“1Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 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? 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” (Matthew 7: 1-5)
Matthew Chapter 7 concludes Christ’s Sermon on the Mount which has many practical instructions for believers to direct their conduct rightly towards God and man. In the above passage, the Lord gave rules for censure and reproof. Addressing the multitude, Jesus did not mince His words but spoke strongly and sharply against those who criticised others rashly and unjustly. He even used pictures – of the “mote” and the “beam” in the eye – to paint the truth about censorious people (vv. 3-5). Christ cautioned His hearers against a fault-finding, critical spirit. He warned them not to condemn others harshly lest they themselves be similarly condemned.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Was the Lord implying that no one was allowed to form any opinion of others, or that the judiciary should be done away with? Was He saying that church leaders should not exercise discipline on erring members lest they themselves come under censure? No. The Lord’s instructions were clear. He was reproving those who pronounced harsh and unjust judgments on others.
“(1) He (Christ) does not prohibit the civil judgment of the courts upon evil doers, for this is approved throughout the whole Bible. (2) He does not prohibit the judgment of the church, through its officers, upon those who walk disorderly, for both he and the apostles have enjoined this. (3) He does not forbid those private judgments that we are compelled to form of the wrong-doers, for he himself tells us that we are to judge men by their fruits. (See Matthew 7:15-20). What he designs to prohibit is rash, uncharitable judgments, a fault-finding spirit, a disposition to condemn without examination of charges” (The People’s New Testament Commentary).
Censorious spirit – part of our depraved nature
Lest we think that the Lord’s warning is not relevant to us, let us examine our own lives. To be honest, we all have a tendency to criticise others because of our depraved nature. What are some marks and consequences of this critical spirit?
1. Taking pleasure in hearing and sharing about others’ faults
Very often, people relish our critical assessment of others and eagerly pass the stories around. Consequently, negative feelings are stirred up against the victim as the hearers’ hearts become hardened toward him. This form of “character assassination” violates the eighth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Ex. 20: 16).
2. Feeling good when highlighting the faults of others
It is in our corrupt nature to feel good when we hear of others’ failings. By disparaging them, we boost our self-image and add to our own pride. Sadly, we fail to see corruption in our own hearts. This reminds us of the parable Jesus told of the Pharisee and the publican. Despising the publican who stood nearby, the self-righteous Pharisee “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Lk. 18: 11-12).
Concluding His parable, Jesus commended the publican but rejected the Pharisee: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Lk. 18: 14).
3. Using it as an outlet for hurt and revenge
Motivated by a bitter spirit, we tend to hit back by telling others about the offender’s faults and failures in order to mar his name. Our vicious words will not only hurt our brother but may also divide the church.
Having considered these truths about ourselves, let us be mindful of our own corrupt nature and tendency to pride, self-love and self-righteousness. When it comes to judging others, guard against a censorious, retaliatory spirit. May the Lord help us to honour Him in this area of our lives. (… to be concluded)