I’ve been working on the Sermon on the Mount as part of a post grad program and have found it wonderfully satisfying as well as troubling at the same time. Jesus’ words are both immensely encouraging and go right to the heart of hypocritical religion. As I study it more, His words seem to stick to me as I slowly begin to realise my own religious hypocrisy. One such text that has taken me aback is Matthew 7:1-6. Jesus begins simply enough:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
This is his guiding principle for the text; if one of his followers displays judgment then they will be judged. Before we go further, we need to realise that Jesus was critiquing the deficient righteousness of the Pharisees (cf. 5: 17-48) urging his followers to capture the true meaning of righteousness as putting Christ’s commands into practise. So we have Jesus warning the disciples that if they display the same kind of critical, harsh judgemental attitude that the Pharisees did by condemning others then they are in danger of the greater judgement (see v2). This he helpfully illustrates in v3-5 where he uses the word picture of a man trying to help his brother remove the speck from his eye. But Jesus condemns him as a hypocrite! Why? Because of the log in his own eye; this was the fault of the Pharisees who condemned others for their failings while not being able to see the greater problem of their own hearts, hearts hardened to God and others. And so Jesus warns his followers to not fall into that trap of hypocrisy; Christians do not have the right to condemn a man, which is God’s ultimate job. Ours is to love our neighbour and love God which is the sum of the Law (cf. 7:12).
But don’t we see Jesus judging others? The disciples are told to judge false teachers by their fruits so is this a contradiction? No, for the opposite extreme of being judgemental/condemning is just as bad a mistake. That extreme is to suspend all faculties of critical thought and action. This would mean to let sin go unpunished within a church community, this would mean allowing false teaching that wrecks faith to go unchallenged and that is why v6 is included in the context. It is puzzling and needs some research but the picture is that of a warning that Christians are not to give what is holy (the pearl) to what is unholy (the dogs and pigs) for they may turn and attack! The pearl I take it is that is the Gospel message (cf. Mat 13:44-45) which must at some point NOT be given to these “animals”. The animals come to represent those who are particularly opposed to the Gospel and its implications, who would at any opportunity seek to revile and mock Christ whenever they are given the message.
So Jesus would have his followers love others by helping them and challenging them in their serving of God and men by not judging and condemning them. Yet they must show some level of discrimination against serious opponents of the Gospel for the sake of the glory of God. So I take it that as we engage with non believers and believers we are to do so knowing our place, listening and loving. Yet we cannot accept all that we hear without a critical eye or ear and must be ready to engage and challenge false living and teaching but always be focussing that critical eye to our own lives first (v5). Loving others means challenging their beliefs and life if it does not come in line with Christ’s ethic, but it’s how we do this that is immensely important!