Preparing to judge others, Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:3-5

Matthew 7:3-5

Why do you see the speck in your brothers eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, Let me remove the speck from your eye, while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers eye.
(NET Bible)

Laughing at ourselves

Many years ago I met weekly with a colleague for lunch at the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. In time I came to regret that standing lunch because my friend, who was intelligent enough to discuss many things, chose to spend his part of the conversation by running down people we both knew. My attempts to introduce other topics generally failed. Another salient fact is that my friend never acknowledged any weakness or shortcoming on his own part; in his view, he was perpetually blameless.

What does Jesus think about disciples who judge others without any regard for their own faults and failings? They will not be pleased to find out.

Some people think that God lacks a sense of humor. Those folks would have been shocked to hear members of Jesus audience laugh at some of his exaggerated metaphors. Jesus was known to be a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and the son of a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). What we have in 7:3-5 is carpenter-shop humor with a sharp lesson about judging other disciples fairly.

Imagine the absurdity of a disciple with a roof beam sticking out of his eye who is trying to see a small object such as a chip, splinter or piece of straw in his brothers eye (7:3). Jesus abruptly sets the hook with that potent sentence: You hypocrite! (6:5a). Is Jesus saying this to the disciples? What does he mean?

The previous uses of the Greek noun hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16) were consistent with its general meaning actor, in the sense pretender, dissembler.[1] We have learned that such people were pretending to worship God when in fact they wanted to be seen by people and considered pious. Since Jesus most frequently uses this negative term to describe the scribes and Pharisees (23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29), it seems that here (6:5a) he is saying that any of his disciples who judge others harshly in order to seem pious are no better than those pretending to love God while seeking popular admiration. In this, such a misguided disciple is following the Pharisees rather than Jesus!

How must the disciple repent of making harsh judgments? Jesus says, First remove the beam from your own eye (7:5), but he does not explicitly say how to do so. To answer this question we should consider all that Jesus has said to this point. The first thing to realize is that Jesus has spoken to his disciples as their teacher and even their Lord. When Jesus finished teaching, the crowd was astonished that he had spoken with complete authority (7:28-29). That had never happened!

The first step toward clearing ones vision is to listen to Jesus and no other; that would mean rejecting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. The second step would be to develop the character traits Christ wants in his disciples (5:1-16). Next, the disciple should adopt the understanding taught by Jesus of how the law must be fulfilled (5:17-48). Finally, the disciple must learn from Jesus how to view his religious duties and to put seeking God above seeking money (6:1-34). Following Jesus in all things is the way to see clearly and to make sound judgments.

Craig Blomberg skillfully summarizes: But verse 5 makes clear that verses 34 do not absolve us of responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, once we have dealt with our own sins, we are then in a position gently and lovingly to confront and try to restore others who have erred (cf. Gal. 6:1).[2]

Judgment is not a laughing matter

Unless we are laughing at our own faults as disciples, judgments about others are no laughing matter!

Jesus had great concern about unity among his followers. He knew that harsh, loveless judgments could sour that unity and hurt the gospel of the kingdom. Judge we must, but let us do so with an eye to our own limitations and the priority of Jesus mission over our personal concerns.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] BDAG-3, hypocrites, actor, q.v.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 128.


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