“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.
(Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)
Today we come to another one of those passages that are taken out of context and are therefore misunderstood by many people. As we learned back in our study of Ephesians, we mislead ourselves and others when we take verses out of context.
Today’s verses are part of Jesus’ larger teaching regarding the proper way to live. Previously He addressed giving, praying, fasting, and worrying. These are all internal issues.
In today’s passage Jesus brings up a final example – one that deals with an external issue: how we think of and treat others. This topic is a favorite of atheists and other critics of the Bible. Pretty much everyone knows that the Bible contains the words “Judge not“. But very few understand the context of those words.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus, through the use of examples, teaches us that the attitude and motive behind our behavior is just as important, or even more important, than the behavior itself. Here Jesus will not tell us not to judge. He will tell us how to judge properly.
Jesus is not teaching us to be accepting of any and all behavior, as Bible critics wishfully claim. Jesus makes it clear that there is sin in the world and it needs to be dealt with. But we must have the proper attitude in order to deal with it effectively.
When we notice sin in another person’s life (the speck that is in your brother’s eye) we must first be aware of the sin in our own life (the log that is in your own eye). All of us are sinners. All of us fall short of God’s standard. Notice Jesus does not condemn noticing sin in another person’s life or even telling another person about it. But we must do it with the realization that we are no better than they are. We can judge. But we must not be judgmental.
Human beings tend to make excuses for ourselves but we hold others to a higher standard. This is what Jesus is condemning. God is the final authority of all men. And while we can – and should – be a mirror to others, exposing sin they may not be aware of, we are to do it in a way that is helpful, not haughty. We are not to play God. But we are not to ignore sin. Doing so would not be helpful to the other person nor would it be helpful to society at large.
Later in this chapter of Matthew Jesus will sum up the proper way to live life: treat others the way we want to be treated [Matthew 7:12]. This is known as the golden rule. I think all of us would want someone to tell us when we’re doing something in our life that is harmful or incorrect. But we’d also want them to tell us so in a way that is compassionate and constructive. We need to display those very characteristics when we provide similar feedback to anyone else.
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