Today’s chapter: Matthew 7
These days it seems like whenever a TV show has good viewer ratings, the producers quickly capitalize on the success by creating a spin-off series. Some shows like CSI and NCIS have created multiple offshoots versions. But the undisputed champ of all spin-offs is Law and Order. Besides the original series, it has spawned Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury (which only lasted 1 season), LA (another 1-season wonder). Reportedly we’ll also soon be blessed with a new live version called You the Jury/i>, so you may want to go ahead and set your DVR for that.
If you tried to binge watch all the episodes of every Law and Order series, you’d be on your couch for a very long time. Your eyes would be glued to the screen 24 hours a day for over a month and a half. I don’t recommend trying to pull off that marathon.
The Scripture passage that gets quoted most often these days is from Matthew 7. We usually hear it said in the good old King James vocabulary: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” People typically say cite this verse when they feel like they’re being judged and want to make it stop. They play the Bible card, which seemingly dictates that making judgments is always wrong.
Most people seem to understand Jesus’s words as a matter of law and order. Some think it’s saying to not be like a judge by making decisions about guilt and innocence or right and wrong. Others think it means we’re not supposed to act like police by going around enforcing any standards of behavior. When we dig a bit deeper, though, we discover Jesus isn’t saying either of those things.
The church is notorious for policing people outside the church. One would think we’d have learned by now we’re not going to scold or boycott anybody into the kingdom. That approach has never worked yet, so I’m not sure why so many Christians still do it with such enthusiasm. Besides, those outside the church never agreed to live by Christian values. Since they never bought into that standard of behavior, they’re certainly not going to appreciate being criticized for not living by it.
The church’s misunderstanding of this issue is why it often has such a bad reputation. Legislating morality is a silly goal anyway. Even if we were successful at getting nonbelievers to live and behave like Christians, would it be worth it? All we would have accomplished would be to populate hell with nicer and more moral people. That’s not even close to what Jesus called us to do.
When Jesus said “do not judge,” if He meant we aren’t supposed to discern right from wrong, then He did some things that don’t make sense. In fact, He didn’t follow His own teaching. He often labeled people’s sin as “sin,” which is very judgmental. He also made some incredibly harsh statements to the religious leaders of the day and told them they would “be judged by hell.” Ouch. Tell us how you really feel, Jesus.
Jesus isn’t saying don’t make judgments. He frequently displayed piercingly judicial discernment. Instead, He actually instructs us to judge like Him. We just have to keep reading the next few verses to see it. He clarifies in this passage how, when, and why we’re to judge.
In verses 3-5, Jesus explains that this type of judging is something you do with your brother: a fellow believer. We typically shy away from confronting people we know about sin. It feels much safer to pass judgment on outsiders because we can do it from a distance and not have to deal with any messy relational fall-out.
Instead, we’re supposed to love our brother enough to “remove the speck” from his eye. Although it might be more convenient for me to ignore whatever is going on his life, he needs me to love him enough to not enable him to continue making destructive choices. He needs me to be more concerned with helping him to see God and to see the potential consequences of his actions than I am with my own insecurities and fear of rejection.
But when I see my brother stumble, my first response isn’t supposed to be pointing out his error. Instead, step one is taking a look in the mirror at myself. Jesus says I need to identify the plank in my own eye. What’s my real motivation for approaching my brother about the speck in his eye? What personal issues have I been justifying or overlooking rather than dealing with? What is the log in my own eye that needs to be removed?
Jesus makes it clear that the log in my eye isn’t supposed to become a reason for not helping my brother and aborting the entire process. Instead, I need to remove it so I can get an unobstructed view of his speck. Then I’ll be able to see clearly enough to make a good judgment and to help him see more clearly, too.
Think about your closest friends at church. What sin can you see in their lives that they don’t seem to be aware of? Start by prayerfully asking God to reveal the plank in your own eye. Allow Him to remove it so you can be free to see more clearly. Then love your friend enough to have a one-on-one conversation about his speck. It might seem like a risky and uncomfortable step to take, but it’s what real love looks like.