The sermon on the mount is an exposition for kingdom living, that pursuit in which the Christian believer first and foremost seeks God’s kingdom and righteousness in the way they live their lives. As Jesus speaks his words, he’s establishing standards of holy living by which his followers will be aligned. At the same time, however, his righteous standard was being set into a religious culture that had a tendency to pick apart people’s piety while themselves handling the commandments with convenience. This is a tendency Jesus does not desire his followers to replicate. So he tells them “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”
If you observe carefully, Jesus is not precisely commenting here on the substance of one’s judgments, but on the tit-for-tat dynamic they incorporate when conveying those judgments.
Jesus explains this dynamic: “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” Interacting and talking with people in ways and with words that cross over into those guarded boundary areas often referred to as personal or private has a way of stimulating people’s attention to gaze back over and into our boundary areas to wonder if we practice what we preach. Measuring people invites them to measure us; how we measure people will determine how they measure us. In one sense, this dynamic is natural; it fosters responsibility through accountability. However the dynamic is not the standard being applied or the integrity of those using it. This discrepancy of conflicting standards and hypocrisy is what becomes the undoing of many opportunities for holy accountability.
Jesus illustrates this with pointed humor, saying “Why do you look at 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,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”
The absurdity of this image makes something clear: neither person can see straight. There may be differing degrees of distortion, but their sense of perception is definitely distorted, warped, and bent out of shape. Nobody sees as clear as they think they do.
It is this reality that has given rise to the ever popular social notion that people should never judge, be judged, or held accountable to or by any standard. Contrary to how Jesus’ “do not judge” is often used, however, the case is not the lack of a righteous standard for people to follow (John 3:16-21, 12:47-48), or that Christians should not hold their brethren accountable (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Galatians 6:1-2), but that the standard be not our own or one we hold to when convenient.
Desiring to disenthrall his followers from the hypocritical habitat characterizing much of their religious culture by aligning them with the righteous way of his word and person, Jesus tells them “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.”
God’s righteous standard is embodied in the one we are to be following. We cannot see Jesus clearly, nor his righteous way, if our vision is hindered with hypocrisy or too fixed and focused on our standard of measurement. Rather than measuring others hypocritically, it is our delightful duty as disciples to instead make every sacred effort to measure up in our conforming to Christ as we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”
That means slowing down. Adapting to God’s redemptive rhythms. Learning to savor the sweet flavor of calm obedience. Gradually, this God-centered concentration cleanses our vision and aligns our perceptions with the way of grace, the way of truth, the way of holiness. The way of Jesus. As God’s Spirit cultivates our demeanor, his fruitfulness (Galatians 5:22-23!!) goes before us as an appetizer for the grace-and-truth interactions through which people can again or for the first time “taste and see that the LORD is good.”
Sadly, however, the way of Jesus is a narrow way not everyone wishes to walk. Some will resist politely, others with hostility. Anticipating such refusals, Jesus paints another picture: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
Jesus doesn’t mean worthless in his mention of these unclean creatures. Rather, like dogs and pigs, he means those stubbornly set in their ways, ferociously defensive toward another way; those who cannot distinguish pearls from pig pellets, and who growl, bite, snort, or charge when they sense someone trying to clean up their sty. No one approached such creatures without caution. Disciples are to display similar caution in their interactions with others.
After Jesus has just said “Do not judge”, it seems ironic how he now tells his followers to incorporate a measure of discrimination in how they inhabit grace and truth when interacting with others. But if it’s read in light of the previous verse (5), the discrimination is not haughty and hypocritical, but a humble stewardship of the holy pearls that are God’s ways of grace and truth. It’s a call to shrewdness or “street-smarts” regarding life upon God’s way, because so valuable are God’s ways and words of grace and truth that only those who are seeking them out will ultimately witness, wonder, and worship in light of their transforming realities.
When it comes to this topic of judging others, the categorical divides can often seem to fall between those who want to tell it like it is (or call it like they see it), those who don’t want to be told what to do, and those who are not always sure how to navigate such issues. The reality, however, is that Jesus has approached us all and said “Follow Me”, pulling everyone from their respective positions on issues and down a path paved by the footprints of his holy nature and righteous actions. It is along the way of Jesus we are united in the ways of Jesus, no longer measuring each other, but molding each other into a people whose lives give witness to “His Kingdom and His righteousness.”