12. "Help! I'm Judgmental"
Christ's opening words of today's passage, "Do not judge" or "Judge not," don't contain an absolute prohibition from judging. Instead, they're intended to cure "a personal disease" that we have naturally. Jesus begins by condemning those who would judge others, arguing that they too would be judged.
Jesus' "sawdust/plank" metaphor is ironic: Because it's improbable for us to remove our own flaws completely, there will never be a point at which we can justify judging others.
"Help! I'm Judgmental"
Do Not Judge!
Matthew 7:1–5 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Jesus has just gone to great lengths to help his listeners see more clearly the good character of their heavenly Father. Now he turns to the subject of judgment. What makes this passage at first seem difficult to understand is the meaning of the word “judgment,” which has two distinct meanings.
When we use the word judgment, we can mean discerning, weighing, or seeking to know the truth about something. Otherwise, judgment can be used in the sense of passing sentence on or deciding payment, reward, or condemnation. In fact, the Greek word used here for judgment has the double meaning of discernment and condemnation.
Judgment = "discernment"
Looking first at the "discernment" aspect of the meaning of judgment, it doesn't seem that Jesus is telling them not to judge in terms of discerning. It takes discerning to see and remove obstacles to vision. He opposes the idea of using our powers of discernment only on others and not on ourselves as well. It would seem from v. 5,"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." that the ultimate purpose of discernment here is restoration, healing, or sanctification.
The benefit of discerning the speck in your brother’s eye is the same as that of discerning the plank or log in your own — so that both can be removed and you can both see more clearly. The problem develops when we think that we can see what's needed to be removed from others’ lives without examining our own.
As Chuck showed us last week in "Life Beyond Worry," Jesus had just finished urging his listeners not to worry but to seek the kingdom of God first and foremost. The prayer Jesus taught earlier makes the same point. We're to pray for God’s good and perfect will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, to be seeking his kingdom is to hope that what is happening now in our lives and in our world is not the last word.
We (who are poor in spirit, who know that we cannot give ourselves life) are longing for God to forgive, heal, and transform us. We hope that we'll not be left where we are now. Perhaps after understanding this context of hope in God we can understand this passage.
Judgment = "condemnation"
Looking next at the "condemnation" aspect of the meaning of judgment, Jesus tells us that we're not to judge others in the way of passing final judgment on them or condemning them. We don't allow our final judgment or condemnation to be the “last word” on them any more than we want others to declare the “last word” on us. Our hope is that God can heal and transform even those who've hurt us.
Our discernment then comes out of this hope and trust in God’s presence and activity. We're to be discerning (rather than condemning) for the sake of participating in God's work of healing; in ourselves and in others.
Throughout this famous Sermon, as well as the Parables, Jesus reaffirms to us that our relationships with others are to be lived out in the context of seeking God’s kingdom. When we desire what our heavenly Father desires — wholeness, peace, true justice, and life — then we're freed from the need to dismiss people or put them into categories from which we won’t let them ever move out. We can leave them in God's hands, asking him to enable us to see them (as well as ourselves) through his eyes.
God shows us, when Jesus becomes one with us, that his intention for us, his creation, is to make all things new — to transform us into becoming his true children.
When we trust in Jesus to give us his word about us and about others, we [happily] become freed to hope in his transforming work, as well as in his divine ability to enable us to personally share in his life.