Living in the Kingdom: Balance (the art of being judgmental)


Mathew 7


Living in the Kingdom requires balance, something most of us have trouble with achieving.  But if we want to live the way Jesus wants us to, then balance is something we have to strive for.  Matthew 7 is all about balance.

Judge correctly, Matthew 7:1, 2

Censorious judgment was something the Pharisees engaged in all the time and it was something Jesus said His followers should avoid.  Almost everybody misunderstands what Jesus is really teaching in these verses, believing Christians should never judge anybody.  That is definitely not what Jesus is teaching here.  Jesus himself exercised judgment often, coming to conclusions about, for example, the scribes and Pharisees, and He was never afraid to share His conclusions with them!   Part of the  problem is the King James Version’s translation of the Greek krino.   Taylor’s paraphrase, The Living Bible, gives us a better sense of what Jesus was trying to teach:

Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized.  (Matthew 7:1  TLB)

Verse two was probably a common proverb of Jesus’ day.  It sounds a lot like “reaping what you sow.”

For others will treat you as you treat them.  (Matthew 7:2  TLB)

If you are hypercritical toward someone, you’ll be treated just like that some day.  The Lord is not condemning discernment or judging a brother in love for his benefit, but rather He is condemning judging harshly, coldly and without love, and in a spirit of self-righteousness. 

Board and speck, Matthew 7:3—5

Jesus carries on the idea of harsh judgment with these verses, in which we read a description of and a warning to judgmental critics. 

And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. (TLB)

It’s an absurd proposition.  A human being can’t walk around with a two-by-four sticking out of his eye!  But that’s Jesus’ point. It’s absurd for one believer to assume a superior position over another for the purpose passing judgment on another.  Human beings can’t see into another’s heart!  Therefore, how can we possibly make an accurate assessment?  For that matter, we all have something in our eyes that causes us to not see others in an accurate light.  When we deal with what ails our eyes, then we will be free to deal with someone else’s eye problems. 

What Jesus is attacking here are one’s motives.  If we attempt to judge someone else for the purpose of condemning them unjustly or to “put them in their place,” or to make ourselves either feel good or look good, we are not practicing Kingdom living.  The balance, though, is that we are to judge each other for the purpose of spurring each other on in the faith. 

Pearls and pigs, Matthew 7:6

Don’t give holy things to depraved men. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you.  (TLB)

Here is some more balance.  The admonition not to judge others lest we be judged has its limits.  It does NOT apply to depraved men and pigs.  They must be judged and treated as such.   The “holy things” and “pearls” refer to the same thing:  the holy truth of the Gospel (Lenski).  Jesus is teaching  that we should be careful to whom we give the Word of God to.  “Depraved men” and “pigs” will only walk all over the precious doctrines of Scripture, and probably persecute you, too!

But these men mock and curse at anything they do not understand, and like animals, they do whatever they feel like, thereby ruining their souls.  (Jude, verse 10  TLB)

But when the Jewish leaders saw the crowds, they were jealous, and cursed and argued against whatever Paul said.  (Acts 13:45  TLB)

Balance:  there are certain places where it is a waste of time trying to share your faith.  There are certain times when it’s better to keep quiet.  Some people won’t receive the Word from you, so don’t waste your time.  This is a judgment you have to make!   This was something Jesus taught elsewhere:

When you ask permission to stay, be friendly, and if it turns out to be a godly home, give it your blessing; if not, keep the blessing.  Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave.   (Matthew 10:12—14  TLB)

Confident praying, Matthew 7:7—12

These verses dealing with confident prayer are actually linked to the preceding admonition against critical judging of others.  The best way to treat others is to treat them as God treats you, and the best way to discern others accurately is to see ourselves in the right light.  We are, by our nature, sinful people, and yet God our Heavenly Father has made us His children by grace and He is always ready to give us all that we need.

The balance between a generous Father and needy children is that the children need to learn how to trust their Father.  Trusting involves asking and believing that God will not only hear but respond.   There is a sense that while God knows what we need before we ask, we must still ask; that teaches us to depend on Him, to trust Him, and it also involves humility on our part.  Our prayers should be carefully structured, not just sentence fragments strung together.  Notice the three steps or components of proper prayer:

·         Ask.  In terms of intensity, this is the lowest level.  To “ask” for something implies a sense of need; a sense of inferiority; and an acknowledgment that the you believe the one you are asking has the power to provide what you are asking for.

·         Seek.  This is a little more intense than asking.  In fact, it is a combination:  asking + seeking. Or put another way, you ask, then you look for the answer.  For example, you may pray for a better understanding of the Bible, but you should at the same time study it.

·         Knock.  This is even more  intense; it involves asking, seeking or looking, and persisting or continuing.  This does not necessarily mean pestering God with the same need over and over.  Rather, it means always asking the Lord for whatever you need; turn to Him first, no  matter what the need may be. Don’t just pray when is ditching!  Pray all the time.

To reinforce this teaching on prayer, Jesus uses the familiar “lesser to greater” argument:

If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead?  If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not!  And if you hard-hearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?  (Matthew 7:9—11  TLB)

D.L. Moody once observed:

If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit, which may be the only hindrance to the boon you ask.

Two ways, Matthew 7:13, 14

Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate! The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way.  But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.

Again we see where a believer is to exercise the proper kind of judgment.  Judge for yourself, Jesus says, which way is the right way.  The way to go is up to us; we are presented with two ways (a common theme in Jewish literature):  a narrow and a broad or wide way.  We as Christians are to discern or determine which is the “narrow” or the “right” way. 

Now, these two verses have a subtle message.  It’s easy to walk on the broad way because it’s, well, broad!  The wrong way is the easiest way because it’s the obvious way; it’s way that everybody can see, and therefore, almost everybody chooses that easy way.  It’s broad and easy; it requires no effort to find and no effort to walk in.

Not so the narrow way.  Notice that Jesus says this portal is “small” and it’s even hard to find!  In other words, you have to look for the right way—it requires effort to just find it, but then it requires effort to get into!  There is nothing easy about walking the narrow way.

Two trees, Matthew 7:15—20

Different kinds of fruit trees can quickly be identified by examining their fruit.  (Matthew 7:17  TLB)

From two ways—a right and a wrong way, or a true and false way—we transition to two kinds of teachers, false teachers and teachers who teach the truth.  How can a believer tell the difference?  You can recognize each teacher by the fruit they produce.  A false teacher cannot produce good fruit.   It may be difficult to spot a false teacher by simply listening to what they say; words can be easily manipulated.  That’s why Christians should exercise discernment; we should not only listen to the words but examine the life of a preacher or teacher.

Jesus makes it clear that it is impossible—IMPOSSIBLE—for a tree to bear fruit that is contrary to its nature.  Here, again, the believer is called to judge—to determine who is teaching the truth by looking at their fruit.  This requires a judgment.

Two claims, Matthew 7:21—23

Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven.  At the Judgment many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we told others about you and used your name to cast out demons and to do many other great miracles.’  But I will reply, ‘You have never been mine.  Go away, for your deeds are evil.’   (TLB)

The figures of trees and fruit are now explained in glorious detail.  All kinds of people claim to know the Lord; they claim to love Jesus; they say they serve Him, but do they really?  Jesus says what some people say isn’t necessarily so.  The fact is, and Jesus is teaching this, it takes no effort to proclaim your love and respect for Jesus, but the proof is in the doing, not the saying.  As the Living Bible says, “the decisive question is whether they obey [God].”  And, of course, the very first matter of faith has to do with repentance and faith. 

Two builders, Matthew 7:24—27

This is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.  It calls for the listener to make a judgment:  will he pay heed to what Jesus taught, thus building his life on the firm foundation of Christ’s teaching, or will he turn a deaf ear, resulting in a life with no foundation, for who can build a foundation on sand?

In the Kingdom, a life is built on Christ; on what He teaches; on His will alone.  While it is true that the Kingdom of God is not an actual reality yet, it is a spiritual reality.  If you are a Christian, you should be building your life TODAY as though you are already living in the Kingdom yet to come.  Why?  Because if you are a Christian, the rules of the Kingdom yet to come apply to you right now.  That’s why if a Christian tries to live his life according to worldly principles, he will fail.  He has to.  Here’s why:

…there are many who walk along the Christian road who are really enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their future is eternal loss, for their god is their appetite: they are proud of what they should be ashamed of; and all they think about is this life here on earth.  But our homeland is in heaven, where our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is; and we are looking forward to his return from there.  (Philippians 3:18b—20  TLB)

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