Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
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? 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? 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.
In this study we begin the study of the 3rd chapter of the Sermon.
Of course, the chapter divisions did not exist in the original documents. They were added later as a way of making it easier to refer to specific portions of scripture. This is useful, but also adds a problem. There is the danger of taking a particular text out of context, as if each verse can stand on its own. That is very very rarely the case, and context is vital to the understanding of most scripture – as we have already seen more than once in this series of studies.
I have to say first of all that this scripture above can be in the category of scriptures where I have occasionally thought that this can refer to almost anyone else except me. I don’t judge like that. And I think that I am not alone in having been like that. But thankfully God woke me up to that way of thinking a long time ago, and reminded me that He can speak to me and correct my ways through any portion of scripture. This one even has a bit of a ‘sting in the tail’ that is unexpected until you remember to take this in the context of the sermon as a whole.
I want to say something here from personal experience. It has relevance to this scripture, although it is more specifically in reference to a scripture from the epistles.
You know, nearly every church and congregation has individuals within it that struggle with habitual or addictive sin. And every life in the church – yes you, and me! – has sin in it that is part of the battle, because all of us are still works in progress while we live in the fallen body that we were born into, not yet being clothed with the new and glorious resurrection body. But some sins and problems seem to provoke some people more than others – and then they increasingly feel that they must do something. That they must ‘tell the truth in love.’ But there is more to this than is seen on the surface…
For churches that operate well in the leadership team, most usually the bigger ‘problems’ are already known about. I put the word ‘problems’ in inverted commas because, to the Lord, there are no problems in the person who has given their life to Christ, has identified with the wonderful sacrificial work of the cross, and who is now clothed in the righteousness of Christ. In the Father’s eyes, all who have responded positively to the gospel and received the saving and redeeming and sanctifying work of Christ have the same access to the Kingdom and to the throne room. All such are children of the Father.
But not all people have had the same level of good fortune in their earthly lives before coming to salvation. Here are some problems that I have come across in the so-called ‘rich’ country of England – and I can only imagine some of the harder problems to be found where there is greater poverty.
For instance, one woman I remember with 2 small children who was struggling with alcoholism after a messy divorce and a partner who used to beat her and rape her and also was violent towards the children. The alcohol had helped to numb the physical and emotional pain, but was now addictive. And it is expensive such that social benefits would not cover all she needs to make sure that her children were clothed and fed and clean. She saw the only way of solving this problem as selling her body – and of course this meant that she ‘intruded on territory’ and was beaten up by a pimp. The same pimp who later allowed her in his ‘employ’ so that he could make more money and that she could get the extra for her children. Can you even begin to imagine all the problems to unravel in a life like that?
Or the lesbian couple who had lived together happily for 20 years, but who had responded to the gospel just before the legalisation of marriage for them. Who would have loved to declare the love that had already existed for so long in this way, but were being torn apart by the way people looked at them when they arrived at church. Brothers and sisters, whatever you have to say about the sin, there is something really heartbreaking here. Whatever you bring to them when you ‘say the truth in love,’ you will have to recognise the pain and the suffering that is the inevitable result of words said without proper thought or preparation.
These are just 2 from many problem situations that I have known. These cases were already well-known to the leadership of the churches of these people. The leadership was already well aware of all the scriptures involved, but were also aware that some extra special gentleness was needed. There was the need for a growing understanding and revelation of the love of Jesus to touch and change these lives. And, as for all of us, this is a process. Some sins are just habitual and you can’t deal with it overnight.
And I have to report that, for both of these situations, the souls were driven away from the church by those who could not resist the temptation to ‘tell the truth in love.’
Let me be 100% clear about this. Firstly, those who do this are NEVER telling the truth – not the truth of the gospel anyway. And secondly, this is NEVER love – it is self-righteous judgement based on legalism and literalism, the two things that we saw early in these studies that Jesus opposes, because these two things are of no value at all in gaining entry into the Kingdom.
Let me be clearer. This is NOT telling the truth, because it is about pointing out scriptures in the Law or the Prophets that oppose what you see with your eyes. And Jesus, in the long passage of the Sermon on the Mount after the beatitudes showed how the literal interpretation was not enough, and how the way the Lord sees these things brings a standard that is impossible to live up to in human strength.
The Law and the Prophets are powerless for you and for me in terms of making you acceptable to the Father. It is as though I am a stuck record in these studies… There is only one who was righteous. There is only one who was worthy. And your sins and my sins caused this one to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary. Only in identifying with his death and resurrection, only by seeing each of my sins causing the nails to pierce his hands and feet, can I be raised into new life. Only in this way can I be clothed in the righteousness that is acceptable to the Father.
There is nothing you can do of yourself to enter the Kingdom. You can’t work your way in. You can’t buy your way in. You can only accept the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross. Anything else may make you feel like you have achieved more righteousness, but the apostle Paul was at great pains in several letters to explain that such righteousness is as filthy rags and unacceptable to the Father. In fact, the original speaks of soiled menstrual cloths, to show that it is worse than just being filthy, but it is religiously unclean.
So those who ‘tell the truth in love’ are operating from a position of legalism. If they place such value on this, then they are themselves clothed in filthy rags that are not acceptable to the Father. This is the huge ‘plank in their eye’ that Jesus speaks of. This is how we reconcile the passage of scripture to the context.
But what is worse is that such people who ‘tell the truth in love’ are demanding a level of legalism from the person they speak to. They are not setting anyone free. They are rather placing new chains of bondage on the person that they speak with. So they want the person to come before the Father clothed in filthy rags and chains. Brothers and sisters, the devil laughs every time he sees such a thing happening.
And the sad thing is that it can set back weeks or months of work that was already in progress with the help of the church leadership. In the two cases above, it led to the ending of church attendance. The souls above literally felt scared to attend church again, thinking that all eyes were on them and judging them. So sad, as they had come to Jesus and were submitted to the church leadership and receiving the help that they desperately needed.
And do not forget the warning that Jesus gives us here! If you are going to judge according to the Law and the Prophets, then this is how the Lord will judge you. And he already pointed out in this same sermon how this will be of no value at all to you in gaining access to the Kingdom.
And here is the uncomfortable truth arising from this: that there will be many with ‘perfect’ and ‘righteous’ lives who will not be able to approach the Father.
Yet there will be many who both the world and so-called ‘Christians’ judge as unrighteous who will happily sit as small children on the Father’s knees.
Why? Because they know the gospel and the meaning of it. They know that there is nothing that they can do of themselves to enter the Kingdom, and that they cannot buy their way in either. The entrance is only through Jesus, and not by works.