In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking primarily to and about two groups of people. Those who are following Him…early disciples and the curious…are one group. The second group is made up of the religious leaders of the day, the Scribes and Pharisees. In the first section of Matthew 7, Jesus’ primary focus is on the latter group, but He shares information that is relevant for everyone. Earlier in His message Jesus talks about the Pharisees’ desire to garner the praise of men. They would do any number of things in order to make themselves appear pious…pray openly on street corners, while wearing big robes with their attachments. Here, Jesus cuts to the center of the issue with these religious leaders, and as the result, He exposes their spiritual heart problems. The Pharisees and Scribes, in their arrogance, were very judgmental of others – it is this attitude that Jesus sets out to confront.
Jesus explains that among the first principles of judgment that we need to consider…is to look at ourselves. This whole concept should be humbling, and it is all too easy for it to escape us…it is not difficult for us to allow Satan to manipulate our feelings so that we become judgmental. The principle that the Lord shares is, if we first judge ourselves then we are preparing for that final judgment when we face God. In essence, when we judge, we are playing God. This is precisely what the Pharisees are doing by regularly condemning others. They do not really consider the concept of facing God at judgment. But, how could they? Even when we get caught up in ourselves…our perspectives…our agendas…our opinions…rarely do we consider God’s opinion in matters. Jesus gives “the law of spiritual returns” -- when it comes to judging, in as much as we may be judging others…we are setting ourselves up for judgment from others. We receive from people whatever it is that we give…if criticism, then criticism…if grace, then grace. In fact, criticism just perpetuates criticism…while grace will beget more grace…
The argument is laid out and to drive home His point that we need to take a look at our own hearts…to do self-examination…Jesus offers a hyperbole. Certainly in his years of wood-working, Jesus probably had dust in His eye more than once. What a great statement that He makes…the image of a man trying to remove a 2x4 or log from his own eye before removing a speck from another’s eye. This is ridiculous…but, according to Jesus, this is how foolish the Pharisees look in their unjust judgments of others. If we are not humble and do not honestly face up to our own sins…and confess them…we become blind to ourselves, and are incapable of helping others. It is important that we use discretion…wise discernment…in our relationships with others. We can observe and examine others’ attitudes and actions, but reserve judgment on their motives, for only God can see their hearts. A wise person once shared – we need to discern the facts…“he did not speak to me at the meeting” from judgment…“he does not care.” The fact that we may not be in a position to speak to someone does not mean that we do not care. The Lord knows our hearts…we must humble ourselves before him and avoid a spirit that is critical or judgmental. If we do find ourselves in a place where we are judging, we need to look by faith to Jesus Christ and ask for forgiveness and allow Him to forgive and to restore us.
We have choices to make and these choices will come from our hearts -- just what will they be?
People generally tend not to put sins like dishonesty, arrogance, gossip, slander, contentiousness, critical spirit on the same level as more visible (what they might consider "greater") sins such as immorality, drunkenness or murder. Yet, these so-called "social sins" are no less deadly. A little leaven from any of these, allowed to ferment in our spirits, will lead to spiritual death just the same as any “more visible” sin. We really need to heed Jesus’ message and guard our hearts. If we have a problem with a brother or sister, we must humble ourselves and go and make amends. We will perpetuate what is in our spirits…if it is criticism, then more will come. Yet, if our hearts are focused on living according to grace and love, then this is what is going to be revealed in our lives. Once we have made an honest judgment of ourselves before God and have allowed Him to remove those things that blind us…then, we are truly in a position to help others.