A Community of Compassionate Correction, Not Condemnation

Reflection: Matthew 7: 1 – 5

This portion of Jesus’ teaching addresses the issue of the disciples’ interpersonal kingdom spirituality in their community relationships (vv.3-4: ‘brothers’). Given the high standards that our Lord had set for His disciples, it seems inevitable that human frailness in self-righteous critical and condemnatory attitudes will rear its ugly head, if not in speech, certainly in thoughts. The principle of reciprocity by not hastily condemning seems clear, and it does call for a rare quality of self-awareness combined with an unselfish concern for others.

The legal word to ‘judge’ (v.1a), is used for forming an verdict over people and issues, but the second rendition of the word implies a stronger opinion that is condemnatory in nature (v.1b). It is then followed by a clarification ‘in the way you judge’ (v.2a) informing us that its emphasis is in a biased disparagement of other’s failings and the pronouncement of their guilt that is unwelcome; as it will emphatically rebound on them with God’s judgment (v.2b: do not judge so that you will not be condemned by God). The mutuality principle is emphasized twice (v.2), indicating the seriousness of maintaining an impartial justice as God Himself does, with an intolerance for double standards. The parable of the unforgiving debtor comes to mind (18:23-35).

The Lord then illustrated His two points by employing grotesque yet humorous hyperbole from His own background as a carpenter’s son; that it is inappropriate to draw attention to someone’s minor failing (a speck), when your own (the log – a considerable piece of timber used as a main beam for the floor or roof of a building) is much greater, and the impracticability and insincerity of offering to help before their own greater problem has been dealt with (vv.4-5). The analogy used, is meant to draw attention to the ridiculous and untenable position of a myopic critic when God sees the magnitude of his sin compared to the other. It should be noted that the use of their critical faculties in making value judgments is not being contested here, as its use is frequently urged in the New Testament (7:15-20; 18:15; John 7:24). It is also not incorrect to notice or to desire to assist with another’s failings. The lesson painted here cautioned the ‘hypocrite’ who most likely failed to notice his overwhelming weaknesses (v.3: ‘do not notice’) rather than a deliberate deception on his part.

The incongruity that follows with the metaphors of unclean animals paired with the things of God and pearls, appears to warn the disciples that there is a need to discriminate in sharing the sacred teachings with those who are obstinately unreceptive and at times violent; hence to be sensitive and to judge wisely (v.6). It is probable that the Lord was advising His disciples from being too naïve in handling the things of God, an apparent balance to being judging hypocritically.

Matthew 7:1 is perhaps misquoted more often as a discouragement to judge between right and wrong in the face of ethical relativism. Discipleship inevitably requires judgment about individuals and their teachings (7:20; 10:13-17; 18:15-20), but they are to be constructive rather than retributive. In that sense, one is to be brutally honest in self-introspection as it is absolutely necessary for clear and just moral judgments, where a level of tolerance and generosity do not violate the love mandate (cf. Gal. 6:1–5). Then restoration can occur, based on redemptive empathy rather than condemning detachment. An apt illustration would be Jesus’ exemplary judgment of the adulterous woman with integrity and mercy (John 8:1-11).

Postscript: In view of the ongoing City Harvest Church’s leadership trial, this short study is a reminder to us in our responses to reports in the news media and shared deliberations.