The Dock and the BenchAs we move into chapter seven, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount touches on the area of relationships - to others, to evil people, to our Father, to false prophets and to those who claim to walk with God.
Our section today is about judging others and is one of the most often quoted and misunderstood passages. John Stott notes that the Russian author Leo Tolstoy used these verses to justify his idea that all legal courts were wrong. While most people would affirm the need for a justice system, these verses are often quoted by a society that promotes a "hyper-tolerance" that will allow and accept any behaviour (short of actual crime) under the banner of "judge not lest ye be judged" (and these verses are almost always quoted in King James' English).
The irony is that Jesus Himself refutes this kind of hyper-tolerance in the rest of the chapter: He urges us not to throw our pearl before swine and dogs and he warns about false prophets and those who claim to be "tight" with God. So He is not averse to recognising evil, falsehood and deception.
So how do we understand Jesus' instruction about not judging?
I think the key lies in answering the question "How would I like a healthy and just society to treat me? (Especially if I am behaving destructively)" If I had made a mistake and caused pain, I would hope that society would give me the benefit of the doubt and a chance to try again. If I were addicted to my destructive behaviours, my sincere hope is that society would do what it could to prevent me from causing further pain and help me change my ways - but I would want them to do this with grace and justice.
When I don't treat people the way that I want to be treated then I am a hypocrite. And this hypocrisy goes further... Jesus powerfully illustrates this with the image of the speck and the plank: the truth is that many of us judge with a double standard - we are harsher to and more critical of others than we are of ourselves.
We'd be better off standing close to others and seeing ourselves in them and treating them as we'd like to be treated in a just and caring society than standing at a distance wanting to assume that we know better.
John Stott helpfully uses the language of the courtroom when he says that those who want to sit on the bench (the place of the One and Only Righteous Judge) will find themselves in the dock (the place of the accused)...
|"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For 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? 4 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? 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. (Matthew7:1-5)