Day 37: Of sawdust and planks

Matthew 7:1-6 (AD 28)

There are a lot of Biblical verses that get badly mangled, and verse one is a classic example.

“Do not judge” is commonly used to mean that we should never claim that someone else is wrong in any objective way; that we can have opinions but should never tell someone to change the way they think or behave. Of course, no-one who claims such an interpretation entirely believes what they’re saying- everyone thinks that some things are objectively wrong. Just not what they’re thinking.

But this doesn’t square with Scripture. For example, when John was writing to fellow-Christians he said that, “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And Paul specifically commands church communities to “judge those inside [the church]” to ensure we are not being torn apart by hypocrisy (1 Corinthians 5:12).

And we don’t even need to go to the wider Biblical context to fix this misinterpretation – in verse five there are two things that show us that ‘Do not judge’ does NOT mean ‘do not tell anyone they’re wrong’.

First, note the use of the word “hypocrite” which in the Greek referred not just to acting one way and talking another, but to arrogance and hardness of heart. It spoke of a desire to be critical, to score points or to lord it over someone else whilst caring little or nothing about our own sinfulness. So Jesus was condemning arrogant hypocrisy.

Jesus then said that once we have acknowledged and addressed our own sinfulness (such as not celebrating or even tolerating it), only then we can help people by pointing out their sin in a helpful way (“then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”). Pointing out eachothers sins should be an exercise in mutual love, reminiscent of the baboons who spend time carefully pulling the parasites out of the hair in eachothers backs…

Practically speaking, if you see a fellow Christian in what appears to be unrepentant or consistent patterns of sin, it may be useful to think, “Given our relationship, could my brother/sister reasonably take this from me as loving correction?”. Just because you have seen something that needs addressing, doesn’t mean you’re the best person to address it. If not, don’t gossip but go to the one person you think might be able to speak better into that person’s life. And when you are pointing out someone’s sin, do so in a manner that is coming from a place of acknowledged sinfulness and inadequacy. Make every effort to demonstrate that you consider yourself on the same level than the person you’re trying to help.

Helping eachother with our wanderings and patterns of sin is one of the most caring and merciful things we can do, which is why Jesus endorses the practice in verse five. After all, if relationship with God is the most joyful and only healthy place for us to live, why wouldn’t we address it when we see people jeopardising it?

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