By Les Henson.
Matthew 7:1-5 NRSV
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”
“Why are Christians so beep, beep, beep, judgmental?” I have heard that said, or something like it, on numerous occasions, mainly when I worked in the coalmines in the north-east of England and Scotland in the late 60s and early 70s. And I have heard it said many more times since when talking with non-Christian friends, neighbours and people with whom I have entered into discussion on issues of faith. Now I know it’s the proverbial red herring, but I am also aware that I have met my share of Christian people for whom it is true, and there have been times in my life when it could have been said about me, particularly as a young Christian, but not exclusively so.
Now Jesus pronounces a very stern warning when he says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (v 1), and he does so partly because it is so easy to move from a spirit of grace to one of judgement. It was undoubtedly true of some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and it can, at times, be true of us who identify ourselves as evangelicals. We believe in ‘grace’, and yet it so easily slips into ‘judgmentalism’. R. Kent Hughes writes, “A taste of righteousness can be easily perverted into an overwhelming sense of self-righteousness and judgmentalism.” Consequently, we criticise other Christians because they don’t understand the Christian faith the way we do or obey specific rules to which we adhere! We get upset because the new Christians that have come into our church are taking so long to clean their lives up. What we forget is that even after 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years of being a Christian, there are still areas in our lives that need working on! Now Jesus is not suggesting that we lower our standards of behaviour. Still, he does recognise the temptation to look down on and judge others, because of their moral failures is in itself a temptation to do what only God has a right to do.
Jesus says, “For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (v 2). What he is saying is that your judgment of others is like a boomerang it will come back to you, and what you gave out you will get back, which is a frightening thought. So, it is much better if we leave the judging to God for he and he alone judges impartially without bias.
Then Jesus has some fun in verses 3-4, with his exaggerated illustration of the log in your own eye and the speck in your neighbour’s eye. He is suggesting that it is advisable to remove the log from your own eye before going on about the speck of dust in our neighbour’s eye. It is so easy to find fault with others while being oblivious to our own failings. In other words, deal with your own faults, problems and sin before you go prattling on about someone else’s. Besides this, we are never really able to understand all the facts, and we are prone to bias and prejudice. As C. S. Lewis wisely says, “Don’t judge a [person] by where he [or she] is, because you don’t know how far he [or she] has come.” Only a Holy God can judge. If we take this prerogative upon ourselves, then we will be judged by him. Instead, if we deal with our own faults, problems, and sin, then we will be free to help our neighbour with his or her issues. Otherwise, we are simply hypocrites (v 5) with a log sticking out of our eye, and none of us wants to be one of those, do we!