(Please read Matthew 7:1-6; the NIV is referenced here.)
Message: The politically correct view of “tolerance” is contrary to Jesus’ command to show good judgment.
The danger of being judgmental.
Is this passage Jesus’ version of “tolerance?” No, it is a warning against judgmentalism. Jesus’ warning is misused as proof that our culture’s notion of tolerance is biblical.
The politically correct definition is to regard all opinions and religions as being equally correct, with the exception of those that are politically incorrect.
But Jesus is simply warning us: what goes around comes around. A judgmental attitude we have toward others will be used against us. This is a specific example of “what you sow, you shall reap.” (See Galatians 6:7.)
On the one hand, the word for JUDGE here (krinos) means to make pronouncements; to make unjust condemnation of others; to pretend we really know them & have reason to reject them. On the other hand, it can also be understood as investigating or concluding; weighing the evidence in a fair and deliberative fashion to come up with a just conclusion.
The biggest danger is when we put ourselves in the place of God. God is our Judge and He exercises perfect judgment because He knows our hearts. This attribute of God is explained in 1 Samuel 16:7b+c ; “THE LORD DOES NOT LOOK AT THE THINGS MAN LOOKS AT. MAN LOOKS AT THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE, BUT THE LORD LOOKS AT THE HEART.”
John Wesley; “The judging Jesus condemns here is thinking about another person in a way that is contrary to love.” (Quoted in The Story of God Bible Commentary, The Sermon on the Mount volume, by Scot McKnight, Zondervan, 2013, p. 227.)
We must realize that Jesus condemned judgmentalism as a vice: He did not condemn showing good judgment. In verses three to five, we see Jesus’ sense of humor; He used exaggeration to make His point. It’s obviously silly to think about a plank in someone’s eye, even sillier to think of the plank-eyed person condemning the speck-eyed person.
The point is that we should consider it equally ridiculous for any of us, with our own issues, to think that we’re so superior to someone else to fault them for their issues. Though it can be offered as an excuse, Jesus validates the question, “Who am I to judge?” This question is to be the beginning of self-examination, not a flight from personal responsibility.
Judgmentalism comes from an inflated view of self and/or a deflated view of the other person. A dose of the truth is needed. That’s what Jesus meant when He instructed us to remove our own plank first.
Paul echoed this teaching in Romans 2:1; YOU, THEREFORE, HAVE NO EXCUSE, YOU WHO PASS JUDGMENT ON SOMEONE ELSE, FOR AT WHATEVER POIUNT YOU JUDGE THE OTHER, YOU ARE CONDEMNING YOURSELF, BECAUSE YOU WHO PASS JUDGMENT DO THE SAME THINGS. (Romans 2:1-16 is entirely about comparing God’s judgment and ours and is a good explanation of Jesus’ teaching.)
Showing good judgment is a virtue; throughout this chapter Jesus commanded us to exercise discernment. We have to life in the world; we have to make countless decisions daily. Practically speaking, it’s a necessity of life to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, healthy and unhealthy. A person simply cannot live in this world OR be a follower of Jesus with exercising good judgment. We need to avoid two extremes:
- Burying our head in the sand and exercising no judgment. Turning a blind eye to our problems or situations the Lord has brought to our attention is sin.
- Being a busybody and sticking our nose in other people’s business because of a misplaced sense of superiority.
The Bible has a lot to say about wise living and exercising good judgment is included there. Good judgment results in doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.
The corrective virtue is humility. “Humility” is the virtue of having a true self-understanding. It is a relentless honesty before self and God, a realistic lifestyle. Humility keeps us from judging others because we understand that we share their weaknesses as well as their potential for godliness. Humility builds relationships, rather than tearing them down because we know who we are and that is the fixed point that allows us to get to know others. Humility is the virtue of acknowledging our limits and living within them.
The danger of being non-judgmental.
At the other extreme, what we really have in the unwritten rules of political correctness is a cultural excuse for not having to care about the truth or about one another. After setting forth the principle of good judgment in verses one to five, Jesus spends the rest of the chapter developing the principle.
In the enigmatic and odd-sounding teaching of verse six, Jesus warns against violating what God says is sacred. God says He is holy, His word is holy, His people are holy. Things that are holy are set apart to God and are dedicated to fulfilling His purpose. They are important because He said so. These things need to be treated with respect. We need to exercise judgment to know when holy things are being misused.
In verse twelve He warns us that failing to exercise good judgment puts us in danger of violating the secondary foundational principle, known as the ”Golden Rule”. The most basic ethical principle in the world is the sacredness of human life. If we do not agree that human life deserves special respect, then nothing else we agree upon after that matters. The Golden Rule is expressed, in various forms, in all the world’s major religions. Interestingly, only Jesus expresses it in positive language. We need to exercise good judgment to know when we’re not treating others according to the Golden Rule and when we’re not receiving that basic level of respect.
As verses thirteen and fourteen reveal, lacking good judgment puts us in danger of missing the small gate and the narrow road. This is the most significant need for good judgment. A true knowledge of our eternal destination is at stake – more important than life or death! If we’re not on the right way, we need to know so we can make a course correction. If God makes it clear to us that someone else is not headed down the path toward God, we need to help them.
Verses fifteen through twenty detail the need for good judgment to avoid falling prey to false prophets. As much as we try to avoid it, false people enter the church & false teachers mislead the flock. Jesus warned us that not everyone who calls Him Lord is part of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said that by their FRUIT, by the outcome of their actions and attitudes, we can exercise good judgment and know the difference.
And lastly, verses 24-27 warn us that failure to exercise good judgment may result in building our lives on an unsteady foundation. In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, Jesus contrasts an unreliable, worldly, foundation for life and a reliable, godly foundation. We need to exercise good judgment to know the difference before the storms of life reveal it to us. We can learn from the school of hard knocks, but we can also learn beforehand and avoid some of the knocks!
Scot McKnight wrote: “What Jesus does here is complex; he creates self-awareness leading to self-judgment; this leads to humility, which in turn leads to repentance and sanctification; this leads to the kind of humility that treats other sinners with mercy; it creates a kingdom society shaped not by condemnation but humility, love, and forgiveness.” (McKnight, p. 230.)
Biblical judging is very different from the attitude the world condemns. We are to avoid the extreme positions of showing no judgment and being judgmental and instead seek a moderate approach that values discernment that makes it possible for us to navigate through life, staying as close as possible to the course Jesus set for us. Moderation is often the most difficult form of self-control to exercise, but it is absolutely essential in this case.