When we read about the narrow gate and the broad gate in v13-14, we probably think those on the broad road to destruction are completely irreligious drug addicts and prostitutes who love listening to heavy metal bands like Megadeth and Black Sabbath. If you follow Jesus’ argument throughout the Sermon on the Mount, it seems like there will be a sizeable contingent of religious Pharisees on the broad road who think they are on the narrow way, but they’re not.
How do I know this?
Matt 7:21-23 [READ]
How tragic! These people spent years and years doing religion. Even prophesying and driving out demons and performing miracles. They were devoted. They were dedicated. They gave their lives to live as servants of God. Perhaps they would be the types to be the first to volunteer to join a church plant. How tragic, that on that Day, they’ll say, Lord, Lord, it’s me. And Jesus will respond coldly, I never knew you.
Jesus is teaching us how to tell the difference between authentic faith and dead religion. And the fact that in Jesus’ very first sermon, he addresses this topic extensively, it tells me that this is not merely a common problem back in his day, but he already had the foresight to know that it would continue to be a problem throughout the generations, all the way to the present. We need to evaluate and discern and judge between a faith that saves and a religion that does not.
There are 2 steps in understanding the statement–do not judge. Step 1: Interpret the verse in light of its immediate context. And step 2: Interpret the verse in light of the whole counsel of God. If the immediate context leads you to a particular interpretation, but that interpretation contradicts other parts of the Bible, then you have to go back to the drawing board. Why? Because the Bible does not contradict itself.
In 1 Cor 2:15, it says, the spiritual man makes judgments about all things. Similarly, in John 7:24, it says, Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. Did Jesus have a case of amnesia? Did Jesus forget what he said in Matthew 7? One minute he says, do not judge, and the next, the spiritual man makes judgments and so if you are a believer, go and make a right judgment.
If we are to take the verse–do not judge–at face value to mean, never judge and be tolerant always, then this interpretation not only fails the test of its immediate context, but it also fails the test of the whole counsel of Scripture. So that should be a red flag. There is a contradiction here. I need to go back to square one and revisit my original interpretation of that verse.
In Greek, the word for “judge” can mean to separate, to discern, choose, determine, condemn, it can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. It’s no different from the English language. Take for example the word “set.” Did you know that there are 464 different definitions for the word “set?” To set a vase on a table. To set a house on fire. The sun sets early in winter. He’s set in his ways. A set of china. Back in the day before wikipedia and the internet, many people owned an encyclopedia SET in their homes. We always meet at a set time. Set your clocks ahead one hour. Let’s set apart our fine silverware for special occasions.
How do we know which “set” a person is using? Context. The context of the verse–do not judge–is the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, Jesus is not forbidding the use of judgment. How else can you judge for yourself between authentic faith and dead religion? You need to use judgment. So here’s the key. We are to use judgment, we are to discern and use good common sense. But there is something that Jesus is forbidding us to do. Jesus is telling us, judge, but do not judge with a judgmental spirit. Did you catch that? Judge, but do not judge with a judgmental spirit. Judging with a judgmental spirit vs. judging without a judgmental spirit. There is a world of difference. There is the right kind of judging–judging legitimate sin, using good judgment and discernment to tell right from wrong, true vs. false. But there is also the wrong kind of judging and we are strictly forbidden to judge in this manner.
From the context, Jesus is forbidding a judgmental spirit that looks only on the outside. This is the attitude that permeated the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw something that they perceived to be wrong and they looked down their noses at everyone else. They always spoke and acted with a condemning attitude. Think of how many times the Pharisees questioned Jesus throughout the gospels. Why aren’t your disciples fasting? Why are they working on the Sabbath? Why are you hanging out with prostitutes and low lifes? Countless times, over and over.
So Jesus warns in v1-2.
Matt 7:1-2 [READ]
A key word in these verses is “measure.” Did you ever notice that verse? If you live with a judgmental spirit, and in your heart, you’re always pulling out the tape measure for other people and questioning their actions and motives–you are not measuring up, you’re falling short, you messed up here, where’s your heart–if this is your attitude toward others, then watch out. If you measure your judgment out this way, I only see black and white, I’m the judge, if this is you, be warned. No, you and I are not the judge. Jesus is the Judge. He is the only one who has the authority to pardon or to condemn. If you have a judgmental spirit and you are quick to condemn others, in the same way you judge and measure out your judgment toward others, it’s gonna come back at you. This is the warning Jesus issues.
How do we know if our heart and attitude are right? A few things to keep in mind. First, a right heart is always redemptive, not condemning. It builds up and lifts people up, not tears them down. Jesus doesn’t say, speck, what speck? Jesus doesn’t deny that there could be something wrong with the other person. But he doesn’t say, point it out. He says, remove it. We’re good at pointing things out. Look at that speck in his eye, look at what he or she is doing wrong. The real, discerning follower of Christ seeks to build up. A genuine Christ follower desires to help people move forward in their relationship with God. We are not to be fault finders. We are to be agents of transforming grace by not merely pointing out but helping to remove specks of sin.
Second, right judgment always deals with my own heart before dealing with others. Now it’s getting personal.
Matt 7:3-5 [READ]
You see a speck in your brother’s eye. A speck is like a little, bitty piece of saw dust. Contrast that with a plank in your own eye. A plank is like a wooden beam that holds up the roof of a building. You get the picture? A tiny piece of sawdust, a splinter vs. a giant wooden beam.
We see things in others and sometimes it may trigger a reaction in us. If I see something in somebody else’s life, that same thing is either in my life, OR by the grace of God it’s no longer in me. Either way, I’m no better. I am a fellow brother struggling with the same thing, or I am humbled because God has changed me by his grace, and not by my efforts. If I am struggling with the same sin, I am certainly not looking down on anyone. Therefore, my tone would be different. My words would not be condemning. On the flip side, if God has helped me to overcome, I would invite the person with the speck to receive the same grace in their lives. I would point them to Jesus because I can’t change them and they can’t change themselves.
What’s the point of this? If someone else’s sin is bothering you more than your own unrighteousness before God, you need to go back a chapter and get into your prayer closet. And spend some alone time with God to regain the right perspective again.
Right judgment starts with a right judgment of myself. We need to start with the plank in our own eye before we start dealing with the speck in another person’s eye. It’s a question of order and magnitude. The order is first, start with yourself. Examine yourself. Withhold judgment until you pray about yourself. And magnitude – your problem as it relates to your vision and how you see others and their faults, your problem is much greater in magnitude than the person you are trying to help. Your problem is exponentially greater in magnitude. We’re comparing a huge beam to a tiny splinter. It’s not a fair comparison. There’s no contest. If you acknowledge this truth, then we would all agree that your vision and my vision is severely impaired. More than impaired, our vision is literally blocked by a beam. Thus, the beam sticking out of your eye makes it virtually impossible to see the speck in someone else’s eye.
Does this mean that your problem is always objectively bigger than the problem in others? No, of course not. But in terms of judging and vision and seeing sins in others, we have a big problem on our hands. And the problem is not the other person. The problem is our own distorted vision.
Given our visual impairment, how we judge others is important. It’s important to judge with the right heart. First, a heart that is redemptive, not destructive. Building up the other person rather than tearing down. Second, it’s a heart that is quick to deal with the huge beam in our eye because unless we deal with this massive problem with our own vision first, we will never be able to see clearly the speck in anybody’s eye. Assuming we’ve done those things, hopefully, the judgmental spirit will no longer be there and we are in a position to judge aright.