Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Matthew 7:1–6

Matthew 7:1–6 (ESV): Judging Others


In this passage—which is still part of the sermon that Jesus began in Chapter 5—he moves on to the subject of judgement. He tells us that we should not judge others, and that if we do judge others, God will judge us in the same manner. In verses 3–5 (ESV), he uses a metaphor of having a log in your eye, and then accusing your brother of having a speck in his, or, worse yet, offering to remove that speck, without getting rid of your own log.

He ends the passage with this, although I’m not sure how it fits in:
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (verse 6 (ESV))


We should probably talk about the word “judge.” Jesus is not using the word “judge” in a legal sense—recognizing that someone has committed a sin—he is talking about judging in a moral sense. (If you’re appointed a judge, and people are bringing legal cases before you, you are not committing a sin in presiding over those cases!)

Let’s look at an example, to see what I mean: Imagine that a friend of yours tells you that he has committed adultery. How does this passage apply?
  • You can safely conclude that your friend has committed a sin, because adultery is a sin. In talking to your friend you can decide on the best way to phrase it (see below), but a sin has been committed, and it’s not wrong to come to that conclusion. This passage doesn’t mean that when someone commits a sin you can’t recognize it.
  • You are not allowed to decide that this friend is a terrible person, and/or that you’re better than him because you didn’t commit adultery. Yes, he committed a sin (see above), but how bad that sin is will be between him and God—just like the severity of your own sins is between you and God.
  • Along those same lines, you can’t decide that a sin hasn’t been committed, either. You can’t decide that you like your friend so much that it was probably okay in this instance; it was still a sin, even if there were mitigating circumstances. Again, it’s between God and your friend as to how serious this sin was, given the circumstances; you can’t decide that your friend is a terrible person, but neither can you pretend that the sin didn’t happen or that it wasn’t that big of a deal.
  • Without knowing any other details—pretend you don’t know much about your friend’s personal life—you can’t just assume that his wife probably did something to deserve it. Or that his was probably raised badly by his parents, who never told him that adultery is wrong. Or that the person he committed adultery with was probably some kind of harlot. We can look at the facts we know, and make conclusions—in this case, adultery is a sin so he committed a sin—but we can’t start assuming other facts.
It adds a lot of complexity to life, but there are mitigating circumstances that can make God judge sin more or less harshly. If I’m a Christian and give seminars on how wrong stealing is, and then I steal, I’ll be judged much more harshly for that particular sin than a non-Christian would be for committing the same act. Similarly for the fictional friend above; depending on the circumstances surrounding his adultery, God will have a lot of factors to look at, in deciding how severely to judge that person, some of which you might know, and many of which—including the state of your friend’s heart, and other “internal factors”—you will not. This is the type of judging that Jesus tells us we are not to do. It’s not our job; it’s God’s job.

I’m still stuck on why Jesus mentions the pearls to swine piece in this context, however. It’s generally recognized that he is talking about giving the Gospel; if you’re giving the Gospel to someone, and they adamantly refuse to accept it, you should move on. (How do you decide when you’ve reached that point? I have absolutely no advice on that.) Maybe he included this in with a passage in which he’s been talking about judgement because this is an exception to the rule? As in, you have to “judge” that this person is not accepting the Gospel, and decide to move on? Or maybe the people who put together the ESV just chose their section headings badly, and this verse really should have gone in with the next passage, on “ask and it will be given,” or even on its own? But the NIV and NKJV also include verse 6 under the same heading as the rest of this passage, so everyone seems to agree that this pearls before swine verse is related to Jesus’ teaching on judgment.

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