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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2003-07-13

Text: Matthew 7:1-5

A few months ago, when the SARS outbreak was raging and affecting us and the rest of the world, we learned how to take all the necessary precautions against infection. In almost every place there were temperature checks to go through, and declaration forms to fill. Our children were each given thermometers to record their temperatures daily. And every household received SARS kits and told to use them. It became everyone's social responsibility to stay home if we detect fever and other symptoms in ourselves, or if we had travelled to a country affected by SARS. Well, we thank God that he has been merciful to deliver us, and it is now already six weeks since Singapore was declared free of SARS. Although the fear of being infected is not here any more, we are still maintaining a certain level of vigilance to prevent a new outbreak of the disease. 

One good lesson that we can learn from all of this, is the vigilance we need to maintain against something that is even worse than SARS - and that is sin. Sin is a spiritual SARS. And we ought to have an even greater dread of sin and be taking even greater precautions against it, because its effects are even more deadly - bringing us into misery, destruction and eternal death. Those of us who attended the Church Camp here last month would be reminded that our Camp Speaker, Dr Tow Siang Hwa made this analogy of sin with SARS - how we should be even more vigilant in keeping ourselves free from all sin. As Christians, we should hate sin in all its various forms, and have nothing to do with anything that has to do with sin, or with anything that will lead to sin. We ought to regard sin with the same sense of repugnance that our Holy God Himself has against it.

In order to do that, we need to have our own lives examined by the searchlight of God's Word regularly, so that we may detect whatever sins that are still lingering in our souls, sins that we have not been aware of. The problem is that we are often more ready to direct that searchlight on others than on ourselves. I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we may have to admit that this problem is quite prevalent among Christians like ourselves. It has been observed that Christians in Fundamental churches in particular, are often quick to judge others and do not mourn for their own sins or examine their own hearts. It is said that we are rather unloving, that we have a self-righteous spirit, and that we love to criticise others. 

Now many observations like these do come from those who are prejudiced against Fundamentalism. And so it is natural for them to say that, even when Fundamentalists are doing what is right and necessary in pointing out error. However, observations concerning judgmentalism like these are not completely unfounded. And our response to them should be to humbly examine ourselves to see if we have been unjustifiably critical and judgemental of others.

Are we sometimes too quick to criticise or condemn others for something they did or said, without considering the cause of it or the context of it? Sometimes we notice that someone in our church has not been coming for one or two worship services, and we immediately jump to the conclusion that he must have backslided. And sometimes when a person tries to correct us with entirely good intentions, we misjudge his motives and immediately think that he is against us. Do we tend to judge people by their appearance or background, like the place that they come from? When Philip told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah (in John 1:45) and that He was from Nazareth, Nathaniel's immediate response was 'Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?' 

The same tendency is found in the prejudice that the Pharisees had against Jesus. In John 7:52, they made a totally unfounded judgment about Him, just because He was from Galilee. When we judge someone according to where he comes from, or according to certain things in his past, without making an effort to know what he really is, and what he is doing now, then we fall into the same sin of judgmentalism that the Pharisees were guilty of. And because it is so easy for us to fall into this error, the Lord gives strong words of warning against it in chapter 7 of the Sermon on the Mount. This morning, we want to learn three good lessons from this warning. The first is:

I. The Danger of Our Own Condemnation (vv. 1,2) 

'Judge not, that ye be not judged'. The words 'Judge not' is literally 'do not be always judging.' This does not mean that we should never ever judge someone. Sometimes we do need to exercise judgment and discernment. In the courts of Law, judges have to make sound judgments based on the evidence presented to them. 

In fact, the strict moral distinctions drawn by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount require us to make decisive judgments. Look for instance at v.6 of our text. Here Jesus Himself speaks of the need to identify some people as dogs and swine. And in vv.15-20 He warns against false prophets (vv. 15-20) who must be judged according to their fruits and rebuked. Elsewhere he demands that people 'make a right judgment.' In John 7:24 Jesus said, 'Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.' All this means that some kinds of 'judging' are not only legitimate, but are in fact necessary. 

What then did Jesus mean when He said, 'Judge not'? The answer is that it is the habitual tendency to find fault in others. It is perfectly all right to judge, but not to become critical or judgmental. Let us look at two other passages of scripture that echo this warning. Each of them gives reasons against being judgmental: 

a. Condemnation for Usurping God's Authority to Judge

Romans 14:10-13 'But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought [despise] thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.' According to the context of this passage, there were some Christians who used certain specific practices like eating meat, and celebration of certain holy days as their standard of measurement for judging others. Today, this might be like someone who says to you, 'Do you celebrate Christmas? I don't. I think that all those who celebrate Christmas or attend a Christmas worship service are very unspiritual.'

According to this passage, the only one who is qualified to make this kind of judgment is God Himself. He alone can see the thoughts and intents of the heart. If we make such judgments then we would be putting ourselves in the place of God! Let us therefore be careful not to judge a person on the basis of something that he does or does not do, if it does not violate any of God's commandments. In moral and doctrinal matters, we need to teach and warn people clearly. Thus, if I see a person who is a Christian bowing down to worship idols, or telling a lie, then I am bound by the Word of God to admonish him humbly. 

But if the matter is not a moral or doctrinal one, we must be careful not to become judgmental and usurp God's authority. Sometimes a person may be doing things out of ignorance, because he does not know any better. E.g. Apollos at Ephesus - Aquila and Priscilla took him aside after they heard him preach and he was grateful for the correction he received from them (Acts 18:24-28). What if they had judged him to be a false teacher? 

b. Condemnation for Violating the Law of Loving Our Neighbour

Let us now turn our Bibles to: James 4:11-12 'Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?' This verse gives us another important reason why it is wrong to be judgmental: Because it is not done in the right spirit - the spirit of love. The law that James refers to here is probably the command of Leviticus 19:18: 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.' To judge your neighbor is to violate this law. 

Now this does not mean that when we love someone, we would never tell him that he has done wrong. 1 Corinthians 13:6 tells us that love 'Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.' It would actually be very unkind and unloving of us to let a brother continue to live in sin when we know of it. We should not keep silence, but rather, speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and tell him lovingly that he should obey God's Word and repent of his sins. If we need to correct a brother, let us make sure that we do it with love, with his best interests in our heart. Otherwise we may fall into the sin of becoming proud and self-righteous. 

Having seen these passages, let us now return to our text in Matthew 7 and learn another reason why it is so dangerous to judge someone. We read verse 2: 'For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.'

c. Condemnation for having Double standards

According to this, before we judge someone, we must always remember that the very same standards we apply to others will be used against us by others. Therefore we should never apply standards to others that we would not apply to ourselves. Unfortunately there are some who have double standards - one for others and one for themselves: they impose very high standards and heavy burdens on others, but do not even attempt to keep to those standards themselves. 

A good illustration of this can be found in John 8:3-9 - the passage about the woman who was caught in adultery. The scribes and the Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus and judged that she should be stoned to death, according to the Law of Moses. What did Jesus do? He said 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.' When the scribes and Pharisees heard that, they were convicted by their own conscience that they too had not lived perfectly according to the Law of Moses. Then every one of them walked away one by one, not willing to make a judgement of her anymore.

Dearly beloved, there is one good practice we can carry out whenever we are about to judge others who fall into sin: That is to ask if we would judge ourselves by the same standards with which we are judging them. And if we did, would we be found guilty too? If you had to tell someone that he has sin in his life that he needs to repent of, you must ask myself if you have the same sins or worse sins in your own life that you need to repent of. In other words, put yourself in the dock and judge yourself first. I think that we would probably come to realise, that very often, what we need to do for others is to be merciful to them rather than to make judgments against them. Dearly beloved, since God has been merciful to us in dealing with our sins, then we must be willing to be merciful to others in dealing with their sins.

We observe that according to the second part of v.2 the measure that we mete to others is the measure we will receive. He who insists on showing justice without mercy for others will not receive mercy when he is judged. This is stated in James 2:13 'For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.'

Therefore when Jesus says, 'Judge not' in Matthew 7:1 He is not telling us to just shut our eyes to the sins of others and pretend that they are not there, but rather to be generous in showing mercy toward them, while dealing with their sins in an appropriate manner. Speak gently, tactfully and personally to them. We do this, because we realise that we are no different from others. We are after all, sinners saved by grace. We are what we are, wholly by the grace of God, and not through our own merit or strenuous efforts. This brings us to the second lesson we learn from our passage:

II. The Difficulty of Our Own Imperfection (vv. 3, 4) 

Let us read vv.3-4: 'And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?' We must recognise that there is a figure of speech employed in these verses. It does not mean that one can literally have a huge beam or plank of wood stuck in our eye! 

And it would of course be quite impossible to be more aware or a tiny speck of dirt stuck in someone's eye and not be aware that one has a beam stuck in his own eye. This is a hyperbole, which is an intended exaggeration. Now a hyperbole is always used for the effect of expressing intensity of feeling. And from this we can imagine the intensity of the dislike that Jesus had for the sin of judgmentalism.

So let us learn well from this illustration: the mote (tiny speck) stuck in the brother's eye here stands for the sin in his life that we are judging him for. And the beam that is in our own eye stand for the sin in our own life. The point is that just as it is absurd for beam-eyed man to attempt to help the speck-eyed man, it is absurd for a man with glaring sins in his life to find fault with another who has lesser sins in his life. His own sins prevent him from being objective about the sins of others. It not only impairs his vision as to the guilt or innocence of others, it also disqualifies him from passing judgments on others.

Now, Jesus does not say it is wrong to help your brother who has sin in his life, but it is wrong for a person with worse sins in own his life that are unresolved, to offer this kind of help. Following v.5, he must first deal with the sin in his own life. Then after doing that, he would be in a position to help others who have sinned, since his vision is no longer impaired. This teaches us the necessity of keeping our lives clean from sin if we want to help others. How do we do this? By constant self-examination and confession of all known sins and by asking God to reveal all unknown sins (Psalm 139:23,24). Do not let any sin continue to dwell in your life, unrepented and unconfessed. 1 John 1:9 tells us that 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'

A very good example of a person who had to deal with sin in his life was king David. Let us turn our Bibles to 2 Samuel 12:1-12 - This took place about a year after king David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed in order to marry her. David had covered up his sin so well that he thought that no one knew about it. But the Lord who knows all things knew about this sin and sent Nathan the prophet to confront him. Now, observe how Nathan brought up the subject. In vv.1-4 he told David a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. When a traveller came to visit the rich man, the rich man entertained him, but instead of taking a sheep from his own abundant flocks, he took the lamb, which was the only possession of the poor man, and slaughtered it for food for his guest.

Now look at David's immediate response to this in v.5 'And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:' Here we see David the judgmental hypocrite, attempting to judge the sin of the rich man in the story Nathan had told him which is theft, when he himself was worthy to be judged for even greater sins - that of adultery and murder. David with the huge beam stuck in his own eye wanted to remove the speck in the rich man's eye! 

Then Nathan said to David in v.7 'Thou art the man!' This would have the same impact as saying, 'Excuse me your majesty, but can't you see that you have a huge beam sticking out of your own eye?' The rest of the chapter tells us that David repented deeply of his sin and was forgiven. Psalm 51 contains the prayer of confession that David made. Only then was he qualified to help others deal with their sin. Dearly beloved, let me ask you this morning. Are there some secret sins in your life that you are still keeping? Some sin that no one knows about except you yourself, and that you have not repented of, but still persist in doing? As long as you have not dealt with that sin, you are just like David before he confessed his sin. And as long as you are in this state, you cannot be an effective Christian. You will feel the weight of God's heavy hand upon you. Your help to others will be very limited. How can you help your fellow brothers and sisters to grow in love and purity, if you still have this sin, this beam or plank jutting out of your eye? 

If this is your state now, please don't delay to do something about it. Act upon it right now! Listen to what Jesus said in v.5 'Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.' This brings us to the third and final lesson we learn from this passage:

III. The Demand for Our Own Reformation (v. 5) 

The world is so full of sins today which need to be cleared away, but the appropriate place for us to begin acting upon this is right within ourselves - we must deal first with our own faults. Whenever we hear any message from God's Word don't think how it applies to others, but say, 'Lord, is it I?' If and when we succeed in dealing with our own faults, then we may be in a position to help others in their struggles with sin. Not that we must first reach a state of sinless perfection in order to help others - we can't - but we must keep short accounts with God and leave no outstanding debts of unconfessed sins. Dearly beloved, let us make every effort to cleanse ourselves, for the sake of being ready and able to help those who fall into sin. For, if all of us turn out to be casualties needing help in the spiritual battle field, who is there left to render first aid? None! 

One last passage we will look at is Galatians 6:1 'Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.' This verse is not an option, but a command. We must render help to those who are overtaken in a fault. This means that we must keep ourselves spiritually well. It is imperative for us to do that, in order to remain qualified to help those who have sinned, by restoring them. And in the process of restoring let us be careful of not to become judgmental and self-righteous. We need to have a spirit of meekness. Let us therefore learn how to make righteous judgments, that we may serve God and others well.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11