Matthew 07(01–12)


We’re getting near the end of the Sermon on the Mount which we’re studying as part of a series on the gospel of Matthew. The commentators aren’t too sure how exactly to divide up this passage, but it’s possible that it should be divided into two parts: verses 1 to 5 and verses 6 to 12.

In the first part, the Lord tells us in verse 1 what we’re not to do: do not judge. Then he issues a warning to us in verse 2: in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged. And then the Lord tells us in verses 3 to 5 what we are to do: take the plank out of your own eye first and then you can remove the speck from your brother’s eye. In the second part of the passage, the Lord tells us in verse 6 what we’re not to do: do not give to dogs and pigs what is sacred and valuable. Then he gives us a promise in verses 7 to 11: everyone who asks will receive; he who seeks will find; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. And then the Lord tells us in verse 12 what we’re to do: do to others what you would have them do to you.

So, the whole passage begins with do not judge and it ends with what we’re to do to others. The Lord is addressing his people and he’s telling his people, the members of his kingdom here on earth, how we’re to treat each each other.

Verses 1 to 5

And he begins by telling us, ‘Do not judge’. We’ve all heard people say, ‘Don’t judge me.’ Maybe we’ve heard someone say those words personally; or maybe we’re heard someone on TV say it. And it often seems that even people who know very little about the Bible know that the Lord Jesus commanded his people not to judge. And very often people believe that the Lord Jesus was saying that no one should ever, ever, ever judge another person or dare suggest that something someone is doing is wrong. So, we’re just to accept people the way they are; and who are you to say that I’m wrong?

The problem with that kind of view is that in just a few more verses, the Lord tells us not to give dogs what is sacred. That means we need to make a judgment about the people we meet: is this person like a dog who will treat what is sacred with contempt? And later in chapter 7, the Lord tells us to watch out for false prophets. That means we need to judge whether someone who says they’ve been sent by God has really been sent by God. We need to be discerning and to ask whether this person is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Then in chapter 10, the Lord sent out his disciples to preach the good news. And he made it clear they need to make a judgment concerning whether a home deserves their blessing or not. In chapter 16, he teaches his people to be on their guard against the false teaching of the Pharisees. So, you need to make a judgment on what you hear and decide whether it is right or not. In chapter 18, he says that if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. So, don’t turn a blind eye to his fault. And then, if he doesn’t listen, it’s up to the church to make a judgment about the offender.

We find the same kind of thing outside the gospels. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul tells us to test everything and to hold on to what is good. And I could go on, because there are many other places in the Bible where believers are commanded to make judgements and to show discernment and to make moral distinctions.

So, what does the Lord mean when he says we’re not to judge? I think he means we’re not to judge others for their flaws without first dealing with our own flaws. After all, that’s the point of what the Lord goes on to say in verses 3 to 5 where he uses this image of two people: one has a little speck of something in his eye; whereas the other person has a great big plank sticking out of his eye. The Lord is, of course, using hyperbole. He’s deliberately exaggerating to make his point. The little speck of something stands for a minor fault, whereas the plank stands for a major fault. So, why is the person with a major fault pointing the finger at the person with a minor fault? Why is he pointing out his flaw, when he’s guilty of something far, far worse? He needs to deal with his own flaws first, doesn’t he?

This is perhaps similar to that passage in John’s gospel which is not really part of John’s gospel. Do you know the passage I’m referring to? It’s at the beginning of chapter 8, but the NIV adds the little note that the most reliable manuscripts don’t include it. And so, we think someone added it to John’s gospel. But it’s the story of the woman caught in adultery and the teachers of the law and the Pharisees are ready to stone her. And the Lord said, ‘If any one is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And the point is that we’re all sinners. We’ve all done wrong. We’re all guilt of wrong-doing. So, before we point the finger at others, to criticise them, we need to take a look at ourselves and deal with our own faults and flaws and our sins and shortcomings.

We can sometimes be a little judgmental and we can look down on others and tut-tut them, because they’ve fallen short. But Christians should be the most humble of people, because we know that we ourselves are sinners. While we may not have done what someone else has done, there are many, many others things we have done which we know are wrong. And so, all of us are sinners; and if it were not for God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus, we would be condemned; but instead we’ve been pardoned. And so, since God has shown us kindness in Christ Jesus, then we ought to show kindness to one another and we should not condemn others when we deserve to be condemned ourselves.

However, notice what the Lord says at the end of verse 5. Having removed the plank from our own eye — that is, having dealt with our own sins and shortcomings — we’ll be able to see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. So, without condemning our brother, without having a censorious spirit, without criticising, we’ll help our fellow believer to deal with his sins. As John Stott puts it, we’ll approach our fellow believer not as a judge who is ready to condemn, but as a brother or sister who wants to help.

And let’s now go back to verses 1 and 2 where the Lord said: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ Previously in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord encouraged our obedience with the promise of a reward. So, give in secret, pray in secret, fast in secret; and your Heavenly Father will reward you appropriately. But now he gives us a warning. If we judge one another without first judging ourselves, if we point the finger at others without first pointing the finger at ourselves, if we go around with a critical spirit, then we can expect to be treated the same way. Other people will criticise us. Other people will point the finger at us. They will be impatient with us. They will be unkind to us. Instead of overlooking our shortcomings, they will point them out. And what the Lord says here recalls the Lord’s Prayer and how we can only expect forgiveness from God if we’re willing to forgive others. So, if we want people to treat us with a generous, forgiving spirit, we should be generous and forgiving towards others.

Verses 6 to 12

Let’s move on to the next section where the Lord tells us in verse 6 what not to do. What are we not to do? We’re not to give what is sacred to dogs and we’re not to give pearls to pigs. When he refers to pearls, he’s probably referring to valuable sayings. We refer to ‘pearls of wisdom’. And in that case, when the Lord refers to what is sacred or holy, he’s probably referring to teaching holy things about God. ‘Dog’ and ‘pig’ were terms of contempt in those days. And that means the Lord is saying that we must use discernment so that we don’t pass on wise, holy sayings to people who will treat these things with contempt. Just as a pig will trample on a pearl, so they will trample on these wise and holy sayings. And worse: they may even turn on you and attack you. Therefore, we need to be discerning.

However, I think the lesson here is not restricted to teaching holy and wise sayings. I think what the Lord says here about teaching holy and wise sayings is one example to illustrate the wider point that we need to use discernment and act accordingly. In everything we do, we need to use wise discernment.

And then in verses 7 to 11 we have a promise to encourage us. Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open to you. All three sayings mean the same thing: God will give you what you need. And then, to encourage us even more, he repeats the three sayings: For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. So, be encouraged: God will give you what you ask for.

And to encourage us even more, he uses the example of a son asking his father for bread. Will his father give him a stone? Of course not. And then there’s the example of a son asking his father for fish. Will his father give him a snake? Of course not. Fathers love their sons and will give them what they need. We do this even though we’re evil. That is, even though we’re sinners who sin continually, nevertheless we’re not totally bad and we still know how to give good gifts to our children. And if sinners like us can do that, then how much more will our loving Heavenly Father — who is perfect — give good gifts to those who ask him. And so, this is a wonderful encouragement to us to pray.

However, is the Lord giving us a blank cheque? Does he mean God will give us whatever we ask for? Or does the context restrict what he means? I think the context restricts what he means. The surrounding passage is all about judging well and using discernment. Instead of having a critical, censorious spirit so that we’re always condemning one another, we need God’s help to be kind and generous and gracious towards one another. And instead of being undiscerning, we need God’s help to practise wise discernment.

And the good news is that, when we ask God for help to be wise and discerning, he will give it to us. When we seek wisdom from him, we will find it. When we knock at his door to ask for his help, he’ll open the door and help us. The Lord Jesus is not saying God will give us whatever we ask for; he means that, when we ask for God’s help to be wise and discerning and gracious, he will give us his help. If any of you lacks wisdom, James wrote in his first letter, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault; and it will be given to him. James was saying the same thing as the Lord Jesus: ask for God’s help to be wise and discerning, and he will give it to you.

And the passage ends in verse 12 with what we’re to do. In everything we do — and especially in what the Lord has been talking about in terms of being kind and generous and gracious and using wise discernment — do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets teach us to love our neighbour as ourselves, which is just another way of saying we’re to do to others what we would have them do to us. Since you don’t want people to point the finger at you and to criticise you and to point out your faults and to condemn you, then don’t treat other people that way. Since you don’t want other people to treat you unfairly, then don’t treat them unfairly either, but with discerning wisdom, which comes from God and which he gives to all who ask for it.