving grace of the Father. Though it is our Christian duty to be concerned about one another, and to be very concerned when we are stumbling and to reach out and to help and to sometimes even rebuke and to reprove one another, in mutual love, yet we are never to be censorious. We are never to be harsh. We are never to be designedly destructive. We are to be concerned to up build our brothers in their walk.

What do we say then, by way of application from these truths? Well, first of all, let me put before you some heart considerations. As we assess our assessment of others, and our speech towards others who have faults, consider the following things. Do you judge others for small faults and allow great one in yourself? If you do, that is an area to work on. Do you judge others for small faults and allow yourself room for great sins? Don’t do that. Pray that the Lord will give you the grace not to have that sort of a balance in your mind. Do you remember that there are degrees of sins? That there are specks, and that there are logs. It is not that any sin is insignificant. There is no small sin, because there is no small God. But there are specks, and there are beams. And we ought to be quicker to find the beams in our own life, than we are to find the specks in the lives of others.

Are you more exercised about your own sins than you are about the sins of others? Or do you find yourself being indignant about what other people do wrong, and yet you never stop to repent for your sin? Do you have a tendency to justify yourself, or do you have a lack of sense of personal need for repentance and reformation? A.B. Bruce once said that "Censoriousness is a cheap way of feeling morally superior." It is true my friends. Do you have a tendency to justify yourself by condemning others, or do you lack a sense of need for repentance and reformation in your own life? Do you remember your own sins and then reprove and rebuke and correct in light of the way that you would want to be reproved and rebuked and corrected if someone were dealing with you for your sins and faults. Those are all heart considerations that we ought to think of before we go about the loving task of mutually disciplining one another in the Lord.

Jesus gives us here a three-fold pattern for how we can do that and I would like to share that with you. The Lord Jesus says, before we correct, and before we finish our assessment, we must first examine ourselves. We must look at our motives. Why am I exercised about this? Why do I want to assess and evaluate and rebuke this brother for this? What are my methods going to be? How am I going to do this in the most encouraging way, in the most profitable way? What are my intentions? Do I want to feel better about myself, or do I really want to see the church built up and this brother and sister built up? What about my personal sin? Am I guilty of the thing that I am about to refuse this brother or sister of being guilty of?

First, Jesus says, examine ourselves. First take the log out of our own eyes, then repent. It is implicit in the word that the Lord says. Take the log out of your own eye. How do you do that? Full repentance. You repent. You repent of your own sins. Then you seek to have a broken heart for the sin of others. There was a young minister and the first thing he wanted to do was to begin establishing public rebukes for the various sins of the members of the congregation. And as you might imagine, the congregation blew apart. An older, wiser Presbyterian minister pulled him aside and he said, "Young man, in the old Southern Presbyterian Church, we felt that it was our privilege to first weep with a man before we disciplined him." That was good advice. First, we must come to weep for the sins of others. Then, we must seek to correct them.

And finally, the Lord Jesus teaches us then to correct or reprove the brethren with a view to building them up, not to tearing them down. With a view to making them stronger not to making yourself seem more holy or wiser, or in the position of authority, or moral superiority. The Lord Jesus gives these instructions as the way we are to go about assessing one another and reproving one another.

John Chrysostom, the great saint of the early church once said, "Correct your brother, not as a foe, nor as a an adversary, exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines. Yes, and even more, as a loving brother anxious to restore and rescue." May the Lord give us that spirit of heart as we engage in what he calls us to as brothers and sisters, mutually encouraging one another in the faith. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Father, we thank You for Your word, and we ask that you would enable us to hear this word and to become doers of it. Do not allow us, O Lord, to slip its application, but help us O Lord, to sit under its judgment, and to see the mercy of God flow in our own lives in the way we treat others. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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