What it the most quoted verse of the Bible? You might think John 3:16, naturally. But I want to suggest a verse from our NT reading today: Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you will be judged.”

Taken by itself it can be misunderstood; it could give the impression that the Christian faith has no standards of behaviour, that “anything goes” and one cannot say otherwise. I have seen this verse used as the last word on the matter when it was suggested that certain attitudes, lifestyles or behaviour are not compatible with life in God’s kingdom.

I want you to imagine someone who takes this verse literally; he is going to live by it all week: No judging. Which road to take? Which coat to wear? Which car to buy? Tea or coffee? He cannot say, for he cannot judge.

But you might say, but this is about not judging people. OK, the same man is horrified as he passes the courthouse, the exams in school, the applicants for a job interview. How dare these people judge others?

Let’s look at chapter 7: Though it begins with ‘Do not judge’, there is a call to judgement in this passage. We must decide who are the dogs/pigs in verse 6? How do we determine who are the false prophets in verse 15? Part of life in God’s kingdom is about discerning, choosing, values and yes, even judgement. So in the light of this, what is Jesus talking about in verse 1?

Well, in verses 1-2, it speaks of us being judged, perhaps by other people, but more importantly by God. In verse 3-5, it is pernickety, fault-finding judgement about the smallest details. This is about taking the place of God in judgement; this is about people who are fault-finders and harsh in their assessment of others. Do you know someone like that? Even more to the point, are you someone like that? This is not a time to be blind; we must look at ourselves soberly and honestly.

How do you talk about other people? Is it generous, is there grace in the conversation? Do you claim to know the motives of other people, casting doubt even on the good they do? v.2 is the bottom line: How would you like others to talk about you? Would you like to be subject to the same scrutiny, standard you apply to others?

Talking about others/judging others in this way shouldn’t even come to mind if we have understood the Sermon on the Mount so far. Jesus is describing the life of a person in his kingdom, born anew by his Spirit. Being perfect like the Father, being more righteous than the Pharisees – a standard so high that we should be looking at ourselves, not down our noses at others. The Sermon should have us crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness because we cannot live this way without the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit.

So how can we avoid this harsh judgementalism, nit picking attitude, this censoriousness?

(1-2) Do not be God – remember you are not the judge.

Would you like God to judge you the way you judge others? Would you like your life to be subject to the same scrutiny and criticism under the all-seeing eye of the Lord? Surely we would want grace and mercy – only a fool would want to be treated with justice on the Day of Judgement, for we are all guilty before God.

And of course the gospel offers grace and mercy, that his just sentence against sin has been passed at the cross. Jesus dies in place of the guilty and then from the cross flow forgiveness, release, peace with God, new life and hope – when we come humbly, trusting in Jesus. That is the verdict offered to us in the gospel, a verdict we do not deserve – full of grace.

If we belong to God’s kingdom, if Christ is our Saviour, should not our talk about others be marked with the same grace? Our forgiveness to others shows that we know what it is to be forgiven, our generosity about others shows that we know the undeserved generosity of God in the gospel.

(3-5) Do not be a hypocrite – remember you too are a sinner.

What a great piece of slapstick in these verses! Imagine a man with a plank in his eye. Every time he turned around, people duck. Everybody is too polite to mention it of course! Then he spots the speck of sawdust, and people are alarmed: “but you have half a tree trunk in yours!”, “Are you sure it is not a reflection of your plank you are seeing?” “How on earth can you see anyway?” “Would you let a blind man perform eye surgery?”

We can be so blind to our own sin and so quick to condemn it in others. And perhaps the faults we hate most in others are the ones that lurk so readily in our own lives.

When we point the finger, three fingers point back at us. We need to check our own lives first, repent, seek forgiveness and change, and then we are still to help our brother. If sin is there, even that speck is to be removed.

We move from Logs to Dogs and Hogs (v.6)

Who is Jesus talking about? He is not talking about pets or friendly farmyard animals. Pigs were considered unclean, and these dogs are the half-wild scavengers of the streets. From the verse they have not appreciation of what is holy and they do not value what is priceless. Jesus will go on to speak about his kingdom as ‘the pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:45-46). Jesus is telling us in certain situations what we are to do with the message of the gospel, we are to withhold it where it is not valued, and has not been valued consistently.

The normal everyday default setting for the Christian is “Let your light shine.” If we know Christ personally, we are to bear his light and bear witness to him. But in relation to people who are dogs/pigs, do not waste your time/the treasure. People who have repeatedly, deliberately and consistently refused the gospel of Jesus and his claim over their lives – leave them. Leave them to God. That requires wisdom and right judgement –  not the judgement that sends people to hell, but the judgement that assesses the proper course of action at a particular time. This is hard, this is describing exceptional circumstances.

You might be thinking, “I can’t imagine Jesus doing that sort of thing.” Jesus was silent before Herod after his arrest.  A few years earlier, Herod had had John the Baptist in his dungeon. Herod loved to listen to John preach, and John gave it to him with both barrels: “Repent!” But all Herod did was listen, and John ended up killed, taken away from him. Herod was looking forward to hearing Jesus, another of these preachers, but he got not one word. (Luke 23:8,9) God had already told him all he needed to hear from John. There was no further message from God. Because he silenced God’s messenger, Jesus was silent before him. Very sobering.

That’s all we can do with someone who persistently  will not hear – leave them to God. Pray that God will open their ears and soften their hearts. Maybe that’s someone you know, maybe that’s you. Remember the gospel is precious, the gospel is what you want and what you need. Do not entertain dogs and hogs, and do not become a dog or hog yourself: “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Think before you speak:

  • Do not be God – remember you are not the judge.
  • Do not be a hypocrite – remember you too are a sinner.
  • Do not entertain the dogs/hogs – remember the gospel is precious.

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