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Sermon on the Mount

Art of Judgment

Matthew 7:1-6

Lesson audio

It is convenient to divide this lesson into three major areas:

·         Judgment as it relates to those outside the church.

·         Judgment as it relates to those inside the church.

·         An example of judgment by Christ.

Matthew 7:1-6 NIV  "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. (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.


Judgment — Outside

The question of judging those outside the church is often wrapped up in politics. In the time of Christ the follower of God had very little to say about how the government (formal or informal) handled the ordinary questions of morality. That’s not true in a democracy. Despite the claim that “you can’t legislate morality” we in fact do legislate morality frequently. We consider bank robbery immoral; we pass laws against it. So at the very least citizens of a democracy pass moral judgment at the ballot box whenever the issue arises. This does not seem to bother the world at large; after all, everybody gets a vote. When we think of judging people outside the church we usually mean person-to-person.


The question often comes up as to how a Christian should respond to someone outside the church “living in sin.” We may take the argument from the structure of the Sermon on the Mount directly:

·         You don’t need much observation of society to know that those who are blessed (at least materially) tend to set the standards of judgment. We, as Christians, are blessed. That’s what the Beatitudes were all about. So in a moral sense, we are the ones of whom God has approved. We are in the usual position to pass judgment.

·         We are, by the grace of God, also considered to be righteous. This can be taken in one of two ways. First, we are righteous by the blood of Christ. Second, we are righteous because we attempt to live righteous lives. The definition of righteousness has certainly changed in our lifetimes, but the principle that the righteous are the ones who should judge remains with us. We want our judges to have clean hands.

So it often appears that we are the ones who should be passing judgment on people outside the church. Most Christians will condemn this, as long as the people outside the church are individuals. We don’t want the confrontation, and we been warned too often about judgment to attempt to criticize Sally or Bill. But there is one group of people outside the church that were really good at criticizing: “them.” This group comes with no names, is represented by nobody, and is usually condemned and judged at gatherings were everyone agrees that “they” are the ones who are doing it wrong. The difficulty with this kind of judgment is that it generates a reputation of blue nosed snobbery while effectively changing nothing.

Remember, the normal condition of Christianity is that we are a minority. The morals of the rest of the world are something which we observe. It is a rare instance in which Christians are so predominant that they can be said to set moral standards. Our current set of standards would hardly serve as a sterling example.

So what’s the right answer?

1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.


Pearls before Swine

You always wondered what that business about pearls before swine was about - didn’t you? If you take it in context it’s pretty obvious. Let me give you an example.

Suppose you go up to one of “them” and began to lecture this person on their sexual morality, choice of clothing, style of speech and anything else that seems to matter to you. You do this extensively quoting the Scriptures to the person. A little experience with this process will quickly convince you that your listener has no use for your Scripture quotation abilities. In fact, you’re going to get quite a rejection. That’s why you don’t do it.

It might occur to you, however, the Christ did precisely that. But remember that he did it only to the Pharisees. Shock tactics are used where shock tactics apply. It appears, therefore, that we must be selective about designating swine. Those outside the church need the conviction of sin, and that is the function of the Holy Spirit. Once that begins, then the Christian has an opening. Until the Spirit begins his work, we have nothing to work with. As Paul put it,

1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.


The Power of Example

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “love is the radical condemnation of sin.” If you want to see spiritual discernment in that person outside the church, you must set an example of the two major characteristics of God: love — and righteousness. You need to be an example of love so that those who see you know that they will not face condemnation, but help. You need to be an example of righteousness so that they will see the flaws in their own lives.

It’s like Christ told you: let your light shine before men. If you are a serious Christian, truly repentant and truly loving, you will live a life that makes its impact felt outside the church.

Indeed, judgment of those outside the church is explicitly forbidden to us:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NIV  (9)  I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— (10)  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  (11)  But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  (12)  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  (13)  God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."


So we see that we are not to judge those outside the church — but with those inside the church, it’s a different story.

Judgment within the Church

It should be apparent, however, that we have some obligation of judgment of our fellow Christians. The key criterion is to make sure we are doing it for their benefit, not for the satisfaction of our egos.

The Obligation to Judge

So, just how are we to do this judging of those inside the church?

First, whatever else we do we should not be a stumbling block to our fellow Christian. Paul put it this way:

Romans 14:13-15 NIV  Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.  (14)  As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  (15)  If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.


If you read the entire fourteenth chapter of Romans, you will see that the obligation is that we should not use our freedom to ruin another Christian’s conscience. This cuts both ways. The person who has an extra set of regulations should not impose them upon the person who does not — a commonly violated injunction. (See Temperance Movement.) Likewise, the person without the regulations should not undercut the other person’s conscience. So, if you will, the first rule of judgment within the church is to exercise a great deal of “shut up.”

There are certainly instances, however, where our fellow Christian has fallen into sin and it is the duty of his fellow Christians to restore him to righteousness. There are two criteria for doing this:

·         Galatians 6:1 NIV  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.


·         James 2:12-14 NIV  Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,  (13)  because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!  (14)  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?


The first verse is relatively straightforward. You find your Christian brother in sin; do what is necessary to restore him. But there are two cautions: you should do this gently, and you should also do it with a sense of self awareness that you might be subject to the same sin. If you want to see the difficulty clearly, think of it this way: the testimony of an alcoholic towards another alcoholic is most powerful. But the danger to the first alcoholic is the greatest.

The whole of such restoration must be clothed in mercy. The idea is pretty simple; you received mercy, you pass it along. You should note that in this context verse fourteen is seldom included in this message. I put it in there because so many of us are so good at being merciful — in theory. The practical act of mercy is required.


May I point out some common pitfalls in the process of attempting to restore the sinner to grace inside the church?

·         One common error is that we point out the sins of others not so much so that they may be restored, but so that we may feel justified in our own sins. This is a delicate form of hypocrisy, but it is hypocrisy nonetheless.

·         Sometimes we condemn the sinner by giving up on the sinner. We say something like, “Joe is just beyond recovery. There’s nothing that can be done about an alcoholic like that.” What are really saying here is that we know God is in powerful enough to deal with Joe — which is either blasphemy or stupidity, you pick.

·         The most common pitfall is that of the rubber yardstick. The yardstick we use for measuring our moral conduct is light and easy, but we hold others to much stricter standard. It’s like measuring with the rubber yardstick; you get whatever answer you want. Whatever that might be, it’s not measurement.

How to Do It

May I give you a few adages which have seen great usefulness in the past?

·         Your grandmother told you too, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” This may seem very difficult to do, but as it turns out you have an excellent example of how to do it very close by. The example is you. Think how you love yourself, despite the things you have done. God is simply asking you to be fair about this; apply the same standard to everyone else. You find that hating the sin and loving the sinner turns out to be something you can do every day.

·         Remember that judgment comes from your own understanding — but correction comes from what God reveals. Don’t judge someone inside the church by what you think they must be doing; that your own understanding. Wait until God reveals the difficulty — it may be different than what you think it is.

·         You should condemn sin so much that you reject sinful methods of condemnation. Being judgmental rather than corrective is to be sinful; it’s wrong.

In all these things remember the steps of church discipline. Go to the person individually first. If you can straighten things out by doing it, fine — and no one else needs to know about it. God knows what the records look like, so who else needs to? If that doesn’t work, take two or three others with you and gently encourage that sinner to repent. This establishes the facts in the presence of more than one witness, and it also helps to get rid of any personal animosity. Finally, if that doesn’t work it may be necessary to take it to the entire church. Always remember that the objective is not to punish or eject the sinner, but to correct the sinner. The Day of Judgment will come; evil will be condemned and good rewarded. In the meanwhile we must do what we can to help each other.

Learn by Example

Let’s see how Christ did it:

John 8:2-11 NIV  At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  (3)  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group  (4)  and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  (5)  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"  (6)  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  (7)  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (8)  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  (9)  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  (10)  Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" (11)  "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."]


The Trap

It should not be necessary to point this out, but there are two facts which are accepted by everyone present. The first is that adultery is a sin, condemned by the Law of Moses. This viewpoint is not shared by various members of the clergy; it is, however, a fact. The second fact is that the woman is guilty of adultery. The Pharisees know it, Jesus knows it — and she knows it.

The Pharisees seem to think that Jesus is caught in a trap here. He has roughly 3 options:

·         He can condemn the woman to death and risk his popularity as being a friend of the sinner.

·         Alternately, he can plead for her life — and be vulnerable to the charge that he is opposed to the Law of Moses. Search where you will, Christ upholds the law.

·         There is a more subtle option. He can come forth with some pronouncement like, “isn’t it a shame that Israel’s sin has placed us under Roman rule which forbids us to carry out the Law of Moses?” This will make him one very clever Rabbi — inside the system.

Jesus is God in the flesh, and God makes his own options.

Bent Down

There is a perfect example of mercy here. Despite the fact that the Pharisees are apparently incorrigible, Christ gives them the time to think about what they’re doing. It’s obvious that they are not just trying to carry out the Law of Moses; if that were the case, they’d have the man caught in adultery with her. They brought the woman only because she makes a more tempting opportunity for misplaced mercy. Christ is not fooled. He bends down and writes with his finger in the dust (and the parallel to God writing with his finger on the tablets given to Moses is disturbingly clear.) In so doing Christ is left us a 2000 year puzzle: what did he write?

The Pharisees refuse to give up. They keep questioning Jesus. So Jesus puts to them the ultimate test of righteousness: if you can stone this woman, you must be without sin. Notice something; if you try to correct this woman, if you try to rescue this woman, if you try to keep her from sinning again — it’s okay for you to be a sinner. But if you want to stone her to death — justice without mercy — then you’d better be perfect. Why is this? Because if you want God’s mercy you must show a little of your own. The Pharisees are defeated; they leave the field of combat.

Satan Gone

Satan, you will recall, is the accuser of your soul. This woman’s accusers perform the same function. There’s an important example for us in this. When you come to restore someone, often enough the first thing to do is to vanquish the accuser. There’s that voice inside your head that says that you did it, there’s nothing you can do to fix it, and you’re always going to feel guilty about it. Often enough, the first thing the Christian must do is to say that this is false. Christ, greater than Satan, is merciful. If there is no accuser, there can be no punishment.

Do not from him and think that Christ is condoning her sin. This passage is often interpreted that way in modern times;. After all, sex is a natural drive, a beautiful thing, and therefore we should not go around condemning such people. That is not what Christ did. He rid her of her accusers — and then told her to leave her life of sin. He condemns the sin — but not the sinner. That is grace. Interestingly, you cannot have grace without the condemnation of sin. For if there is no sin, there is no need for grace. Grace, by its very nature being mercy, depends upon the existence of justice first. So Christ does not offer a cheap grace, grace without repentance and confession. He offers her the expensive grace of God, the grace that cost Christ the Cross. Such is the mercy he shows her; such is the mercy we must show to each other.

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