Well good morning everyone. This is the 2nd of a short series of sermons on "Life In Society". And the subject I've been given today is Judgements and Judgementalism. So please grab a Bible and turn to that reading we had from Matthew 7 earlier in the service. And we're going to pray. For without the Lord's help we'll struggle to get the wisdom we need to tackle this subject.
PRAY: "Father God, your word tells us that if anyone lacks wisdom, they should ask you. So we pray this morning that you would generously give us the insight we seek. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. "
A while ago it was announced that Northern Ireland's first private abortion clinic is set to open. Dawn Purvis, the centre's programme director said: "We would hope that any client who comes to us can do so and access those services freely, safely and can come to a centre that will be supportive and non-judgemental."
A week ago the Scout Association revealed plans to boost its number of homosexual members and leaders. And have subsequently created a series of advisory documents aimed at counselling young people about their sexuality - one of which informs them that: "There is nothing wrong with being gay and being a Scout and the person that you tell should be supportive and non-judgemental to what you are telling them."
Did you spot the repeated statement in both those quotes? "Supportive and non-judgemental" - They are the watch words of our culture on this subject. If you're going to be supportive and caring and loving to others - you'd better not make moral judgements about what they believe or how they behave.
And this view is promoted not only in secular organisations – It has affected the Church too. I remember a student telling me that she was going to leave our church a few years ago – And the reason? "JPC is too judgemental," she said. "Who are we to judge what other people do or believe. Jesus said 'Don't Judge' but we do that all the time. There's too much of that here. I think we need to be like Jesus and judge less and love more."
I have to admit I was gutted to hear her say those words. It shook me to the core – making me wonder: Are we too judgemental? As an organisation? As individuals? As I pondered that I turned to the verse that young lass quoted in Matthew 7 verse 1. I asked myself: What has God got to say about our Judgements and Judgementalism?
For in it Jesus warns us of 2 dangers we must take on board as we face up to these issues. Here's the first 1:
(1.) The Danger of Being Judgemental (v.1-5)
"Judge not..." warns Jesus in verse 1. AND it's important right from the start to clear up what that doesn't mean. As this is not a blanket command preventing us from making any judgements at all. Bishop JC Ryle in his commentary on these verses once wrote: "We must be careful not to stretch this command. It is possible to misapply these verses so that they yield not medicine, but poison." And alas many have done just that!
But Jesus is clearly not prohibiting us from making any judgements at all. As elsewhere in the Bible:
• Christian teachers and preachers are actively commanded to make judgements. So in 2 Tim 4v.2 it says: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort..."
• AND Christians are encouraged to make judgements too – as Colossians 3v.16 commands us to: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…" AND we will need to make judgements if we are going to teach one another the way to go and warn one another about dangers.
So it cannot be just a blanket command – "Do not judge". Otherwise we would be closing down law courts, freeing teachers up to never have to mark another book ever again, and putting most of you Doctors out of a job. Can you imagine the scenario?
• Patient: "So, what's wrong with me doctor?"
• Doctor: "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't say… I don't want to Judge."
That would be ridiculous wouldn't it! BUT the essential point to grasp here is the difference between making judgements and being judgemental. Between having a critical faculty and being hyper-critical. As obviously we are still to make moral and spiritual judgements as much as we make physical ones, and have a critical faculty.
So what are we warned against here? Well, what Jesus is really going after is the habit of passing rash & hasty judgements. He's after our natural inclination to be fault finders – who are negative and destructive about others. And actually enjoy highlighting the failings of others.
The judging here is the kind of finger pointing accusation that tears down others for no constructive reason. Ever done that? Ever sounded off about someone or even to someone, NOT because you're trying to be helpful, but just because it makes you feel better?
That's how it works after all, doesn't it? We criticise others so we can feel better about ourselves. Because pointing out someone else's faults, paints us in a better light. It enables us to say: "I might not be perfect, I might not be a saint, but at least I'm not like them."
I was really struck by this a while back: I was sitting at traffic lights thinking about something incredibly worthy, like what we were going to have for tea, and was so lost in thought that I didn't notice when the lights had changed. But the guy behind me did, so that when the lights turned green he turned green and honked his horn. At which point I panicked and committed the cardinal sin of stalling. And by the time I got the car started and into gear and moving off the guy behind me had accelerated round me and off down the road leaving me muttering to myself: "What a clown." AND in an instant my inconsiderate daydreaming behind the wheel of a car was covered over with his impatience and his lack of understanding as I settled myself comfortably into my judgement seat.
I am not alone am I? We so easily think ourselves better than others. We judge people and pass comment on them when we don't need to and we do it harshly. And ironically the things that annoy us most about others are often things which we do ourselves. But Jesus says, we need to stop it.
Why? Well the reason why follows straight on, doesn't it? Look at verse 1 again: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." How we judge others will decide how we will be judged. This is boomerang justice. Whatever judgements you dish out will come right back at you!
Now it stands to reason that if we are easily irritated and constantly critical of others - then we will invite people to be critical of us too. We so easily slip into the "treat others they way that they treat us" mentality. But this goes deeper than that. The point of these verses is not that we should be moderate in our opinions of others so that they will be moderate in their opinion of us - But rather that we should repent of our judgemental attitudes in case we stand utterly condemned before God.
Jesus paints a picture of a courtroom, here. So imagine this was not a church but a courtroom with me for a minute:
• The Judges Bench is up here in the pulpit;
• and the Dock for the accused is down at the Eagle Lectern;
• the front rows of pews are for the lawyers;
• and the rest of the pews are the gallery for the spectators.
Jesus tells us that if we set ourselves up here in the judge's seat then we will find ourselves down in the dock. As to set ourselves up in the judge's seat is to take God's role.
This goes right back to the heart of sin. It's Adam & Eve stuff. What was it that was so attractive about sin to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? That they could be like God! As Genesis 3.5 puts it: "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Adam and Eve were tempted with being like God – "knowing good and evil" – deciding what good and evil actually is. And if I want to play God then one of the things I'll do is sit in judgement on others. It is God's role to judge it is not mine. How can I presume to know the heart & motives of another person? I don't have x-ray eyes! Only God can see that kind of thing. And I must not set myself up as God.
So, do not be judgemental, or you will be condemned, says Jesus. That is the danger of being judgemental. If we make it a HABIT to pass judgements on others we will find ourselves under God's judgement. And rightly so – because it's just sheer arrogance for us to take God's role for ourselves!
Now, how do we ground this?
Well firstly by Admitting Our Own Sin
As Jesus shows us exactly what to do, with a little slapstick illustration in the next few verses. Let's pick it up again in verse 3: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
It's all a bit Laurel and Hardy there, isn't it? But you get the point. If you're going to point the finger you'd better point it at yourself first. Then you will be able to see clearly to deal sensitively with the sins & failures of others.
You see if you're Jesus Christ and your life is blameless as his life is, then you get to stand in judgement and cast the first stone. But these verses should send our minds home to our own private lives. As my judgement of the speck of sin in another's eye, should be tempered by the log jam of sin I see in my own eyes.
Of course I'll still have a critical faculty, but if I look at my own sin first, then I'll call out to Christ for mercy and mercy will be my flagship as I seek to help others. I have received mercy from Christ if I am a Christian. My righteousness is in Christ alone and in what he has done on the cross. And I can now stand alongside others by the grace of God.
So if I see anger in someone else's life & I think it would be helpful to go & point it out to them. Before I speak to them, I'd better ask the Lord to show me the anger I have in my own life & forgive me for it. Then I'm in a much better position to talk to someone helpfully about their anger. My conscience is clean – because my sinful anger has been forgiven by the Lord. My motives are pure – because having been shown mercy by God what I want is this other person to receive mercy too. I'm not taking the moral high ground – because I've humbled myself to the spiritual low ground, as I say to my friend: "I'm a sinner just like you, I sought the Lord's forgiveness & cleansing for this & you should too."
And therefore the question I have to ask you now is: Are you a merciful person? What is your reputation in the workplace or home, are you known as being merciful? OR are you a bit of a hatchet man or woman? You know, someone who is very quick to knock people down and write people off: "Oh well that person has blown it. She can't be trusted now." "Why is she always doing that? What an idiot!"
You see, when we make those kinds of sweeping comments: We are on the throne and we are judging. If we continually do that then can I urgently suggest that we need to go to Jesus for mercy.
And as I do that I should secondly by Be Careful With My Criticisms
As these verses deal with the eyes. And you know about the eye don't you? The eye is the most sensitive organ in the human body?! It closes up when you touch it. Test it out if you don't believe me and try to poke yourself in the eye!
But here we learn what we already knew, that criticising others is a sensitive business. So it should be a very delicate operation.
Think of a mother at the park with her young child. And the kid is playing merrily in the sandpit when he gets a speck of sand in his eye. What does the mother do? She picks up the young lad and ever so gently dabs and wipes till she gets the speck out. AND that is how I am to conduct criticism. Not with judgement, but with gentleness, with loving concern.
What an illustration! When I am involved in criticism I am removing a speck. It needs to happen as to "teach and admonish" one another is clearly a part of being a loving Christian brother or sister. If there are things wrong – then we need to speak to others about it. BUT as I confront people, I am to have that in my mind: How would you take a speck from someone else's eye?
It must be gently done. So we:
• Pray first.
• Weigh our words - As we give genuine thought to what we might say. Maybe even writing something down so folks can see how seriously we want to get it right.
• Wait for the right moment - Even if it makes it more awkward for us, we wait for a time when we won't catch the other person off guard. And that obviously should be face to face!
• AND we are positive - positive about the person and our relationship with them. And the relationship with God we long from to have.
John Stott writes of this passage: "We need to be as critical of ourselves as we so often are of others and as generous to others as we always are to ourselves." That's spot on, isn't it?
We must not be judgemental, says Jesus. For those who judge will be judged, whereas those who receive mercy from Christ will be merciful to others.
(2.) The Danger of Being Undiscerning (v.6)
As this passage has one more verse, doesn't it? And you'll be pleased to know that we will give it the roughly the same ratio of attention the passage does. So take a look at it in verse 6: "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you."
Now please note that this is not your common or garden pet dog, or a Peppa Pig or even Percy Pigs. These are seriously wild animals. And here is someone giving precious pearls to them. And no surprises, they don't understand their value! He lobs pearls to them & they gnaw at them & just about break their jaws trying to chew them, before spitting them out disgusted. And there's a "How can you give us this muck to eat?" kind of look in their eyes as they turn on the pearl giver & angrily tuck into him.
Jesus is saying that this is how some people will respond to the treasures of God's word. In here (BIBLE) are the words of God himself. Words which can guide us away from sin and error and hell; words of light and life; the most valuable words in the world.
But as we present it's truths to some people we had better be warned, says Jesus – For they won't see its value. And they won't thank us for it. And more than that some will take great exception to us telling them about it.
Which I suppose is why many of us would rather eat liver & shovel manure rather than challenge people to face up to God's truth. BUT Jesus isn't trying to put us off giving people God's treasure. He's trying to say that not everyone will be grateful for constructive criticism.
A true brother in the Lord will thank us for our thoughtful & courageous concern. Others will react badly. But if a friend is going off the rails with drink, or making unwise choices in relationships, or bending the truth, or struggling to believe –not to step in and say something is the uncaring thing to do. Their sight is blighted & they need God's precious words to help them see.
AND what Jesus is encouraging us to do is to be discerning about who we keep giving God's precious pearls to. You would never give your brand new iPhone 5 to the dog to play with. Neither would you offer your jewellery to the Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig at Jesmond Dene. Likewise, if folks have had plenty of opportunity to hear God's precious word of truth, but they continue to ridicule and reject it, then move on from them. They cast themselves in the role of "pigs" & "dogs". Don't waste your time on them. Don't let them trash God's precious words.
Now this is a very serious decision to make. It's very hard to know who those people are.
I think that's why we are immediately called to pray in verse 7. We are called to be people of prayer so that we can make wise choices about this. But that this is in the Bible is for sure, because Paul twice within the space of a few chapters in Acts says to some Jews who are rejecting the gospel: "OK so be it... we are turning to the Gentiles."
If you think that's just grumpy old Paul speaking, what about in Matthew 10 when Jesus sends out his disciples on a preaching tour with this instruction: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet."
There will be times when we need to know when to shut up and walk away. We need to pray for wisdom over when to do that. We never give up on anyone – we still pray for and care for them. But we must discern when human beings are being like wild dogs or pigs – when they just don't see the value of what they're being presented with. AND we do so once again examining ourselves for error – making sure that it is not a decision of convenience, but one that frees up valuable resources to use for the benefit of those more open to hearing God's words.
There is much more we could say about that. But let me finish with the words of JC Ryle again. As he swings this verse around and says – actually let's take this home to ourselves: "When is it that we respond to criticism like dogs or pigs that those around us who are concerned for us say, 'It's not worth speaking to them.'"
Friends - Do you take criticism or is it something you just won't put up with? When did you last let someone lovingly and gently take a speck out of your eye – or does that never happen?
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon gives us this advice: "Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool. Correct yourself diligently and frequently or you fall into errors unaware. False tones will grow and slovenly habits will form insensibly. Therefore… criticise yourself with unceasing care."
That is the key. Criticise yourself. AND might I suggest that we actually do this? Can I suggest that we sit down with a trusted friend and ask: "Where are the specks (or planks!) in my eye? Show me my sin that I can take them to the saviour." Wouldn't it be great if we had that level of humility that could take criticism? As it would steer us off the path of hypocrisy and judgementalism. And it would open our eyes to make wise judgements for the sake of others.
And who knows? Maybe as we showed a willingness to accept and own up to our own weakness and sin - We might soften a culture that seems hyper-sensitive to any form of criticism - let alone hardened to the precious gospel of Christ.