Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

64. “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1-6; Luke 6:36-42)*

In sharp contrast with the patient sustained reasoning in his discourse about the sin of worry, Jesus became peremptory regarding the universal human foible of sitting in judgement (condemnation) on the actions and motives of others. This he curtly proscribed: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The Greek imperative neatly implies: ‘You already have the bad habit (true of everybody!). You are to stop it!’

No word he spoke was more needed, or less heeded. To make censorious assessment of the character and behaviour and even the intentions of others is a human sin which is more often than not reckoned almost a virtue. Men-and, even more, women-pride themselves on being able to read character and discern motives. And always these demonic abilities contrive to minister to personal pride. For, behind every unspoken censure of one’s fellow is the tacit self-congratulation: “I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as he.” Yet at that very moment the Lord is probably grieving that the self-appointed judge is himself ripe for condemnation.

There is about this common critical spirit a rank unfairness which mostly goes unrecognized. Paul put it bluntly in his apostrophe to “whosoever thou are that judgest”: “Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things...And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God” (Rom. 2:1, 3). Often enough - such being the power of the human mind for self-deceit-this is what happens.’’ *

Then does this mean that no reprobation of the actions of another should ever be spoken, or even thought? Are there not precepts enough in the New Testament bidding the Lord’s people assess and reject false teaching and evil ways of life?

Very true! But there is also, alas, the unattractive habit of passing censure on how other people behave. The principles of Christian living can often be interpreted or applied with different degrees of austerity or idealism, and then there is a temptation to write off the discipleship of others as paltry or lukewarm.

However, Paul insists that how believers express in practice their understanding of the Lord’s precepts rests between them and their Master: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ...Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” Rom. 14:4, 10, 13).

And again: “I know nothing by (RV: against) myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” (1 Cor. 4:4, 5).

Yet in the next chapter (5:3, 11-13) Paul requires the strongest repudiation of one whose way of life was not open to anything but an evil interpretation. It was as blatant a case as could be imagined.

There is a difference, then, which calls for careful discrimination. If a thing said or done is plainly condemned by Scripture, then for certain it is not the individual who passes judgement, but God in His inspired Word. And indeed in such instances there can be no better way of rebuking the manifest evil than by means of the specific Bible passage relevant to the situation.

It becomes evident, then, that the kind of judging Jesus specially warns against is the passing of judgement on other peoples’ motives. In such an activity even an inspired Bible ceases to be an infallible guide. The words of Jesus are a warning that, almost always, a man’s actions may be susceptible of more than one interpretation. And those who look for mercy for themselves in the Day of Account will surely wish to extend the same to their fellows. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Just as forgiving others is required as the needful accompaniment of one’s own forgiveness by God, so also in this matter of assessing and condemning the motives of others: “With what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged.” Lex Talionis once again!

“With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” The two parts of the Lord’s pronouncement do not carry exactly the same meaning. The first refers to the formation of an adverse opinion, the second to the action taken on the basis of it.

The Apostle James’ caustic comment on these nefarious activities was doubtless written with his Lord’s words in mind: “He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy” (Jas. 2:13). And, alas, these unspoken verdicts on others are mostly without mercy just because they are unspoken!

Another reason why human beings indulge in this illicit activity is because they are persuaded that it does their fellows no harm The judgement is not uttered, so what damage can it possibly do? This assumption is false. Fellowship is seriously impeded. It is impossible to harbour a critical attitude towards one’s brother in Christ and at the same time express a true warmth of fellowship towards him. Maintaining a facade of fellowship may even bring in yet more hypocrisy. Without doubt, those who practise this kind of thing are themselves soiled by it. The corrosive influence of such a habit may be disastrous.

So, from every point of view, the wisdom of Christ should prevail, sweeping away all indulgence in this poisonous human penchant for passing judgement on the motives of others.

The hyperbole in the illustration used by Jesus the carpenter’s son deserves to be made more clear in translation than it has been. The “mote” is a tiny twig or splinter. In the only other occurrence of this Greek word it is used concerning the olive leaf in the beak of Noah’s dove (Gen. 8:11 LXX). And the “beam” is precisely what it is in modern building-a plank or baulk of timber. This word was used, for example, of the massive cedar pillars or boards in Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs. 6:15, 16).

Thus the grotesque picture conjured up by the Lord’s words is of a man vexed and irritated by some tiny foreign body in his eye; he is offered solicitous help by another who himself has a great plank of timber ruining his own vision. How is such a would-be “helper” in any position even to ascertain whether there is a mote in his brother’s eye? Much less is he able effectively to remove it!

The careful manner of the Lord’s rebuke is to be observed here. As was usual with him, it is couched in the form of a question: “Why beholdest thou...?” And if any man will stop to ask himself this question and supply an honest answer, there will be more ready recognition of how honest judgement can be clouded by self-esteem. David the wife-stealer could explode with righteous indignation against ruthless expropriation of a lamb until Nathan brought conscience back to life with his “Thou art the man!”(2 Sam. 12:5-7).

One searching question is followed by another: “How wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye...?” Again, the honest answer to this question will expose the pretence of good will and helpfulness. Here, in fact, is superior self-satisfaction and the indulgence of a love of exercising authority. Pride! Luke’s version (6:42) is specially telling with its palpably insincere: “Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye...”

Appropriately Jesus continued his exposure with the stinging rebuke: “Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye” - and for this you will need your brother’s help! The incisive reproof is not to be gainsaid. Contemplation of this accurate diagnosis will make any honest disciple recoil from himself with shame.

And the obvious corollary is to leave all censure of others, which is not already pronounced by Holy Scripture, to the one who has neither beam nor mote in his own eye - Jesus, the one “without blemish and without spot”(cp. Jn. 8:7).

Rather unexpectedly, Luke introduces here the mini-parable about the blind leading the blind (6:39). This suggests the importance of self-criticism in one who is a leader in the ecclesia. If his own spiritual insight be impaired by a beam in the eye, or a mote, he will involve others in his own downfall. There have been sad examples of this.

This sustained and almost over-emphatic warning against judging others is followed immediately by a startling contrast -- an instruction to be diligent in judging unworthy men, assessing their true character and dealing with them accordingly: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again, and rend you” (7:6).

This warning can be applied only when a dog shows himself to be a dog, or a hog a hog, and not until. A careful weighing of a man’s behaviour is clearly necessary. So some attempt at “judging” him is implied. But this commandment does not concern one who is a “brother” (v. 3-5). It is about the one to whom you have something holy to offer which he has not had hitherto. The distinction is important. “He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame...Reprove not a scorner lest he hate thee...” (Pr. 9:7, 8). “Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words” (23:9).

The dogs Jesus alluded to were not the faithful domesticated family pets known to the modern western world, but the wild and savage ownerless beasts which roamed the streets of all eastern cities. “Giving that which is holy to dogs” was probably intended to conjure up the mental picture of a man throwing to these fierce uncontrollable animals the sacrifice which should have been offered up to God or shared with one’s brethren in a meal of holy fellowship before the Lord.

And the parallelism suggests that the “pearls” which Jesus pictured being cast to swine were not the lustrous jewels which women prize but the small pearl-like grains of manna (see Num. 11:7) which God provided for Israel in their wilderness journey.

A proper appreciation of the true force of these figures of speech helps towards a right and proper application of the principle enunciated here. To write a man off at first superficial acquaintance as “dog” or “swine” unworthy to hear the message of salvation in Christ is clearly not a right use of these words, but is more likely to be the refuge of a man of idle or timid spirit dodging his duty as a witness for the Truth.

Peter was not deterred from preaching the gospel on the Day of Pentecost because some said: “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13). And when Paul stood before worldlings like Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, he was more concerned to ensure that even such as they should hear the gospel than he was about his own freedom.

A more likely application of this teaching would be as a warning against opening up the inner riches of one’s faith to one who has already shown himself to be critical or hostile. Such an individual is not to be invited, for example, to the holiness of a Breaking of Bread service or a prayer meeting or a discussion on principles of fellowship. The tabernacle in the wilderness was shut off from the ordinary world by a wall of dazzling white linen to remind men of the holiness of the God they worshipped.

In another respect the Lord’s words have been misconstrued. The introversion in the structure of this precept is easily missed. “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs...lest they turn and rend you. Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet.” Here is warning that evil men may not only do despite to the message of Christ but may also do incalculable harm to the believer himself. For example, a caustic critic of the Truth, set on doing damage, could sear for all time the memories of those who were exposed to his caricature of the sacrament he witnesses. There are times, though happily not often in these days, when a due caution is to be observed.

Luke’s version of this section of the Sermon on the Mount has some significant and valuable differences.

He links “And judge not...” (RV) with the preceding: “Be ye perfect, even as your Father...”, but here he substitutes “merciful” for “perfect” - a clear indication, surely, that Jesus taught on these lines more than once. The antithesis between
mercy and judging is very striking.

Then comes a warm assurance not found elsewhere:

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, running over shall men give into your bosom.”
But this is palpably untrue. It is very much the exception rather than the rule that men reward generosity with a vastly greater generosity. The difficulty disappears when it is recognized that the word “men” is not in the original text (see RV). When the unspecified “they” is taken to mean the angels, no further explanation is needed. Here is an emphatic assurance that the selfless life of a true disciple does not go uncared for or unrewarded.

But via a mini-parable there is warning against being led away by teachers who should be shunned and not followed: “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” Imagination supplies all the commentary that is needed. Then if a man choose to follow some human leader, how careful he should be to satisfy himself first that the true qualities of leadership are there, for “the disciple is not above his teacher.” Over the past century neglect of this simple admonition has led to not a few spiritual disasters. And so it continues.

If he is worth following, the teacher himself, like all other human beings, grows to a fulness of powers, a greater grasp of principles, a more balanced judgement, a keener insight, a more intense spiritual maturity. In these respects he will beneficently influence his disciples, so that in time disciple and teacher grow together to be brethren. How specially true of Christian discipleship!

There are, then, times when there must be pause to assess the quality of human leaders, but not so as to find satisfaction in censure.

Notes: Mt. 7:l-6

Thy brother’s eye. This phrase provides a typical example of the “Aramaic original” approach to the gospels.

Thus: In Aramaic eye = ayin = also, well; the contrast is between a twig in your brother’s well and a baulk of timber in your own. Well, well! What happens to the Lord’s phrase about “seeing clearly”?
Dogs. Normally a figure for Gentiles, outsiders: Mt. 15:26; Phil. 3:2; Ps. 22:16, 20; 2 Pet. 2:22; Ex. 22:31; and Kenizzite Caleb (=dog). It is appropriate hereto note how many sayings of a “proverbial” character come in the Sermon on the Mount: 5:14; 6:3, 21, 24, 25; 7:2, 6, 13, 14, 16, 20.

Lk. 6:36-42

Disciple...master. In three other places this saying is applied to (a) imitation of a good example; (b) the enduring of persecution; Mt. 10:24; Jn. 13:16; 15:20.
Beholdest not. The Greek construction is unusual here (ou for me), perhaps for greater emphasis.

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