*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

 Twenty-ThreeSlow to Judge, Quick to Discern

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 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 then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Having already addressed His followers’ character, influence, righteousness, and aspirations, Christ turns His focus to a believer’s interactions and relationships. Jesus knew that a loving community serves a critical role in helping bring the lost home to God. Further, community drives Christ’s kingdom as His people help one another to reach their full potential in the Lord. Maintaining the health of relationships and extending godly love requires that we overcome the tendency to act judgmentally toward others.

One local church was virtually destroyed by judgmentalism. A small faction targeted one of the church’s outreach programs—the bus ministry—and in the process began to attack the pastor behind it. Through the ministry the pastor sought to reach inner city families with young children who had no other encouragement or transportation to attend church. He hoped the program would allow caring followers of Jesus and the teaching of God’s Word to reach those without access to either. The dissenters, however, accused him of “trying to pad the church’s numbers by shuttling in the dirty, unruly, and disadvantaged.” Their complaints caused such a congregational rift that the ministry was eventually shut down, the scorned pastor resigned in embarrassment and frustration, and the fractured church has yet to fully recover from the subsequent fall-out.

Jesus understands the sinfulness of humanity; He knows that followers will not live perfectly. He also recognizes that we often deal with the sin, poor decisions, flaws, and misbehavior of others. This passage does not prohibit the use of discernment, insight, wisdom, or criticism. Parents, for example, must pass certain judgments on misbehavior in order to discipline. But what Christ condemns in the passage is a condescending, harsh, destructive, and censorious attitude that passes judgment against a brother’s faults, rather real or perceived. The Lord speaks strongly against those who take a “holier than thou” approach.

Most often those guilty of condemning others themselves conceal the biggest issues. Often we find it easy to exaggerate another’s faults while minimizing our own. In doing so, we rest in a false sense of self-righteousness that’s better understood as hypocrisy (see Luke 18:9-14). This builds a major stumbling block in our relationship with others and intimacy with our King. Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. What proves tempting to one may not affect another, but each person fights his own spiritual battles. Although our sins may vary in type, they do not vary in degree: all sin offends God. Therefore when we, despite our best efforts, fail in keeping any of God’s commands and then judge others, we essentially condemn ourselves (see Romans 2:1). We need to compare our own lives to the standards of holy God before we begin nitpicking the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Intentionally finding fault, while ignoring our own problems and spiritual issues, is wrong.

We tend to forget that in God we have a higher judge who fairly judges us all. He provides the ultimate measuring stick, the perfect standard. How differently would we treat fellow Christ-followers and humanity in general if we remembered that we will be measured against the same standards to which we hold others? In First Corinthians 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” Those who forego a hypocritical attitude and choose transparency before a holy and omniscient God will avoid His wrath (see Romans 2:3).

At times we must speak the truth with God’s Word as our guide, correcting misbehavior and helping people to strengthen their walk in the Lord. However, this must be done with grace and love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth but to do it with a heartfelt compassion for the audience (Ephesians 4:15). In every case, our attitudes and motives must prove pleasing to God.

Interestingly, Christ concludes His warning against a judgmental attitude with a call to discernment. This serves to remind believers: don’t turn a blind eye to sin; instead, approach all situations with wisdom. Jesus used two dirty animals—the dog and the pig—to portray those who live such filthy lives that sacred things and the notion of eternal life are wasted on them. Sadly, some who hear the precious gospel of the kingdom and enjoy ample opportunity to receive that truth, steadfastly and belligerently refuse God’s free offer of grace. Perhaps they live in a place of such incurable godlessness that God’s spirit no longer pursues them. Christ’s words remind believers that while we should try to reach all with the good news message, we must act prudently in how we spend our time. When people constantly refuse to receive Jesus’ truth, we should direct our efforts elsewhere. I believe Christ provided an example of this in His interaction with the two criminals crucified beside of Him (see Luke 23:32-43). The one who sneered at him with scathing cynicism, Christ ignored: the one who defended Him with a receptive heart, Christ embraced.

God’s Word clearly instructs us to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Matthew 7:6 highlights the approach we should use, suggesting that we need not allow the wicked to trample the truth of Jesus and His grace. Therefore, after doing our best to exalt the King and His kingdom, we should release mean and unresponsive types to the hands of sovereign God. We must keep them in our prayers, but we should not expend all our energies on them.

This concept is reinforced in Jesus’ call for His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus knew that He sent the apostles into a hostile environment that required both discernment and a peaceful, purposeful spirit that sought to point a lost world to His beauty. Since we too are sent as messengers of the kingdom’s good news, we must go with His wisdom, daily discerning without being judgmental.

Apply It.

Paul was keenly cognizant of his own sin (read Romans 7:19-25). Identify the “specks” in your own eye. Ask God to reveal things that need to be surrendered to Him. Then, as Paul did in Romans 7:25, thank the Lord for the forgiveness that comes only through Christ Jesus.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!