The Honorable Judge Not [Specks & Planks #1]
Specks & Planks: The Honorable Judge Not
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • July 24, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
We just finished up our Art of Neighboring sermon series and as we continue to follow the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, there is a temptation for us to judge others as we fulfill this command. In the Sermon on the Mount, found in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus encourages us to trust others to God’s care and provision:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
This feels difficult, doesn’t it? It feels like our days are consumed with judging, judging ourselves and others. Is this a good outfit? Is this a good job? Is that person attractive? Or are they attracted to me? Is this person being genuine? Or am I being cheated? Do you really love me? Am I accepted? Am I lovable?
So when Jesus says,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “Don’t breathe.” The greek word for “judge” used in Matthew 7 is krino.
There are three major definitions:
the first means to decide, distinguish, or resolve;
the second means to adjudicate a case;
the third means to expose what is hidden in darkness, and the motives of someone’s heart.
Is Jesus is saying in Matthew 7, do not make decisions? Sorta a problem, because you would have to make a decision not to make a decision. This is a performative contradiction. Whatever you do don’t make any decisions because, then decisions will be made about you! Following Jesus himself involves a decision. Obeying this command of Jesus involves a decision.
Is Jesus saying in Matthew 7, “Get rid of the legal system and the courts?” I don’t think so.
Maybe Jesus is saying, “Stop trying to determine the deepest motives of someone’s heart.” It’s fine to judge their actions. You hit your sister. Not, you hit your sister because you are at your core an evil little child!
I found 1 Corinthians 4:5 to be the most helpful:
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Is it the case that Jesus is saying stop trying discover and expose the hidden motives of others?
Paul says it’s God responsibility to judge the hearts of people. It’s God’s responsibility to determine what’s going on in someone’s heart that causes them to act.
Judging others is making a negative evaluation of others without standing in solidarity with them. Judging places the judge outside, and often above, the person being judged. This is why I believe that Jesus prohibits it.
And at the center of Jesus’ teaching about what it means to be a human being, made in the image of God, are the twin commands about love and judgment. Love each other as I have loved you (John 13:34); and do not judge (Matthew 7:1). These commands go hand in hand. Loving others will help you avoid judging them.
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus is saying, “Stop thinking that you are able to know someone’s true motives. This is what you are doing when you ‘judge’ them. Look, you don’t have enough information to judge correctly, so instead, why don’t you lean in with love instead of judgement? But, if you insist on judging, prepare yourself for being wrong, and if you are wrong, realize that you may make a serious mistake that could harm you and the person you are judging.”
In Matthew 7:13 Jesus says,
13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
All of this has to do with our posture towards one another.
When we follow the master through the narrow gate into life, we realize that the only posture we can take is that of a servant. We lower ourselves in order to love and lift up one another. This is the way of Jesus. It makes sense that “love one another” goes with “do not judge.” It’s almost like it’s a switch, it’s either love one another or judge each other. You can’t do both. You can’t be in both positions at the same time.
When we are in this posture, trying to enact this was of being human, it creates a tension, doesn’t it? We shouldn’t quickly ignore this tension, it’s almost like it was designed to help us see something.
Take Matthew 7: 3-5 for example:
“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.” Matthew 7:3-5
One of the ways that I falsely interpreted this passage was by assuming that the plank represents my personal sins. Which led me to believe that once I recognized and addressed by personal sins, I would be free to judge others. This is illogical – it would make Jesus say, “Just get rid of your sin, so you will become a better judge.” There’s a problem with this approach, for me, it’s my lack of confidence in my ability to rid myself o sin. If the logs aren’t necessarily our sins, what else could they represent, maybe it’s the act of judging someone’s essence, their motives, the things that are hidden in darkness? What if Jesus is saying, when you judge someone, it prevents you from loving them, helping them, or standing with them. The log (our judging) is in the way. It prevents you from fulfilling your obligation to your neighbor, to love them as yourself.
Here’s another way of looking at the plank, it’s distinctly positional and at the same time, it’s really relational! When you are facing someone with a plank sticking out from our head, it distances us, and it has the potential to cause a lot of pain.
However, when we realize that we have a plank coming out from our head, we might consider changing our posture, opting to stand next to instead of in front of each other. In this posture, the plank does not cause any pain or distance.
Judging, underneath it all, is often about control. I want to fix what I observe is wrong in you, and when I do this, there’s a hidden benefit, I get to feel better about myself. Many of us falsely believe that we have good intentions when we wade into God's domain and start judging others. But the truth is we have fooled ourselves into thinking we know better. If you can, just think about the last time you judged someone. How did they receive your judgement?
We falsely assume that if we just point out what's wrong or broken in the other they will agree with us and change. However, that's not what usually happens. Many people when judged: recoil, shrink, get angry or cry under our judgment. And for many of us, we interpret these reactions as confirmation that our judgment was spot-on, correct, appropriate, and most importantly, “convicting.” This is just a form of condemnation engineering. Our attempt to control and reshape the other with our correcting, criticizing, shaming, ignoring, and speaking against them.
I ignore you to get you to see how deeply flawed your essence is.
I critique you because I'm trying to get you to be something else, which better serves my purposes.
I shame you to keep you dependent on me and to make me feel better about myself.
I get why we look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, we often do this because we love them and are concerned about and for them. It’s the very reason why we notice it because we are looking. We are looking – assuming that we, ourselves, are in a healthy place and because we care. Yet, Jesus warns us that there is a danger in how we respond to what we see in others as we attempt to love them. A danger so serious that we could end up with two tragic consequences. One, we might miss out on some serious problems of our own (the plank in our own eyes). And two, we might do some serious damage to those we are trying to help because we aren’t tuned in to how compromised our own ability to see is.
So Jesus’ solution is both simple and brilliant. We will pick up right here next week.
Often our judging has two goals, to fix others and to feel better about ourselves. Take time this week to consider how you may have “judged” others–times where you have stood over, against, or above someone else. Then if you are willing ask Jesus through the Holy Spirit to forgive you for your judgement. Ask Jesus to help you become more loving and less judging. Invite Jesus to speak these words of truth to you:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
To abide means to rest in and rely on Jesus, who is not outside of us, judging us, but is inside of us, empowering us. The more deeply we’re aware of our identity in Christ and his presence and power with us, the more at peace we are, which fuel our ability to love one another instead of judging one another.