Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 7:1–7:6
We are walking our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and, today, we get to a very interesting part of the sermon.Perhaps, the most widely quoted portion of the entire New Testament in the last decade.
It might be helpful, though, to remind us what has been happening. Jesus is preaching primarily against the lives and teachings of the Pharisees. in one of the most inflammatory remarks Jesus makes, He said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s a pretty bold statement! Jesus says the top religious leaders of that day will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So, what was so bad? What was so wrong with them? In two words: self-righteousness. And that is what Jesus is addressing in this passage. You can best see the self-righteousness of the Pharisees in their censoriousness. That is, their condescending, hypercritical, hypocritical judgmentalism.
What do you think is the most famous Bible verse in our culture? I think most of us in this room might guess John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…. I think that probably was the most famous Bible verse in the 20th century, but I don’t think it is today. I think the most famous verse in our culture today comes from our passage: Judge not, lest you be judged.”
And it’s famous because the ultimate sin in our culture is to be judgemental. Judging always sounds worse when you put mental at the end. I’m not sure if there is even a difference. The greatest most unforgiven sin in our culture is to judge someone else’s way of life. I once had a man tell me, “I hate you Christians because of your lack of tolerance for other people.” I was thinking, “You do hear the hypocritical nature of that statement don’t you? I will not tolerate your intolerance.”
When someone uses this verse to say that you shouldn’t judge is actually a form of judging. To use this verse in this way is a total misunderstanding of what Jesus is teaching. So, here is what I want to do this morning. I think the way Jesus addresses the hypocritical judgmental attitude of the Pharisees gives us a great insight into self-righteousness. So, I want to do two things. I want us to see the components of self-righteousness and the cure to self-righteousness.
- The components of self-righteousness
There are four fundamental components to self-righteousness and we see them all in this passage. First (vs. 1-2), in verse 1 we see that the Pharisees have a low view of God. Here is that famous verse: Judge not, that you be not judged. - Matthew 7:1 So, what is Jesus saying here? Is He saying that no one can have an opinion on other people? Some of you kids in the room would love for that to be the case. Some people, like Tolstoy, went so far as to say, based on this verse, that we should not have any kind of court system.
Jesus is not telling us to suspend our critical thinking and, as we will see in a minute, He isn’t saying that we can’t critique or even rebuke someone. John records Jesus saying “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.” - John 7:24
My goodness, the main thing Jesus is doing in this sermon is being critical of the Pharisees. Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t be opinion less or hypercritical, but appropriately critical. One commentator said that “this passage does not mean that we can’t assess people critically. It means that we can’t judge them overly harshly.” And this starts with a high view of God.
If you have a deep belief that there is a holy and just God and that we are as far from holy and just as you can get, that affects the way you view other people. It should have a humbling affect that chips away at our natural tendency to be self-righteous. To be a self-righteous human is like bragging about being the best behaved inmate or the least sick patient in the cancer ward. Our morality just isn’t something to brag about even if you are doing better than other humans, but you have to have high view of God to see that. Knowing we are not the final court curbs our desire to be the final court.
And Jesus is saying that there is a consequence to self-righteous judging: you will accordingly be judged. The call not to judge is not a call to abandon discernment, it is a call to abandon the idea that we are the final judge. It is a call to have a high view of God. This is why verse two says: For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Do you remember how the sermon began? Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
I think most times people in our culture use the word “Judgement” they really mean “condemnation.” There’s a difference between judging and condemning somebody though. Judgement is saying “What you are doing is wrong,” condemnation is saying “Your sin is beyond forgiveness.” We have to be able to make judgements about right and wrong, but we don’t have to finally condemn anyone. That is God’s responsibility. Christ affords us the ability to offer forgiveness to anyone no matter how heinous their sin is, and to condemn someone as being beyond forgiveness is literally the antithesis of the Gospel. If our desire is to condemn, then so we shall be.
So, as Christians, our call is to live our lives like this. To be the kind of employee or employer who graciously lifts others up, not harshly breaks them down. To be the kind of spouse who is encouraging to live with. Not the self-righteous kind who says, “I never struggled with anger until I married this jerk.” To be the kind of parent who is looking for things to praise and willing to have the hard, but helpful character building conversations.
We want to be the kind of Christian who knows how to disagree. Twitter is a good way to see how not to disagree. I remember when Twitter was a place where you told your friends where you were going to eat that night. Now, it’s at least 40% arguing and a large portion of that is doing exactly what Jesus is telling us not to. It’s really discouraging when I see prominent pastors or seminary professors who seem to care more about being right about less than primary things than being loving.
If you have such a low view of God as to play God Himself, then you won’t only be taking a big step toward self-righteousness, you could easily be taking a big step towards coming under the judgement of God yourself.
That’s the first component of self-righteousness. The second and third (vs. 3-5) components I’m going to address together because we see them together in verses 3-5. These components are a high view of yourself and a low view of others.
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.
This is one of those verses that can be so familiar that we lose the magnitude of what Jesus is saying here. Kind of like getting just enough of a virus in your system that you don’t get affected and you become immune. The word speck here likely means something like a small splinter. Some make the argument for sawdust, but I’m personally swayed by the arguments for small splinter. The smallest little piece of wood you can imagine. And the word plank is referring to the beam in a roof that would have supported the whole structure. So, Jesus is asking why are you so concerned about the little splinter in your brother’s eye when there is a huge beam in your own eye?
We need to remember that a splinter in your eye is no small deal. Can you imagine how much that would hurt? We need to remember that so we don’t interpret Jesus as comparing a relatively insignificant sin to a really big sin. He is comparing a serious sin to a catastrophic sin.
He also isn’t saying that we can’t help others by confronting the splinter in their eye.
He’s saying that we first need to deal with the beam in our own eye. Why is that? Because self-righteousness causes us to judge others, but never ourselves. It causes us to judge in a hypocritical way and not the loving way that Jesus wants. A pastor of mine years ago said that it was his practice never to engage in church discipline unless there was a lump in his throat. That was the sign to him that his heart was in the right place.
Paul says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” - Galatians 6:1 This word restore here is the same word used to fix a fishing net. It means to restore someone to usefulness. The goal in confronting someone is restoring them to usefulness. But you can’t do that until you are useful yourself and I feel confidant that restoration was not the foremost thought on the minds of the Pharisees.
The very nature of self-righteousness causes us to think highly of ourselves and very low of others. It causes us to justify our own sin and condemn the sin in others. This is why the self-righteous man can never be anything other than a hypocrite. He’s basically the spiritual equivalent the out of shape dude on a couch yelling angrily at the NFL quarterback through the TV that he needs to work harder. There is no more dangerous sin than self-righteous pride.
And there are some very subtle ways this plays out in the church, but by far the most destructive is gossip. Gossip is almost worse because we have a beam in our eye and we aren’t even talking to the person about their speck, we are telling everyone else about it. At least the Pharisees had some guts. The person who gossips has no interest in the good of the other person, but simply wants to feel better about themself. Even if it is preceded by phrases like “I say this just so you can be praying..” or among you more Southern folks, “Bless their heart…” In Mississippi, that’s when you knew the really good stuff was about to come out.
If there is one preeminent characteristic of the Christian faith, it should be our willingness to think more highly of others than ourselves.
The self-righteous, have a low view of God, a low view of others and a high view of themselves. Lastly, (vs.6) the self-righteous have a low view or a total disregard of the gospel. Now, I want to be very careful in how I communicate this. I am not saying that everyone who denies the gospel is insufferably self-righteous. I actually know a number of non-Christians who I could learn quite a bit from in the humility department. But, I am saying that all people who display self-righteous qualities have a low view of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at 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. Matthew 7:6
Man, this is a confusing verse. It can seem like Jesus is saying don’t judge harshly and then goes and calls people swine and dogs in the harshest possible way! Now, to be fair, if Jesus wanted to do that, He certainly could. I’m just not sure it would reinforce His teaching very well.
So, there is a ton of debate on what this verse means. Everyone agrees that the pearl is the gospel. The holy thing that is either given out or not is the good news about the kingdom. The center of that debate, though, is whether the pigs and dogs in question are domesticated or not. One side of scholars I greatly respect, but disagree with says that the dogs and pigs in question are not domesticated. They would argue that Jesus is talking about wild scavenging dogs (playing on the derogatory name Jews used for gentiles) and pigs because they were unclean animals to the Jews. So, they are argue that this is saying that there are those who are too far off and to whom we should not give the gospel anymore. That it is a fruitless venture and could actually be dangerous to the person sharing.
Here are the reasons I disagree with that position. First, I think we are talking about domesticated animals. In Matthew 13, the text Ligon Duncan preached on here two weeks ago, there was a domesticated dog under the table which at least opens that door. And if Jesus is using the pig as the example of uncleanliness, why is it that the dog was contrasted with holiness and not the pig? Second, I don’t think it fits with the flow of Jesus’ teaching. Don’t judge harshly, but then He judges staunch unbelievers harshly? Third, if the main point here is a call to know when to stop sharing the gospel, how in the world are we to know who those people are? Lastly, if dogs is a reference to gentiles here then it totally contradicts the great commission in chapter 28.
I will offer one scenario where this works. If it only applies to Jesus. If Jesus is the one who withholds the gospel from the Pharisees because He knows they are too far gone. Their heart is too hard. But I don’t think Jesus is saying something that only applies to Him.
I would side with a different set of scholars here and say that we are talking about domesticated animals which ever so slightly changes the way we interpret this. The pearl is still the gospel and, yes, Jesus is still communicating something about their ability to appreciate and believe the gospel. Jesus isn’t condemning, though, as much as He is explaining. Tim Keller says it like this. There are different types of things on this earth with different capabilities of comprehension. A rock can’t comprehend anything. A tree, while it can’t comprehend anything can likely feel at some level. A dog or a pig can feel and think, but they lack sentiency. A human, then would be at the highest level of awareness in our known world.
Jesus, in making the distinction between believers and pigs and dogs is saying something about their ability to comprehend. What does a pig and dog primarily care about? Getting full. Eating enough. A pig wouldn’t know what to do with pearl and a dog wouldn’t know what to do with something holy. And it could actually get dangerous if you try and feed a hungry pig or dog something like that.
In the same way, humanity divides up into two kinds of people Those who can comprehend eternity and the kingdom of God and those who cannot. A human who has a low view of God and a low view of the gospel is not going to know what to do with the gospel. You can’t have this level of self-righteousness and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, it should come as no surprise when people don’t like it! Jesus is simply saying don’t be surprised that self-righteous people don’t get the gospel! They have no more ability to understand the gospel than a pig would know what to do with a pearl or a dog with something holy. The pig isn’t going to be happy with a pearl because it doesn’t give him what he wants: a full belly. The gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t here to make us nicer and better, but to make us new.
So, those are the components of self-righteousness. Now, briefly, what is the cure?
- The cure to self-righteousness
The cure is found in the context. Jesus is talking to a very specific type of self-righteousness. Religious self-righteousness. He’s talking to Pharisees who want a religion that makes them feel better about what they’re doing. A religion that feeds their self-righteousness. A religion that will make them prettier pigs.
But, that isn’t what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to make us new. They, like so many in our day want to know ‘what can Jesus do for me?’ In what way can He enhance the quality of my life now? That’s the way the pig looks at the pearl. They don’t realize the value of Jesus because they can’t see past the tip of their nose.
I’ll give you an illustration that tells you something you probably don’t know about my wife. She is a huge John Wayne fan. She used to have a life size cutout of him. She named a fish after him. She’s seen every John Wayne movie there is knows the difference. They used to all kind of blend together for me.
When I was at FSU I had to take a film class (because we are so cultured). And in that class we had to watch some John Wayne films. So, I would go to the building where they showed the film and I would watch these classic because that is what I had to do for a good grade. I watched John Wayne because of what I got out of it. It wasn’t until many years later and one cultured wife that I began to appreciate John Wayne for who he is and enjoy his movies.
The cure to self-righteousness is to admit that you are self-righteous and open your eyes to who Jesus is. Not what Jesus can give you, but who He really is. Another way to look at it is to ask, who is the treasure in your life? Is it you or is it Jesus. Some people like Jesus because they think He in some way adds value to their true treasure, themselves. Some people hate Jesus because He challenges their true treasure. And some people bow to Him because He has become their treasure.
When that happens, when Jesus becomes your treasure, you are no longer a pig, but a true person and you have been fundamentally cured of your self-righteousness.
Once we receive the cure for self-righteousness, we are finally able to present the Gospel in all of its beauty. Only when we come to people without hypocrisy or condemnation can we be in a place to deliver the difficult news of right judgement. We need to remember that one of the most compassionate thing you can do for a person is to judge them rightly.
Mercy cannot exist without judgement. We have all sinned. None of us deserve anything but wrath, and only in the light of that news does the Gospel become beautiful. Only in comparison to the most frightening reality; that we are rightfully under the wrath of the all powerful God, does the gospel show itself to be the most wonderful news we could ever hope to hear. This is the ministry of reconciliation given to the saints: the news that we are at once worse than we ever feared, but through Christ we are offered more love than we could ever have imagined.