Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 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? 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, which concludes Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, has many practical instructions for believers. In the above passage, Jesus cautioned His hearers against a fault-finding spirit. Addressing the multitude, our Saviour had sharp words for those who criticised others harshly and unjustly. The Lord even used metaphors – of the “mote” and the “beam” in the eye – to paint the ugly truth about censorious people (vv. 3-5).
“Judge not, that ye be not judged” (v 1). Was the Lord ruling out all forms of judgment here – including church discipline on erring members or civil judgment meted out to evil doers? Was He implying that we should not form any opinion of others? No. Jesus’ instructions were clear. He was reproving those who fail to see their own faults, but are quick to judge others. God takes note of our condemnatory spirit and judges us by the same rule.
“He (Christ) does not prohibit the civil judgment of the courts upon evil doers, for this is approved throughout the whole Bible. 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. 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 Matt 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).
Lest we think that the Lord’s warning is not relevant to us, let us examine our own lives. We all have a tendency to speak ill of others because of our depraved nature. What are some characteristics of this critical spirit?
1. Taking pleasure in hearing and sharing about others’ faults
Very often, we relish critical reports about others and are only too eager to pass these stories around. We may even, for good measure, add our own opinions. This kind of gossip stirs up negative feelings as the hearers’ hearts become hardened against the victim. It also violates the ninth 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 exalt ourselves. 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 condemned the Pharisee for his pride and self-righteous spirit: “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” (v 14).
3. Using it as an outlet for hurt and revenge
When someone hurts us, it is our natural response to make him pay for his wrong. We retaliate with angry or bitter words, often behind the person’s back, to mar his name and character. Our negative speech will not only hurt our brother but may cause discord in the Body of Christ.
Having considered these truths about ourselves, let us be mindful of our own sinful nature, pride and vindictive spirit. Let us ask ourselves: Do we have a habit of finding fault with others or forming an unkind judgment without understanding or considering the circumstances? Before we condemn others, let us look within our own hearts. If we are honest, our conduct is often not much different from the very people we condemn.
May the following insightful thoughts from Matthew Henry help us to check this negative aspect of our lives:
“We must not sit in the judgment-seat, to make our word a law to everybody. We must not judge our brother, that is, we must not speak evil of him, so it is explained (Jas 4: 11). We must not despise him, nor set him at nought (Rom 14: 10). We must not judge rashly, nor pass such a judgment upon our brother as has no ground, but is only the product of our own jealousy and ill nature. We must not make the worst of people, nor infer such invidious things from their words and actions as they will not bear. We must not judge uncharitably, unmercifully, nor with a spirit of revenge, and a desire to do mischief. We must not judge of a man’s state by a single act, nor of what he is in himself by what he is to us, because in our own cause we are apt to be partial. We must not judge the hearts of others, nor their intentions, for it is God’s prerogative to try the heart, and we must not step into his throne; nor must we judge of their eternal state, nor call them hypocrites, reprobates, and castaways; that is stretching beyond our line; what have we to do, thus to judge another man’s servant? Counsel him, and help him, but do not judge him.”
May the Lord grant us grace to guard against a proud, critical and retaliatory spirit.
(… to be continued)