Sermon on the Mount: Judging
Did Jesus forbid us from judging others?
As we continue with the sermon on the hill, we come to a passage that might seem a bit more familiar. I’ll skip the recap since you can follow along with the videos online, and let’s read our passage together:
Matthew 7:1–6 (CSB)
1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. 3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. 6 Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.
ask :How many of you have ready or heard at least some of these verses before?
There are at least 2 different ways this group of verses can be translated. One is a message to the “hypocrites” which we know Jesus has tagged the religious leaders as. In this is a stern warning and rebuke for them. But that is not where i Want to focus our attention this morning. The second way to interpret these verses is on principles of judgement. While I think both are valid, it is the second that I want to focus on together.
We are going to take this group of verses in three chunks - and not just because we are baptist ;) Each group of verses presents a different aspect of judging and does so using different language tools: ⚡
Verses 1-2 | Repetition, parallelism and chiasm
Verses 3-5 | Hyperbole
Verse 6 | Parable
Verses 1&2 - The Standard of Judging ⚡
I want to pause and admire the beauty of these verses for a moment.
There is a beautiful rhythm to verses 1&2 that is meant to help make it stick in our brains. Some of this gets lost in our modern translations, but there is an intentionality to the way it is written.
I think the Lexham English Bible probably helps capture the original rhythm better than most: ⚡
Matthew 7:1–2 (LEB)
1 “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. 2 For by what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and by what measure you measure out, it will be measured out to you.
First, lets notice the repetition of words:
judge - 5 times
measure - 3 times
you - “appears” to be in this passage 5 times, but 4 of them are added in English. The word for “you” only shows up one time.
The rhythm of the words and the repetition of the words help us to remember the words and even help us see the real teaching of the passage by focusing on the words that surround those words.
When an author repeats a word five times, there is probably something they want to get across or want you to remember.
Next we have a typical Jewish use of parallel teaching. The first half talking about standards parallels the second half talking about measure.
The standard you judge others with will be used on you, and you will be measured by the measure you use on others.
Your translation might use the word “standard”. It is a good interpretation. Judges and measurements require standards. When you judge you are holding someone accountable to a standard. When you measure something, there is a standard you use (like with baking).
By presenting this teaching with two parallel thoughts, Jesus is making one statement but giving us a deeper insight into what he means. Not two unique thoughts, one thought with 2 lenses.
On top of the rhythm and the parallelism, this passage is presented in a chiasm: ⚡ [A-B-B-A]
[A] Standard you use to judge
[B] will be used by others to judge you
[B] others will measure you
[A] by the same way you measured them
Why does any of this grammar stuff even matter? First, it can help us understand the passage better by finding key words that we should be taking note of, by making sure we are not trying to make too much out of a parallel thought, and even by using its rhythm to help us memorize it.
It is also a great reminder that these people who were sitting on the hill did not have a smart phone to record what was being said. They did not even have a copy of the law and prophets in their home and most of them would not have access to paper and ink. So much of the scripture was presented using these methods to help people remember as it was passed on orally. I think it has worked in English as I know a lot of people who can quote Matthew 7:1, especially in the KJV or ESV:
Matthew 7:1 ESV
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
But aside from the awesome structure of these verses, what do they actually mean? ⚡
ask: Is this a prohibition of judgement? NO
“don’t judge me” - a pretty familiar phrase, right? It should be! It was a TV series in 2016, it is a book you can get through Scholastic, it is a top performing music hit, it is a tanning lotion, a t-shirt and the subject of endless internet rants.
Did you know it is impossible to NOT judge, and lack of judgement is worse than judging!
Jesus is making a point about judgement, but it is NOT that we should NOT judge. [yes, I double negatived there]
To say that we should not judge others at all would conflict with the law and prophets.
Deuteronomy 16:18 CSB
18 “Appoint judges and officials for your tribes in all your towns the Lord your God is giving you. They are to judge the people with righteous judgment.
This is a direct command to appoint people to judge people. Jesus seemed to quote this passage from the Torah when he confronted the Jews who accused him of breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath:
John 7:24 CSB
24 Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.”
That is the command in the law. It appears that God commands us to judge others. To hold them to a standard, a “right” standard. To measure them against that standard.
In the prophets we read the prayer of Solomon that pleased God:
1 Kings 3:9–10 CSB
9 So give your servant a receptive heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of yours?” 10 Now it pleased the Lord that Solomon had requested this.
Therefore, for Jesus to say we should NEVER judge would be to conflict with the Law & Prophets, which we know he would not do. He came to complete or fulfill them - Matthew 5:17. [there is that broken record again]
It is better NOT to judge others, because when you judge them you open the door for them to judge you as well. You will be judged by them.
I think we should also recognize that Jesus is talking about the way we, as humans, judge and are judged by others. He is not saying that if we do not judge others God will not judge us. God is the ultimate judge and will judge every man [Hebrews 9:27].
I believe there is some clarity given in this next set of verses that uses hyperbole to get our attention.
Verses 3-5 - The Heart of Judging
I love this next set of verses: ⚡
Matthew 7:3–5 CSB
3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
First, lets start with the eyes. We looked at those a few weeks ago. The eyes are the lamp of the body. So, if we see an eye with something in it, we can apply the teaching that there is something unhealthy, wrong or not of the light in that person.
If we look at the splinter in our brother or sister’s eye, we are basically noticing something that is not “holy”, that is not pleasing to God in their lives.
Obviously, this IS judging others, and is meant to do so in light of the Scriptures.
Next, let’s look at the matter in the eye - a speck or splinter in their eye, a log or beam in your own. This is our section of hyperbole - exaggeration to make a point.
The speck or splinter would be like a bit of chaff that is blown by the wind and gets in your eye. Like sawdust. It comes from the root word meaning “dry” so think of a dry piece of wood dust or a small dry piece of a grass clipping.
The beam would probably reference a structural beam, like one that supports a roof or the floor of the second story of a structure. It is thick and sturdy.
The contrast is really in the SIZE of these two items. A piece of saw dust vs a 6x6 beam. Can you see the image here? You notice that little tiny thing in their eye, but you have a massive bean sticking out of your eye
What is Jesus pointing out with this teaching?
I have heard many cute ways to get this teaching across, such as, “every time you point your finger at others you have 3 pointing back at you”.
One person even coined this “The Log & Spec Principle” : often the things you notice in others are the very things you struggle with in your own life. It might look a little different, but at the root or at the heart it is the same.
These can both be very true at times. Often, the things that bug me in others are the very things that I am struggling with myself.
However, other times the things I notice in others are things that are just plain wrong.
Regardless of the situation, I am NOT prepared to enter into conversation about it, to truly help my brother or sister, if I have not first done some introspection - looking at my own heart.
Did you catch the word, “first”? Jesus does not seem to be condemning the desire to help our brother or sister with the speck in their eye (or dirt in their lives). He says that FIRST we need to make sure we deal with the issues in our lives.
What are my motives? Am I wanting to point out their fault so that I can look good? I see this a lot in churches, and especially by “the spiritual” people. We don’t call it gossip or judging, we simply ask for prayer because we saw this person doing this or heard that person saying that.
There is nothing new under the sun - and Jesus saw it during his days on earth and even told a parable about it. Check it out:
Luke 18:9–14 CSB
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Listen, church, when we fail to examine ourselves we can become guilty of all kinds of horrific judgments on others:
We can judge them by their appearance, clothing, weight, hair color, tattoos, piercings .
We can judge them by the version of Bible they use, podcasts they like to listen to or songs they sing in service on Sunday
We can judge them by whether they drink alcohol or have a smoke.
I attended a Bible college that forbid alcohol and smoking. Not sure what the Biblical precedent was, but I signed the agreement and kept it. I also kept an IBC root beer bottle in my dorm room just to freak people out. I was scolded once by an RA for having a beer bottle in my room. I told him to look closer and not judge by outward appearances :)
During those years my parents were smokers. After returning to campus from a weekend visit, one of the staff asked me if I had been smoking. I told them I had not but had been home for the weekend and my parents smoked. His reply? “Oh, your parents are saved?” I was shocked. I told him they were indeed saved and that they would not be so careless as to judge salvation based on that.
The reality? WE ALL can be guilty of judging others wrongly or judging others by the wrong standard. We can also be guilty of judging others because we are struggling with the same thing in our life and only see it in others.
We have to ask ourselves, “Am I struggling with this same issue?” - what is the BEAM in my own eye?
Sometimes I can be blind to it in my own life and see it in others. I think the lesson of the beam is that before we judge others, even if rightly, we need to have a time of reflection and perhaps even confession.
1 John 1:9 CSB
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We might even need God to to a little lumber-jacking of our hearts - to get rid of the beam.
Psalm 51:10 CSB
10 God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
While it is an admirable goal to help restore someone who has gone astray (James 5:19-20), the reality is that ALL have gone astray which is why Jesus had to come!
Isaiah 53:6 CSB
6 We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all.
Because of what Jesus did, we can be restored to the Father:
1 Peter 2:25 CSB
25 For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
That is all of our condition. We must be careful not to have an arrogant heart that wants to condemn others but a compassionate heart that wants to see others return to their Creator.
REMEMBER: one of the underlying themes of the sermon on the hill is “the heart”. What is in the heart drives the actions and the words.
If we are going to help our brother or sister it must happen after we approach the altar of repentance and allow God to pierce through our souls and reveal what he needs to change in us:
Psalm 139:23–24 CSB
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.
I think a summary of this set of verses could be, “But, when you DO judge, make sure you examine yourself first!”
In other words, I must first ask God to remove the beam from my eye so that I can remove the speck from my brother or sister’s eye. I must do BOTH - the confession and the confrontation. And that takes us to our last section of verses.
Verse 6- The Necessity of Judging
THEN we get to this crazy teaching on dogs and pigs. It is a parable that has really been a bugger for generations! ⚡
Matthew 7:6 (CSB)
6 Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.
I think first we need to examine the cast of characters here: dogs and pigs.
Any of you have a dog? Man’s best friend, right? Though most men spend more time yelling at them and picking up their poo than playing with them :) We have treats, collars, sweaters, mittens for little feet, beds and so much more for our dogs. But that is not the kind of dog we are talking about here.
When we were in Bolivia, dogs ran wild. They attacked each other, tore into any garbage they could find. They were not really pets, they were scavengers and pests. This is much more like the dogs of the first century than what we have today.
The Bible did not talk favorably about dogs:
Revelation 22:14–15 CSB
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
In this passage dogs are people who have lived the opposite of God’s standard, unrighteously.
Philippians 3:2–3 CSB
2 Watch out for the dogs, watch out for the evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh—
Evil workers. Those that plan and implement evil schemes are considered dogs.
What about pigs? I cannot find much in the OT that seemed to connect with this passage other than that pigs are unclean. They are not to be eaten and their carcasses not touched. They are unholy.
In our NT, “pigs” show up in 4 passages:
When Jesus casts the hoard of demons into a herd of pigs that run off a cliff into the water and drown.
The prodigal son when he was bankrupt and feeding pigs and wanted to eat their food.
2 Peter 2 there is a reference to a sow. This is probably the BEST verse we have in connection to who the “pigs” might be in Matthew as it connects both the pig and the dog:
2 Peter 2:19–22 CSB
19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. 20 For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy command delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to its own vomit, and, “A washed sow returns to wallowing in the mud.”
2 Peter chapter 2 is all about false prophets and false teachers. People who willingly lead others away from the truth of the gospel. The people they lead astray have a knowledge of Jesus and then turn away from that to live a life that is unholy - not God pleasing.
It seems like just about all of the commentaries I have read agree that the dogs and pigs represent those who are evil, false teachers, people living against God’s standard, and perhaps the Pharisees.
For the sake of our time today, let’s take pigs & dogs = people who knowingly live against God’s will, as that is one possible way we might interpret it.
What this verse is NOT saying.
Knowing that most have interpreted this as speaking against evil people, I should mention that this verse (7:6) has been abused… a LOT. It’s obscurity has allowed it to be twisted into things it was NOT meant to be.
This verse was a quoted to incite Christian knights to join the Crusades - ridding the earth of the pagan dogs and oppose the truth of the Gospel. Others have used this to form exclusive clubs claiming that we should not bother sharing the gospel with people who are opposed to Jesus. Some have used these verses as a means to judge others as to whether they should be able to partake of communion (this practice is called, “closed communion”).
How horrible to use the teaching of Jesus to promote exclusivity even to the point of extinguishing a people group!
I am hopeful we can all agree that this verse is NOT talking about that!
So what DOES it mean?
Perhaps it is best if I start by reading what a few others have declared:
Dogs and pigs (wild and unclean) likely refer to people who are not only unbelievers but also active enemies of the gospel (15:14; Luke 23:8; 2 Cor. 6:14–18; 2 Pet. 2:22). The most likely interpretation is to take what is sacred and pearls to refer to the gospel or truth, and to take pigs and dogs to mean any person who persistently rejects the gospel or truth, whether Jew or Gentile. Jesus was teaching his people to use discernment when sharing the truth with others. To persist in sharing with a resistant person wastes time and energy. It can also destroy a relationship that might prove fruitful later. It could even (in the climate of growing persecution) result in harm to the believer; it could tear you to pieces.
Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 97). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
This view hods that those who know the truth and teach contrary to it (like some of the Pharisees), or like those that abandoned the Apostle John to promote a false gospel are to be excluded. These would be the ENEMIES of the gospel.
The reason we must judge (v. 6). As God’s people, we are privileged to handle the “holy things” of the Lord. He has entrusted to us the precious truths of the Word of God (2 Cor. 4:7), and we must regard them carefully. No dedicated priest would throw meat from the altar to a filthy dog, and only a fool would give pearls to a pig. While it is true that we must carry the Gospel “to every creature” (Mark 16:15), it is also true that we must not cheapen the Gospel by a ministry that lacks discernment.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 30). Victor Books.
Wiersbe looks at it from a practicality and stewardship perspective. We are not to be exclusive but we are to be discerning is his take.
If I read to you six more authors, I would probably be able to provide you at least 4 more perspectives. While most of them can seem to provide scripture to back up their position, Some I found to contradict other teachings of Jesus. Others I find helpful. But almost all I find very disconnected from the main teaching of judgement.
I guess there is a broader stroke, a macro picture, that I am a bit more comfortable considering when looking at this verse in light of the context of judgement and the rest of the sermon on the hill.
CAUTION: I would be careful not to form any dogmatic doctrinal stance on this verse! What I am sharing is one possible way that I think these verses may be interpreted, in my opinion.
Going back to verses 1 and 2:
We will be judged by others - with the same measure by which we judge them. For some, that seems to be an excuse to claim they have no right to judge, after all, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Well, actually, you are! YES!
Galatians 6:1 CSB
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted.
Looking back on verses 3-5:
One way to judge others is to hold them accountable to the standard of scripture, but it must be done with the right heart. We must allow God to reveal the sin in us before we attempt to help/minister to our brother or sister.
Looking at verse 6:
However, it is possible that rather than judge, and in an effort to be “inclusive” or “non-offensive”, we can fail to judge a righteous judgement and allow the holy and the unholy, the precious and the profane, to mingle and occupy the same space. When this happens it is the holy and the right that gets pushed down and abused.
This idea of mixing things that don’t belong together appears in Paul’s writings to the church in Corinth: ⚡
2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 (CSB)
14 Do not be yoked together with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said: I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. ⚡17 Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. 1 So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
While most people seem to quote these verses as the reason that Christians and non-Christians should not marry, Paul does not even mention earthly marriages in his second letter to the Corinthians.
He DOES, however, talk about avoiding false teachers and remaining true to the faith. It talks about being holy and that those things which are holy (like you and me) do not cohabit the same space as the unholy.
Pigs and pearls do not belong together. No one would throw pearls to pigs! And dogs should not be at the alter where they can eat the meat offered to God or given to the priests. These things should NOT be yoked together - they do not belong in the same space.
Remembering that we have been talking about the eyes which are a lamp that reflects the light that is in us, to mix light and darkness is the same as to mingle holiness with uncleanness. Paul mentioned that in 2 Corinthians as well.
To take that which is holy and give it to dogs means that those dogs are in your presence when you have that holy thing.
It is possible that the warning given in verse 6 is one that informs us of what can happen when we FAIL to exercise judgment and hold people accountable to a righteous standard.
I am not saying this the only way to understand this verse in light of those around it, but it is an interpretation I am “mostly comfortable” with in light of the context and the rest of scriptures.
I am still learning and have much to learn about this passage, so what I share are my convictions at this time. Just this morning I was contemplating whether it is possible that the pigs and dogs could refer to me if I judge others wrongly (hypocritically) - and in doing so I trample the work of the gospel and make a mockery of all things holy which includes my brother or sister that I judged. I will certainly need more time to reflect on these verses!
So as we wrap up the thread we have chased through Matthew 7:1-6, one way, therefore to look at of these verses in light of how they apply to the believer could be: ⚡
Have the right standard. Be careful how you judge! Make sure it is a right kind of judgement.
Have the right heart. Be careful not to be arrogant and put others down or become exclusive when you judge, but allow God’s spirit to convict you and humble you so you can truly minister to the person you are judging.
Have the right zeal. Be careful not to avoid judging - or you will allow all sorts of bad to trample on God’s goodness and the truth of our need to return to our God and be cleansed from our sin. This will ultimately destroy the work of God on this earth. Care more about the reputation of the gospel than whether or not people will like you.
As temples of the spirit of God, as lights of the world, as image bearers of our creator, we MUST judge. We must judge by God’s standard, not our own, not popular vote, nor church dogma - but by God’s word and he meaning of the law.
We must allow God and his word to judge US before we judge others. We must approach judging with a clear conscience and pure motives- not out of arrogance as the hypocrites.
We must judge those who are living among the church that are not living in a godly fashion: teachers and members alike. The Lord’s name (reputation) must not be trampled and that which is holy must not become common and abused.
And yet, while we all will judge, this entire passage is a reminder of the need for righteous judgement and a righteous judge. GOD is the only true and righteous judge. Why? Because he is the only one that IS truth ad always true, and because only he knows the hearts of all men [Jeremiah 11:20, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Hebrews 4:12]. And even more important than judging others is to make sure that we are living in a way that does not bring judgement upon ourselves but that honors the sacrifice of our Savior who did not come to judge the world but to give his life to save it.