Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on Jonah and Nineveh Lent

A Judgmental Attitude

by Scott Sperling

Gospel: Matthew 7:1-11

1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way as 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 continues His teachings to His disciples with another warning: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (vss. 1-2). Here Jesus is continuing where He left off in Matt. 6:18, with another common example of hypocrisy: some have a judgmental attitude concerning others, when they themselves need to get their own houses in order.

We must be careful to understand these verses in context. They are often misunderstood and misapplied. These verses are favorites of unbelievers, who are quick to throw them in the face of believers who defend the law of God. "Obviously men make false use of this [teaching] when they would make it a pretext to remove from the scene all discrimination between good and evil."[1] Jesus is not saying that it is wrong, under any circumstances, to form an unfavorable opinion on the behavior of others. Such a statement would contradict many other parts of the Bible. For instance, in I Cor. 5:2, Paul scolds the Corinthian church for not putting out of their fellowship a brother who is in sexual sin. Paul himself makes very strong judgments concerning the teachings of others (see Gal. 1:8-9; Phil. 3:2,18-19). In fact, as if to prevent such a misreading of this passage, Jesus follows this teaching in verse 6 (as we shall see) with a command to use our judgment in deciding whom to preach the Gospel to. Then also, later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives a procedure we are to follow when we have been wronged by a brother, a procedure that requires making judgments: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector" (Matt. 18:15-17). Such a procedure--to "show him his fault", and in the end, to "treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector"--requires that a judgment be made.

So, to reconcile the teaching here in Matthew 7 with the other teachings in the Bible, we must look very carefully at the context of the teachings here. And we don't have to look very far. If we read the entire passage (verses 1 through 5), we see clearly that Jesus is not commanding against judgment in any and all circumstances, but rather, He is warning against hypocritical judgment. His warning is that "in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged" (vs. 2). And so, if you are quick to magnify the trifling offenses of others, if you are in the habit making rash and hasty judgments with few facts to support them, if you condemn behavior of others that is not condemned in the Bible, God will see to it that these same standards of judgment be applied to you.

Great care should be taken when passing judgment upon others. Jesus is telling us to look at our own lives first: "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? How 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? 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" (vss. 3-5). As Spurgeon comments: "The judging faculty is best employed at home."[2] Jesus here expresses the importance of clearness of vision when judging others. If there is a plank in your own eye, you may very well be mis-seeing the speck in your brother's. "Casting out the [plank] will make us more clear-sighted, more sympathetic, and more skillful, in casting out the [speck]."[3] And, note well, that Jesus does not say to ignore the speck in your brother's eye. He says "first" take the plank out of your own eye, "then" you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. "The would-be helper's first priority must be to remove the obstacle to clearsightedness from his own eye. That done, he is equipped to bring aid to his brother. We should not overlook the point that the speck is to be removed... It is not unimportant that even this small defect be rectified."[4]

Discernment

6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."

Jesus next warns: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces" (vs. 6). To understand more clearly what Jesus is saying here, we must understand how people of that time thought of "dogs" and "pigs": "The `pigs' are not only unclean animals but wild and vicious, capable of savage action against a person. `Dogs' must not be thought of as household pets: in the Scriptures they are normally wild, associated with what is unclean... The two animals serve together as a picture of what is vicious, unclean, and abominable."[5] In general, of course, it is a godly and admirable thing to speak of the "sacred" and share the gospel. But there are times when it is inappropriate, and counterproductive. "Everything is beautiful in its place and season. Our zeal is to be tempered by a prudent consideration of times, places, and persons."[6] There are those who would use your sharing of the gospel as an opportunity to "trample it under their feet", to vilify the glorious Gospel, and to mock our Lord. It would be unwise to speak of holy things to such people in the presence of others who may be influenced by the rantings of the unholy. "Some persons do harm by expressing, in mixed society, those intimate feelings of personal Christian experience with which only the devout can sympathize."[7] Then again, there are some who react with violence to things sacred, who "turn and tear you to pieces." We are informed here, mercifully, that the Lord does not call us to endure their abuse over and over. And yet, we should ever look for openings, ever look for the times when the "pigs" or "dogs" turn tame. A "dog" may come with a thorn in his foot, and need a word of comfort; a "pig" may come spiritually hungry, in need of food that feeds the soul. "There is a time for everything... [God] has made everything beautiful in its time" (Eccl. 3:1,11).

In the matter of speaking of godly things, and spreading the gospel, it is far better to err on the side of zeal than of caution. "Let your light shine before men" (Matt. 5:16). A wise strategy is to "make the trial, and then continue our labors or not according to the results and prospects."[8] Our Lord later taught His disciples such a strategy when he sent them out to spread the gospel: "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town" (Matt. 10:11-14). And later, Paul and Barnabas used such a strategy: "On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: `We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'" (Acts 13:44-46).

Prayer

7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!"

Given the difficulty of the teachings in verses 1 through 6, the teaching here in verses 7 through 11 concerning prayer is very timely: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (vs. 7). More beautiful words than these do not exist in all of literature. Of course, much of their beauty lie in the fact that these words come from our Lord, who is speaking God's truth concerning the efficacy of prayer. What a gracious, loving God we have! Why do we skimp on our prayer life? We have a God who is willing and eager to answer our prayers. Here, our Lord Jesus is practically begging us to pray! "What pains the Savior takes to make us pray! And His word is crowded with gracious invitations and precious promises, such as ought to conquer all our unbelief, and fill us with joyful trust in coming to God."[9]

Note well Jesus' next words: "For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (vs. 8). Note that He said "everyone". God won't turn anyone away. He will answer the prayers of "everyone". Yet, though Jesus makes no qualifications based on person, He does make the following qualification concerning answers to prayer: God is a loving Father, so He will not give you what is harmful: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" (vs. 9-11). Since God is a loving Father, if we as His children unwittingly ask for what looks to us is a loaf of "bread", but is really a "stone", God will not give us the stone. And if we ask for what looks to us is a "fish", but really is a "snake", God will not give us that. No loving father would do such a thing. We, even in our fallen nature, know this. "Bad as our fallen nature is, the father in us is not extinguished."[10]

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for Nineveh Lent

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