How many times have we heard “Don’t judge me?” These people claim this verse as saying that no one has a right to confront their evil actions, as though Jesus was the ultimate preacher of tolerance. Is this indeed what Jesus means here? Or does Jesus have something else in mind?
Let us look into this passage further from the Sermon on the Mount.
Exposition of the Text
It is generally a good idea to read any text of Scripture in its context. First of all, it needs to be read within the immediate context, which is the Sermon on the Mount. Secondly, it needs to be read within the context of the Gospel of Matthew. Then it needs to be read in the context of Scripture as a whole. The context helps to inform us as to the meaning of the text and prevents the danger of prooftexting.
We have already established in this sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount that it was and is preached for those who would be the true disciples of Jesus. The true disciple is the one who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice. Secondly, we have learned that Jesus fully upholds all of Scripture, every jot and tittle. Jesus also places His words at par with Scripture as the Word of God. Because He says that He came to fulfill all of Scripture, nothing He says here contradicts the true interpretation of Scripture, which at Jesus’ day was what we call the Old Testament. Finally we recognize that Jesus used the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees as an example of those who were foolish, who heard the words of Jesus and failed to put them into practice. Jesus demands a righteousness greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees had watered down the Old Testament and substituted the tradition and wisdom of men for the intended meaning of Scripture. This is something that the true follower of Jesus dare not do.
When we come to the beginning paragraph of chapter seven, we should realize that it points forward to verse eleven, which has been called the “Golden Rule”, of doing to others what you would have others do to you. So we need to keep this in mind when we interpret this passage.
Passing judgment was one of the traits of the Scribes and Pharisees. For example in John 7:49, the Pharisees judged the common people who did not know the Law as “accursed”. They considered these “people of the land” who at that point gladly followed Jesus as if I could use the words here as people with splinters in their eyes. Of course, their judgment of the Gentiles was even worse. They were no better than the wild dogs or pigs. Many thought them unworthy to have the precious pearls of the Law preached to them. So we need to realize that Jesus here is preaching here against Scribes and
Pharisees and commanding His followers not to follow their evil example.
The true followers of Jesus are His church. We have in a previous sermon mentioned that the word “church” is central to the Gospel of Matthew. Even though the word only appears twice in the Gospel, it is at the very center of the gospel when it is mentioned in Matthew 16:13 where we read “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” This church in Matthew is the new people of God, made up of people who were formerly Jewish as well as those who were formerly Gentile. (See the sermon “Upon this Rock” in this sermon archive). The church is to resist judging who is and who is not worthy to receive the gospel. I would thing that Jesus is also saying that hypocritical judging within the church which disrupts the unity of His body is something which will bring His judgment upon the offender. The passive here “shall not be judged” is usually seen as what Christian theologian refer to as the “divine passive” which indicates that God will judge those who wrongly judge others in the church. Does this mean eternal judgment or some lesser form of discipline? I really cannot answer this for sure, but it is always safer to keep the former interpretation in play, especially since Jesus has already spoken about the judgment of hellfire against the Scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus follows up His command not to judge with a parallel statement that God will return in measure the criticisms which one makes of others within the context of the church first, although it does not exclude hypocritical and self-righteous judging of those outside the church. This is also an allusion to “an eye for an eye” or what is called the Law of Retribution. God as the true and faithful judge will repay such sin in this manner.
Jesus now uses the example of the splinter and the beam to further explain what He means about judging here. We have already alluded that the Pharisees are those who have a beam in their own eye. It is stupendous that they did not notice this. I once had a piece of straw embed between my eye and eyelid. I sure knew it! It brought tears to my eyes and three days of misery before I could get to my ophthalmologist to remove it. This in a sense shows how miserable blind the Pharisees were. They we blind so long that they got used to the blindness. Their blind eyesight now became normal vision to them. This was clearly demonstrated by Jesus’ statement in John 9 when he confronts the Pharisees over His healing of the man born blind. The Pharisees asked Him “Are You calling us blind?” Jesus said that their blindness was double because they thought they could see.
Going back to the splinter of straw in my eye, I was not able to remove it from my eye. I washed my eyes out several times and hoped my tears would flush it out. But it was well lodged in the upper part of my eyelid. I had to get help removing it. I certainly was not going to go to someone who had even a bigger splinter in his or her eye to remove it. I was in no position to take the speck out of anyone else’s eye in my condition, no less lacking the skill and competence to remove it without endangering that person’s eye. So I went to my eye doctor who had clear vision, the tools, and the expertise to remove it. All my efforts had amounted to no more than scratching my cornea and causing, fortunately minor and repairable injury to my vision.
The splinters here refer to moral faults in the believer. The believer who is honest with himself knows it is there. It is a terrible irritant. It is something the believer can remove by one’s self. All kinds of further damage would result. Going to someone else who has even a greater moral fault is not going to be able to fix it either. Only one with perfect vision and skill is able to remove it. Ultimately, this person is Jesus alone who bore our sins on a splintery tree. It was he who was attached to the beams of the cross with nails that should rightly have pieced us. He alone is our help.
This does not believe that the church is not competent in judging moral fault in the individual believer. This is why it is so important to compare Scripture with Scripture. Paul tells us that we will someday judge angels. He follows this with his admonition (judgment) that the church is competent to judge in manners between believers. We must understand that Jesus is not preaching against judgment itself, but incompetent judgment like we saw in the hypocritical judgment of the Pharisees who in a sense have become the new Gentiles, the dogs and pigs to which Jesus says the gospel should not be given to. Jesus would soon conceal His teaching from them by the use of parables. They would soon turn on Him with gnashing teeth and rend Jesus and cast the pearls of His teaching underfoot.
For since the true church is the body of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, it can and should function as God’s means of enforcing discipline in the church. To not exercise judgment, such as the Corinthian Church’s failure to excommunicate the man who was sleeping with his stepmother was reprehensible to Paul. This we must do prayerfully, considering our own weakness, and biblically. This kind of judgment according to Jesus in Matthew starts by private and individual conversation with the offender and offended. If this fails, then the church as a whole has to take up the matter. Only the church as a body, in communion with the Holy Spirit, has the right to administer judgment against one who has a splinter in their eye.
Not only this, but judgment must be with the intention of restoring the believer. It would be improper to gouge out the eye for want of the splinter. Rather, with competence, prayer, and the love of the Spirit, the splinter needs to be removed before further damage occurs. We cannot allow the believer to do further damage to himself by giving him advice on how to remove splinters. Neither can we allow those in the church who think the answer is to cut out the offending eye for the want of a splinter.
What we all need in the time of our moral failings is not a lecture based upon the idea of doing better or trying harder. These are the means of further damage and not a cure. Rather we need to be reminded of what Jesus has done for us and fly to Him as Luther said. He knows our need. If this means discipline, which might be for the moment painful, so be it. It certainly hurt for the eye doctor to grab the eyelid with tweezers to pull back the eyelid from the eye and then have to remove the splinter with another. But after the momentary pain, I found sweet relief.
May we all find the sweet relief from the irritation of our faults in Jesus. Amen.