Matthew 7:1-5 | Don't Judge!?
We frequently hear that Christians are too judgmental, and one of the mantras of the students I teach is, "Don't judge!"
Well, Jesus doesn’t totally prohibit making judgments here. You can’t get through life without making judgments. What he does do is suggest that we need to be as generous in our judgments as we want generosity to be given to us—and we need to be as generous in our judgments as God is.
I wonder what would happen if generosity had to do, not with just how much money we gave, but with the respect we gave to other people. If we came to believe that every person was worthy of respect just as we want to be respected. The world might look a little different if we were a little slower to judge and a little quicker to practice the Golden Rule: to treat other people the way we want to be treated.
There’s not a lot of obvious humor in the Sermon on the Mount, but the one section that Jesus seems to play for laughs is the beginning of chapter 7 where he talks about our propensity to judge others more harshly that we judge ourselves. It’s now a famous passage where he says, “Okay, how are you going to take a speck out of your brother’s eye when you’ve got this beam in your own eye. First take the beam out of your eye so you can see to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” It’s a humorous picture of this person with a log in his eye trying to do fine surgery on somebody else’s eye. It hits us where we live because judgmentalism is a way of life with us.
I can be particularly judgmental in those areas of life where I have my act together. And so when I have my act together in a certain area and you don’t, it is really easy for me to be judgmental about it. And the only areas I’m ever going to focus on are the ones where I’m far superior to you anyway. If we get into some area where your life may be a little better, I will quickly change the subject until we get to that area where my life is in better shape so that I can look down on yours. We don’t like to admit it, but we do it all the time.
Jesus here isn’t telling us that you can’t make any sort of judgments at all. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, especially towards the end of chapter 7, he insists that you need to make some judgments about who truly speaks for Jesus. But his point is to warn us that we have this tendency to judge too quickly, to judge unfairly, to push harsh judgments on other people.
Dear Lord, I'm judgmental toward others in areas where I think I have my act together. I don’t like to admit it, but I do it all the time. Please help me follow the teaching and example of Jesus who spoke only what love required.
Speak only what love requires. What does that mean? Decide on a time period and experiment with speaking only out of love. That means no judgmental or harsh tone or talking.
The next part will be hard for some: no sarcastic speech. Speaking only what love requires means bringing focus to what you say. Speaking only what love requires means saying things that may be helpful but nothing more. It may require you to be more silent than normal.
- Who do you judge? Where do you struggle the most with this?
- Would you agree that showing disrespect to someone is rooted in judgement?
- Who do you find yourself treating with a lack of respect?
- What “plank” in your eye do you need to focus on (so to speak)?
- If Jesus is not forbidding all moral judgments but only harsh and unfair judgment, then what moral judgements should you make?
- Do you find yourself judging others when you are struggling with the same fault? Thinking that if they are worse than you, that makes you look better?
- Do you find yourself judging others when you have your act together in a particular area? (Forgetting what it was like when you didn’t have your act together in that area)
Randy Harris teaches theology, ethics, and preaching at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He has authored several books and co-authored books with Greg Taylor, including Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount.