In Christian circles, we sometimes talk of the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ because it is important. There is no greater thing than placing one’s trust in Christ and following Him. It means life eternal. However, being a follower of Jesus Christ is not just an individualistic, but also a community affair. We are called into a Christian community, such as a church interrelationship, with new brothers and sisters in Christ. But we are also called to relate to the society around us as well. The follower of Jesus Christ is meant to live in a network of relationships. We are not to be isolationists.
How, then do we best conduct ourselves in this network of relationships as citizens of God’s kingdom? That is the question being answered today as we continue our study of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
So far in this message, Jesus has been describing life in the kingdom of God. He describes Christian character, Christian influence, Christian righteousness, piety, and priorities. In today’s reading, He talks of the Christian’s relationships. Though these little paragraphs at the beginning of Matthew 7 appear to be unrelated to each another, there actually is a common thread running throughout this section – relationships. Jesus here instructs His disciples, His followers, on how to relate to people in our various networks.
First, listen to what He says about relating to people in the church – your sisters and brothers in Christ. “Do not judge so that you may not be judged.” Jesus knows the Christian community will never be perfect. We are both saints and sinners as we follow Jesus. We have a tendency to step on one another’s toes and sometimes misbehave. Ego, pride, and selfishness still rear their ugly heads in us, cause pain to others, and create tensions in our relationships in the church. So how do we behave in response to a fellow member who has misbehaved or who has sinned against us?
Jesus knows how easy it is for us to judge and criticize. It makes us feel like big shots, just a little more spiritually together than others. But He says in response, “Don’t judge, for by the judgment you make so will you be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you receive.”
What does He mean by that? Modern-day people today love to say, “Don’t judge me,” especially when they’re doing something they know is probably wrong. But I wonder, is this really what Jesus meant when He said that? Was it meant to be used this way? Was He saying that we ought not to exercise our mental critical faculties to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral. Did He intend for us to do away with the law courts in our society? Was He recommending turning a blind eye, ignoring the immoral or hurtful behavior?
No. He’s not saying that at all. In fact, we were created in God’s image with the ability to make value judgments. To suspend our critical faculties would be an absolute contradiction of how God made us and why he made us. We know from other places in Scripture that Jesus urges us to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, and to act accordingly. He tells us when someone sins against us, we should go to them and try to fix things, make them right. So what does Jesus mean when He says judge not?
As we examine this text a little closer, we find He is actually talking against the spirit of harsh condemnation and criticism, being a fault finder who is negative and destructive toward other people and prone to write people off. He basically points out in this passage that this kind of behavior is sinful, because you are taking the place of God as judge. That is God’s job. Only God knows the whole story on a person – their heart, their motives. Scripture says man looks at the activity; God looks at the heart. Only He has the authority to condemn and judge. Jesus points out that if we insist on playing a harsh, condemning judge, God will use the same measures on us instead of showing us mercy.
By the way, some biblical commentators have pointed out that these words of Jesus could actually be considered a bit of a commentary on a petition from the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus’ followers are to be people who exercise mercy and forgiveness instead of judgment toward brothers and sisters in our Christian community. So “judge not” is not a command to be blind to wrongdoings. Rather, it is a plea to be generous with mercy. In fact, later on Jesus tells a parable about a guy who is in debt to a king for more than $1 million. When he pleaded for mercy and a little more time to pay him back, the king showed mercy and took the debt completely away. He let the man go free.
When this servant came away from the king and ran into a fellow servant who owed him a mere $20.00, he has him judged and thrown into jail. When the king hears of it, he hauls the man back into court and judges him as wicked for not showing mercy to his fellow servant. Then the king throws him in prison until his debt is paid. That’s what Jesus is talking about here. Don’t judge so that you will not be judged by God. God has shown you generous mercy; now be merciful toward one another in the Christian community.
Why? Because if that doesn’t happen, the Church and the cause of Jesus Christ will suffer in this world. Nothing can tear up a fellowship quicker than a spreading spirit of judgmentalism and criticism. The reputation of the Christian church suffers, which means the gospel message suffers. People on the outside looking in on us, when asked about their view of Christians, say Christians are judgmental hypocrites. Why would I ever want to be involved with a movement like that?
Jesus then goes on to illustrate what he’s talking about using rather strange and comical images as a rationale for this statement about not judging. He says it is being hypocritical, because not only are you fallible yourself, but you are also fallen, a sinner. Listen to His words: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own? How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take that speck out of your eye while a log is in your own eye? You hypocrite!”
Before you try to fix someone else, take a good, long look at yourself. Look in the mirror, because it’s a lot easier to see the faults of others than your own, to have a rosy view of yourself and a jaundiced view of others, to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize your own. That’s why Jesus was constantly going after the Pharisees. Those super religious people of His day. He called them hypocrites and described one of them in a parable standing in the temple exalting himself for his goodness and disparaging someone else for their badness. Jesus castigates that Pharisee for that. He was playing the role of a moral superior with no sins and no love for others. Jesus points out that when we place ourselves in that role, it’s nothing more than hypocrisy.
“Recognize the log in your own eye before you pick at someone else’s speck.” You have to be very gentle when you’re trying to help someone get a physical piece of dust out of their eye. Can you imagine trying to do surgery on someone with a log in your eye? You’re too blind to help!
So we need to ask ourselves if we have a plank in our own eye – some sinful habits that need to be confessed and removed by God’s grace and mercy. First things first, Jesus says. Instead of condemning and hypocrisy, take the log out of your own eye. Take an honest look at yourself and ask for God’s mercy in your life. Then you can help your brother take the speck out of his eye – not with a sense of superiority, but with humility and love, not with the eyes of a judge but with the eyes with a doctor.
Oswald Sanders captures what Jesus meant, “What God has done for me, He can easily do for you. You only have some sawdust in your eye, but I had a huge log in mine.”
I am reminded of Paul communicating the same teaching of Jesus, “Brothers, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the spirit, should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
Then Jesus widens our circle of relationships to those who stand outside of a relationship with Jesus. They maybe don’t understand or are not interested in God matters. They might not even want to understand this “religious thing” that you’re into. When they hear the gospel, feel it being pushed on them, or hear talk about God, they act negatively toward you, irritated, sometimes even hostile. Jesus says this proverb about these relationships: “Don’t give what is holy to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls before swine or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”
What an odd little statement! It is a proverb. Biblical scholars have been puzzling and arguing though the years about what it means. What are we to make of this? Well, let me take a shot at it.
Dogs and pigs back in those days were looked upon with a negative attitude. They were wild, unclean scavengers in the streets known to attack people. They could never appreciate something holy like a Bible or valuable like pearls. It would be insane to even attempt to throw something like that in their direction. They are only interested in what they can eat. Try dumping a load of inedibles upon them. It means nothing to them; they’ll just trample them into the ground. They might wind up even attacking you because at least you’re edible. Jesus says that anyone with sense would never think of doing that.
When Jesus describes the pearl or the holy, he’s describing the value of being a part of the kingdom of God, the gospel message of having God rule over your life as you trust in Christ. The holy could be the Word of God itself.
Well, just like wild dogs and pigs, Jesus says there are people who won’t and perhaps can’t understand and so they reject it. They even get hostile if you continue to push them hard enough with your little pearls. They just might get irritated enough to rip you to shreds physically or more likely verbally.
Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t bother with unbelievers. Don’t buy that. It goes against the Great Commission to go make disciples of all nations. Instead, He is telling us to show some discernment and sensitivity. Don’t force things down someone’s throat. It can only lead to a destructive response. Disciples of Jesus are not called to be storm troopers of the kingdom! We are to be equipped with sensitive radar systems. If you’ve shared the good news of Christ with a friend who rejects it, sometimes you need to just quietly move on.
Later, in Matthew 10, as Jesus sent the disciples out to be witnesses for the kingdom, He told them, “If they don’t receive you, shake the dust from your feet and move on.” The Apostle Paul exercised this advice in Acts 13 when the Jews rejected the gospel. So Paul and Barnabas left and went to the Gentiles.
One last word on this. To give people up is a very serious step to take. I can’t encourage you enough to turn to God in prayer and the Christian community’s counsel before you take a drastic step like this, because we know every soul matters to God.
It is no wonder Jesus then follows this up with the most important relationship of all in this talk: Your relationship with God. He says, In all of this, always turn dependently and confidently to your Father in prayer asking for His wisdom and help. Your Father wants to hear from you. He loves you more than any earthly father could. He is the giver of good things. As you go through life and your relationships, keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking with the expectancy of a son or daughter who knows their Father loves them, who is sure that God answers – sometimes in ways we might not expect – but according to His will. He always answers.
Finally, Jesus talks about a relationship for everybody in general. He says, “So in everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets.” Some people call this the Golden Rule. It is one of the most misunderstood statements in the Bible. First of all, it is not the sum total of the Christian truth, nor is it God’s plan of salvation, as some will unknowingly claim. But it sure does sum up Jesus’ teaching about loving your neighbor as yourself, doesn’t it.
As you examine this positive imperative from Jesus, you find a lofty standard being expressed here – to do what we would want someone to do for us. That’s how you treat people. It takes sacrificial love. It requires putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and asking, How would I want to be treated in this instance? It involves taking on a very generous attitude, going out of your way to encourage those who are depressed, forgiving those who have wronged you, helping disadvantaged people, and treating others as you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
There you have it! Jesus has given us a big boatload of instruction about living out our faith in the various relationships we have with people. You might ask, Why does He spend so much time on this subject? Why does God care about how we relate to everyone around us?! It is really quite simple.
Because how we Christians treat other people reflects on Him and His kingdom. Our love for Him, our love for one another in the fellowship of the Church, and our love for our neighbors out in the world bring Him glory and honor among others. That, my dear friends, is the ultimate purpose of the Christian’s life – to bring God glory.
What Jesus says about relationships begs the question, Can I really do this? It sounds impossible; I know myself too well. And the answer is, Yes, you can. Not perfectly, mind you, but you can. Remember the audience Jesus is talking to. These words are for people who have tasted God’s grace through Jesus Christ. They know they deserve judgment, but they have mercy through the cross. They no longer have to operate on their own because they have a heavenly Father who is approachable and available in prayer. They have been blessed by God’s grace and empowered by His Holy Spirit to walk in the ways Jesus describes.
So, yes. You can bring glory to God in your relationships when you belong to Christ.
This takes us back to the beginning of this message. It all starts with a personal relationship with Jesus who gave His life at the cross so you can enjoy a life-giving relationship with your heavenly Father as a member of His kingdom and glorify Him in everything you do, including your relationships to people. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer