Message: The Radical Nature of Our Hope | Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Turn Your Eyes | All I Have Is Christ | Christ Our Hope in Life and Death
I was sitting with some of my classmates early in law school, and we were reminiscing about our experiences in writing the LSATs. I remember one person chiming in about how stressful it was for her having written it twice. I, too, had written it twice, and because of her comment, I took the liberty to talk about people who had written it three times—how terrible a situation that must have been for them, how much mental exertion it must have cost them. Yet underneath my comment about the difficulties of writing the LSAT three times was a subtext, and that subtext was this: people who have to write the LSAT three times, probably shouldn’t be in law school.
Now, I was making these comments because I believed everyone that I was sitting with to be particularly intelligent. In my mind, none of these people, all of whom I regarded as smarter than me, could have written the entrance exam more than twice. But then, to my surprise, a girl named Sharon spoke up, and she looked me in the eye as I was saying these stupid things, and she said, “I took the LSAT three times.”
And you know what’s funny? I ended up graduating, three years later, as a very average student in my class—somewhere in the middle. But Sharon? Sharon graduated not only at the absolute top of our class, but she came out of our studies as the most winningest mock trial champion in the history of our law school—beating the likes of students from Harvard, Yale, and Columbia in international competitions—she had received offers from every top law firm in Canada and the United States, and she had received a commendation from Canada’s then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for her efforts, excellency, and contributions to the study of law in our country. You could say that this was perhaps the longest and most hearty piece of humble pie that I’d ever been made to eat.
I’m telling you about this precarious situation that I put myself in because as we come to our text, we learn that making snap judgments without properly evaluating the context, without considering those you’re speaking with, and without understanding your own faults doesn’t only result in making you look foolish, but it turns people against you, and it sullies the effectiveness of your word—it sullies your testimony—in the ears of your hearers. And as those who count themselves within the kingdom of heaven, Jesus wants to make sure that your effectiveness—your testimony in the world—that the fruit of his work in your life to make you unimpeachably happy and secure in his salvation—remains intact.
This is of vital importance as we come to chapter 7 of Matthew—the word and endurance of your testimony. So, I invite you to look with me there now. If you are able, please stand with me as I read to you from Matthew 7:1-6. TWoL: Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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. 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.”
If I might summarize this text for you in a somewhat digestible proposition, it’d be like this: in your pursuit of building godly relationships, disciple your heart first before discipling others. What this text is getting at—what the whole Sermon on the Mount is about—is that we might become proper disciples of Christ because he is the treasure of God’s revelation in Scripture, and it is his desire that all might be conformed to his likeness—that we all might display his righteousness—as current and future citizens of heaven.
And in order to partake in the calling to both be disciples and make disciples, particularly through the act of judging and correcting sin in our midst, Jesus gives us three supporting imperatives to our main proposition here in Matthew 7:1-6—three supporting imperatives that are meant to make us better disciplers—pointing ourselves and others to hope in our Saviour, and that’s where we’ll direct our attention, now—to that first supporting imperative found in our text: disciple, first, your heart and then others by submitting yourself to the principle of reciprocity.
1) Disciple Under the Principle of Reciprocity
For those of you who don’t know, Matthew 7:1 and 2 are the most popular and quoted verses in the world. I have been to events and non-Christian talks where people will use this verse to justify living their lives in a way that skirts all sense of needful accountability and responsibility. In my evangelism—it is the most used retort when I begin to talk to someone about their sin. “You call yourself Christian,” they ask, and “I’ll reply, ‘yes’,” and they’ll respond, “well doesn’t your Bible say, “do not judge, lest ye be judged.” And even before I can finish my sentence, when I say “yes, but…,” I can already see in their eyes a sense of victory—as if they’ve caught me ignorant of what my own God requires of me.
But what most individuals who quote—or misquote—this verse don’t know, and what I hope you know since I’ve started preaching on Christ’s great sermon, is that Matthew 7 is a continuation of thought that flows all the way from Matthew 5:17. In fact, if we break down these chapters, Matthew 5:3-16—those verses on the beatitudes—on how a person can be most satisfyingly happy—can be said to be the preamble or introduction to his sermon, and Matthew 5:17 until the end of Matthew 7 are an explanation of what that introductory preamble means—how happiness is displayed to us through the fulfilling person of Jesus, and how we can have that same happiness in our possession of a greater righteousness.
These verses in Matthew 5-7 are what we call intertextually linked—the former helps us interpret the latter and the latter helps deepen what we understand about the former. And we actually find our author doing this throughout his book—not just in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve said before that there are five teaching sections in Matthew, and each teaching section is meant to mimic the books of the Torah—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—these five teaching sections are Christ’s gift to us, through Matthew, that tell us what it means to live in ways that are appropriate for those who call themselves citizens of heaven. But Matthew’s genius isn’t just that his five teaching sections are meant to provide a visible representation of the five books of the Law—they’re not just meant to look like the Torah—but they’re also meant to function like the five books of the law.
And how the Torah and the five teaching sections here in Matthew function is that with each subsequent book or section, they can really only be understood by thinking back and referencing the first. Just like Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are intentionally written by Moses to point us back to Genesis, and how God is trying to recreate and fulfill what he began in Genesis 1 and 2, so too has Matthew put together his book under divine inspiration so that everything that follows these opening chapters, and in particular, this sermon, might be reflective of God’s intention to show how all of it comes back to Christ and his thesis that his coming is the central, climactic event in all of history. Matthew 1-7, and more specifically Matthew 5-7, is meant to be to the book of Matthew what Genesis is to the five books of the Law. And what Matthew does with his linking of texts between chapters 5-7 is to provide us with a microcosm of that larger macrostructure.
Why do I say all this to you? It is to give you biblical warrant for what, I hope, you already know: that Matthew 7 cannot be interpreted in a vacuum, and if you’re going to quote “do not judge lest ye be judged” to me, you better understand where Christ is coming from when he said these words. Like I said, Christ has told us that he is the fulfillment of all Scripture, and he calls us who claim to follow him to possess a greater righteousness—a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.
So, if you’re to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you better not give as they gave in all their pretentiousness, you better not pray in all their open, boasting pompousness, you better not fast in their gloomy, complaining posture, you better not seek treasures of the world so much so that you become anxious about things that are wholly within the providence and generosity of God to give and to take away, and you better not judge in the way that the world and the Pharisees and scribes judge according to their own self-imposed standards and measurements because all of that isn’t grounded in the hope of God’s all-satisfying mercy. All of that isn’t grounded in the fulfilling work of Jesus. It’s grounded in unbelief, in pride, and most damning of all, it’s grounded in the hope of self.
This passage, dear brothers and sisters, is not a passage prohibiting judgment whatsoever. Rather, it’s a passage prohibiting judgment that is being carried out on the basis of a misguided hope. The reason why Jesus provides a negative command here that seems so final is because this people’s idea of judgment has been so corrupted by those who abuse their judging influence that what illusions of power they have in their ethnicity, in their traditions, in their pride, and in their unbelieving hearts must be stripped from them before they cause irreparable damage both to themselves and to their neighbours.
When we apply this text to its proper context, a right understanding of it can be stated as do not judge in the tradition of the scribes and Pharisees—do not judge as if you are the standard or the fulfillment of the Law, because if you do so, you will be judged according to the fullness of that same Law, and in that judgment, you can be assured that you won’t only fall well short, but that as a consequence of your failing, God in his holiness will crush you.
This is called the principle of reciprocity—that God will require in all fairness and in all urgency and in all justice recompense from those who ungraciously demand their wages from others without considering what they themselves owe to God. One does not know wrath unless he or she heeds properly these words: vengeance belongs to God alone (Rom 12:19) and the wages for sin is death (Rom 6:23). For God is not God if he is not fair and if he is not just (Ps. 25:8). And if he is to be fair, and if he is to be just, how could he show you further mercy and grace, if, in your judgment of others, your heart is unmoved, unaffected, and selfish with the mercy and grace you’ve already received?
Matthew 7:1-2 isn’t a text prohibiting judgment. It’s a text prohibiting judgment—the correction and discipleship of others—if your hope and your standard for measurement is found mistakenly in yourself—if it’s based upon your own sinfulness and selfishness. It’s not about stopping you from judging. It’s about stopping you from condemning yourself—it’s about turning your heart from what is hopeless—the standard of your own sinfulness—to that which is infinitely hopeful. And here, Jesus is imploring and commanding you, “for their sake and for your sake, don’t make yourself the standard. Don’t make yourself the hope.”
Disciple your heart and disciple others’ hearts under the principle of reciprocity knowing that God gives grace to the humble, but to the proud, he opposes them, and his opposition is a peril that one should not ignore at all costs. Yet, this warning leads us to our second point, in that, in order to disciple your heart well before you disciple others, don’t only consider the damning nature of the principle of reciprocity, but in order to avoid its condemnation, be intentional about discovering your eye’s blind spots.
2) Discover Your Eye’s Blind Spots
Matthew 7:3-5 are strange verses not only because of the intentional ridiculousness of the imagery that Jesus uses, which I’ll talk about in a little bit, but also because this information almost isn’t needed. Just think, if you have only verses 1 and 2 read in the context with the rest of the sermon, verses 3-5 is extra information. So, we have to ask, why does Jesus include this strange discussion about specks and logs in eyes?
And the first reason is because it goes back to the end of chapter 6 where Jesus is talking about the eye, which is the lamp of the body. A healthy eye equals a healthy, full-of-light body. But an evil eye—a bad, blind eye—corrupts the body. In other words, an evil eye distorts or hinders you from seeing what is real and good, which then causes your body to react and do things that are useless and meaningless—you put your hands to work for stupid things because you don’t know what’s real—you can’t see what’s good to do, and thus, cannot do good things. So, it stands to reason that if you’re going to make judgments about someone, but your eye is battered or blind, not only is your judgment going to be misapprehended and misstated, but it will likely cause more harm than good.
I have a very critical spirit. When I was younger, and my wife would say even now that I’m older, I would criticize everything and everyone. And one day, I remember complaining about something with my brother, and as I was complaining, all of sudden he said to me, “woah Stephen, stop hitting me in the face!” And I said, “What are you talking about?” And he responded, “well you’ve got this huge log sticking out of your eye and all I feel in your complaining and judging is that log smacking me around as you talk.”
Now, of course, my brother was being ridiculous, but so was Jesus with this kind of imagery, and the ridiculousness was and is for a purpose. It was to show that when you make judgments without properly dealing with the sin in your own life, or without making sure that you perceive the situation clearly, or for the wrong reasons, you can cause a lot of pain, infuriate a lot of people, hurt a lot of feelings, burn a lot of bridges. You can’t help someone with their sin if your own sin is hitting and intruding upon them. Instead, you’ll only knock others down instead of building them up or blind them when they’re trying to see.
Yet, the second reason why I think Jesus includes these two seemingly ridiculous illustrations is to explain the depth of God’s fury when you make judgments like the world or the pharisees and scribes make them. Because, on the one hand, judgments of this nature are deeply inappropriate. That’s what verse 3 tells us: it’s inappropriate to judge someone’s life and problems when your own life and your own problems are much greater and severe.
But then, on the other hand, Christ gives us verse 4, and he tells us God’s anger over these unfiltered, unthinking kind of judgments isn’t only because they’re inappropriate, but it’s also because they’re deeply insincere. The language used in the Greek is filled with what are called interjections. Interpreted directly, verse 4 can be read like this: How dare you say to your brother, “let me cast out the chip of wood from your eye!” What do you know about it when an entire beam is still stuck in your own eye? Your offer to help when you cannot or have not helped yourself lacks integrity and it makes you untrustworthy.
And a person who is inappropriate, insincere with his own shortcomings, and untrustworthy is a person who, according to this passage, has not grasped the grace of God in the gift of his Son. His existence becomes an insult to God because his desire is to point out and condemn the problems of others despite the fact that his own problems have been passed over and forgiven at great cost to someone else. And thus, he, in his inappropriate, insincere, untrustworthy judgment of others, proves to have rejected God’s free gift in the cross and remains under his judgment and condemnation as a consequence.
This is why Jesus says his next words in verse 5: you hypocrite. Did you know that this is the only place in Matthew where Jesus actually calls his own followers hypocrites? Everywhere else in Matthew the term hypocrite is reserved for the Pharisees and scribes, but here—he lays it on us—on his own people—not to condemn us but to make sure that we understand the gravity of his words. This is Jesus talking, and he is pulling out all the stops to make you listen and to open, with particular emphasis, the eyes of your heart so that you might see this isn’t just another sermon. This isn’t just another person who’s come with a warning that you can ignore and think, “it’s not that bad,” or “it’ll correct itself in time.”
No, Jesus is saying, “WISE UP NOW! HEAR ME NOW!” BECAUSE THIS IS IT! THE I AM—YAHWEH, ADONAI, LORD OF HEAVEN’S HOSTS, THE FULFILLMENT OF ALL SCRIPTURE—IS HERE. But he hasn’t come to judge you, but to be judged for you. He hasn’t come to throw you into hell where you belong, but to suffer the fate of hell on your behalf, and instead of condemn you, he has come to make every attempt, hiding the glories and wonders of heaven, taking on human flesh, and dying the most humiliating human death upon a tree, to show you your sin, to enable you to righteousness, to offer you his perfect love, to restore you as the sons and daughters of God, and to promise you eternal life with him undaunted by the corruption of this world.
And the implication of his address is to ask you, “where, O Church, is your hope?” Is it stuck in your desire for people to be like you, to glorify you, to worship you? Is it all about you? Or is your hope in Christ who has given up everything so that you might know your Father who is in heaven and who, in his sacrificial, relentless love, desires to give you not only good things but the fullness of himself?
Because if you’re your own standard of righteousness by which all others in your life are measured, Jesus means to redirect your gaze this morning. He means to help you cast those things out of your eye not simply by laying them down and definitely not by forcing you to focus upon those things that blind and distract you, but by coming to you, himself, by taking that beam of wood in your eye as the very instrument for his death, by turning your face from yourself, and by fixing the fullness of your hope upon him.
This isn’t just a Sunday School answer, church: Jesus must be your hope—he must be your motivation—he must be the central fulfilling figure of everything in your life because if he isn’t not only shall your fate be tied to those whom Christ condemns when he calls them hypocrites, but you condemn your brother too who, because of your selfishness, pride, and unbelieving heart, never received the help that he needed to deal with that speck in his eye.
Make sure you disciple and rightly judge your heart first before discipling and judging others by discovering your blind spots—those things that keep you from seeing and savouring Jesus as he deserves to be seen and savoured, and in so doing, you won’t only be blessed—you won’t only be made happy, but you’ll be a blessing and an eternal source of happiness to others. This is what Christ is for us. This is what you are called, now, to be as Christians. May we be fervent with the task, which leads us to our third and final point: disciple your heart first before you disciple others by discerning, wisely, your call to help.
3) Discern, Wisely, Your Call to Help
Matthew 7:6 is a difficult passage, and it is very strongly tied to our verses for next week in Matthew 7:7-11 but allow me to speak on it briefly here because it is also tied strongly to Matthew 7:1-5, in that, as Christians, we often say that the remedy to all things is the gospel. And that is absolutely true. But another reason why Christ wants to make sure that our eyes are clear of any debris before we offer help to our brothers and sisters is because only by seeing clearly can we rightly, or more properly, discern (not perfectly) whether or not the person we desire to help should be helped in the way we intend.
“Dogs and pigs” is language used in both the Old and New Testaments to refer to those who are outside the covenant community of God—those who do not truly belong to the kingdom. And as those who are meant to be extremely discriminating about the things that are in our own eyes and hearts, we ought to be equally concerned and discerning about the things that we are putting in the eyes and hearts of other people. The gospel, in any of its presented forms, will always be good objectively, but not everyone will be able to receive and digest it and its implications similarly.
Which is why Jesus gives us this final “do not” warning. Essentially, he’s asking, “why are you offering food and pearls to those who can take only milk and basic provisions? What good are pearls if all they are to the person with them is stones? And what good is food to them if all it does is choke them? They will see your gift of pearls and food as useless or as an attack upon them rather than as an offer to help and love them, and again, you will cause both yourself and them more harm than good. And the warning here is to make sure that your discipleship—whatever it is you offer as judgment, correction, edification, encouragement, training—you’re to be discerning about your audience.
This, then, is why the next verse in Matthew 7:7, if I can broach it just a little bit, says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” This isn’t a verse given to us telling us that we’ll get anything we want if we ask. No, the context is that in our stupidity—in our blindness—in our hypocrisy, we don’t always know what is right and good to do because we will always be daunted in this life by our sin.
So, Jesus says, the way to disciple rightly—the way to build these relationships isn’t to wade into them guns blazing, but before anything pray, examine your heart, and seek heavenly wisdom from your Father because what you need more than the right words is his provision of sufficient grace to lead you despite your sin and to help you in what you, alone, are unable to do. Might we go, then, to him daily—to lay our ambitions and our self-sufficiency down before him—to ask him for all that we need to complete the task with a righteousness that exceeds our own. And in our desperation, may he keep us blameless in our labouring as we fix our hearts and our hope in the blood of the lamb and in the word of our testimony.