“Christians Shouldn’t Judge, Just Accept”
Matthew 7:1 – 6, 15 – 19
Christians shouldn’t judge, just accept
“Christians shouldn’t judge, just accept”
A few years ago someone took a survey among college students in the United States, asking who most embodied the stereotype of a Christian person.
And I wonder what you imagine might have been the answer to that.
These 18 to 21 year olds, when they think of a Christian stereotype, who do they came up with?
Sadly, none of the above.
The Christian stereotype, was thought to be best embodied, in one Ned Flanders, from the cartoon series The Simpsons!
Which, is perhaps somewhat depressing initially, but actually I think it could have been a lot worse!
See Ned Flanders, if you’ve never met him, is slightly annoying, and just a little bit too happy for my liking, but he is, in effect, a real Christian, and there are plenty of worse people, we could have been represented by.
Because I think if the question was asked a little differently, not “Who represents the stereotypical Christian?” but “What is a stereotypical Christian?" I think the answer would likely be more sobering for us,
That is, I think we’d get an answer that’s reflective of the myth we’re thinking about this morning.
See, to lots of people I meet, Christians are judgmental.
That’s the stereotype, the complaint against Christians I hear more often than anything else:, shouldn’t judge, just accept.
And I know that many of you here have come up against that before, in your workplaces, even your homes, “Christians shouldn’t tell people that something is wrong,
We shouldn’t disagree with people’s choices,
We should just accept everything that people do,
Because, well, Jesus was all about love, wasn’t he?!
“Christians shouldn’t judge, just accept.”
Of course the people who say that, don’t really mean it, across the board,
Or they’d think that William Wilberforce, a committed Christian, should have just accepted the demeaning and subjugation of human beings in the slave trade, rather than railing against the evil that he saw it was,
I’m sure they don’t believe that Dame Cicely Saunders should have just accepted the way that the dying were often neglected and abandoned. As a Christian she couldn’t accept it, and so the modern hospice movement was born.
Those who perpetuate this myth are entirely inconsistent, let’s make no mistake about that, but how do we, most of us, followers of Jesus, live out the Christian life in a world where this myth, passes for truth?
How can we show the myth for what it is?
Don’t be judgmental (v1 – 2)
Well let’s have a look at what Jesus himself has to say.
Grab your Bible, and open up to Matthew chapter 7, because first of all, Jesus says something that sounds like he’s agreeing with the myth, doesn’t he?
Don’t be judgmental.
7 verse 1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
People, religious people, being judgmental, was something Jesus had experienced first-hand. The religious leaders of his day were continually critical of Jesus’ life, his ministry, the company he kept,
Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?
“If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is
Why are you doing what is unlawful?
He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?
No wonder there’s a stereotype that religious people are judgemental. Jesus couldn’t even have a meal with someone, or heal a paralysed man, without the religious elites condemning his behaviour.
And religious people might be judgmental, people who think that a right relationship with God is about keeping rules, and maintaining a certain level of performance, maybe those people are judgmental, but Christian people, Jesus says, are not.
I remember way back in year 10, sitting in computing class, because, young people, back in the olden days, you didn’t have computers in every classroom, the computers were all kept in a special room where you went once a week to use them! That’s a little free history lesson for you!
Anyway, we were in computing class, and one of my classmates announced that he was an atheist, and in the conversation which followed, I said something along the lines of “Well, I guess you wouldn’t be going to heaven, then.”
Well, you should have heard the response, not from my atheist friend, actually, but from other students who said they were Christians.
“You’re so judgmental,
What right do you have to say that?”, and so on and so on.
Now, I’m happy to acknowledge that , 15 year-old Clayton may have lacked a measure of tact, But I have to say, I was surprised that my response was considered judgmental, when my friend didn’t even believe in heaven, so he certainly didn’t want to, or expect to be there.
But as you can tell, the incident has stuck in my mind, And 23 years later, I’ve nearly got over it!
But since then, when I’ve found myself in similar situations, I’ve often wondered, what should I do or say, when someone is in error?
Is it wrong of me to warn someone of the consequences of their actions?
Certainly the prevailing view of our world, as captured in this myth, would say, “yes, offering correction is wrong, we should just accept whatever belief or behaviour people choose, without any kind of judgment or assessment.”
But of course Jesus isn’t telling us to overlook sin, is he?
We see that very clearly just a few breaths later on in this Sermon on the Mount which we’ll come to in a moment.
In chapter 16 he says Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Which, Matthew tells us, means “watch out for their false teaching.”
In chapter 18 Jesus teaches his disciples how they ought to respond, when someone in the church is caught in sin.
He outlines the steps that Christian people need to take, and it’s not optional, it’s a command, how to help a Christian brother or sister repent of behaviour that is incompatible with their Christian identity.
Clearly Jesus isn’t saying, “Just look the other way when someone sins.”
Pretty obviously, Do not judge , can’t mean, “Do nothing, treat falsehood as if it doesn’t matter.”
So what is Jesus saying?
Do not judge, or you too will be judged, .
School went back this week, so let’s have a little grammar lesson!
The word translated “judge” here is a verb, that is, a doing word.
And it’s a present , active , imperative , verb. That is, it means something like “Don’t be judging,
Don’t always be judging,
Don’t make a habit of judging.”
If you’re a follower of Jesus, don’t be known, as someone who is always judging,
Always finding fault in others.
John Stott, the British pastor, says this is not a command to be blind, but a command to be generous.
And if we’ve been on the receiving end of someone who’s always judging, always criticising, that’s horrible isn’t it?
Christian people must not be like that. Christian people have no reason to be like that.
A Christian is someone who has been forgiven for the worst possible offence; Rebellion against our creator, who loves us and sent his son to die for us, in our place.
Someone who knows what it is to be declared “not guilty”, can hardly then turn around and make a habit of condemning others!
In this part of Matthew’s gospel, as I said, what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines the ethics of the Kingdom of God;, how people who live with Jesus as their king ought to live, how we’re enabled to live, by his Spirit.
The Kingdom of God is made up entirely of people who know just how short they fall from God’s standard, and rely wholly on God’s mercy and grace;,
We’re not given what we do deserve,
And we’re given much that we don’t deserve.
The constant , judgmental, condemning approach toward others, is at odds with all of that.
No surprise then, that Jesus says there’s a serious consequence if you do follow those religious types in their rush to judgment:, Do not judge, or you too will be judged
Now, again, let’s use our common sense,
It’s pretty obvious that Jesus doesn’t mean, “If you overlook other people’s sin, then God will overlook your sin!”
But if we’re quick to be point out the failings of others, we’re inviting God to act on the failing in our lives.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you
You’ll notice that God is not even mentioned here, although it is God’s judgment that Jesus has in mind.
You may know that Jewish people, even today, avoid writing God’s name. I get emails from Jewish people, and they will write “God”, “G dash D”, and I try and remember to do the same when I’m writing to them so as not to offend them unnecessarily.
And so Jesus here is speaking here to a Jewish audience, and Matthew is writing first and foremost for Jewish audience, so the fact that God isn’t mentioned here but is alluded to is , really to be expected.
You’d speak of God’s actions, but put it in passive language.
And of course, it was other people’s judgment on view, who cares. A Christian isn’t concerned primarily with what other people think of them, but how God views us.
And, without giving the specifics, Jesus says that something of the way we judge others, will be reflected in God’s final judgment of us.
The judgmental person says to God “Here’s the standard you can judge me by.” And that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?
Do you want to be judged by the measure with which you judge others?
I certainly don’t!
So what do we do?
We know we can’t ignore sin,
We can’t just accept people’s destructive patterns of behaviour, as much as our world would tell us that’s what we ought to be doing.
We want to deal really graciously with people who are caught in sin or error, because we know what it’s like to be recipients of grace.
So how do we do it?
Well, as I mentioned, in Matthew 18 Jesus gives some specific instructions about how to engage with a brother or sister in Christ who is caught in sin, or teaching falsehood,
So that’s a good place to start, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you, Jesus says. If they listen to you, you have won them over
And one helpful way of going about it might be to ask questions rather than make accusations.
I find it’s easier to be gracious, when I’m asking a question,
Easier to avoid being judgmental, when I’m asking a question,
It’s a shorter step to being willing to admit that actually I might have it wrong, if I’m asking a question.
Now, this is just my suggestion, but instead of saying, “your words were hurtful, you shouldn’t have said that”,
You could ask, “Do you know what effect your words are having on other people?”
Instead of pointing to sin, and saying, “I can’t believe you’re doing that!”, we could ask, “Are you struggling with this particular sin?”, or, “How are you going in resisting that sin?”
It changes the tone of the conversation dramatically doesn’t it, and I think also, changes the response that we’re likely to get.
Question to ask: Are we generous and gracious, as we evaluate the behaviour and motives of others?
Or is the way we treat those around us, a painful demonstration that we ourselves haven’t understood grace, and that will face God’s righteous judgment?
Don’t be a hypocrite (v 3 – 5)
But Jesus goes even further than just saying, “Don’t be judgmental”, He says, “Don’t be a hypocrite.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
It’s an over the top illustration to make the point.
Think 3 stooges, trying to get a speck of sawdust out of someone’s eye, when the guy’s got a great thumping log sticking out of his own eye.
“Here, let me help you with that”, WHACK , WHACK, WHACK.
“Oh, this isn’t going so well, is it? WHACK WHACK WHACK!
Years ago, me and some friends, including Karl Forsyth and Simon Marshman who both preached here recently, we spent a bit of time making things out of wood. We used to call ourselves “The Anglican Woodworkers Guild”, We thought that made us sound cool or something!
But as you will know, if you’ve ever done any woodworking, getting sawdust in your eye is a pain!
Your eyes water,
They close up,
You can’t see properly.
And if you tell your wife that you can’t actually see properly when you’re using your power tools, that’s when your power tools get packed away!
Let’s not miss the point!
You can’t leave the sawdust in there, can you?
The speck has to come out.
See, this is an important balance to “Christians shouldn’t judge”, we mustn’t forget that the speck of sawdust has to come out!
We can’t leave it in there, and it might even take someone else’s help to get it out, since we can’t see into our own eyes.
And often we can’t see into our own lives can we?
We have blindspots.
There are some things in our life that we just don’t see.
We don’t see the effect that our words might be having on others,
We don’t see the long-term consequences of our behaviour,
We don’t see how money, or career, or family, are threatening to become our god,
We don’t see how selfish, or hurtful, or foolish, , we just don’t see.
The speck needs to come out. Let’s not forget that!
But what Jesus is drawing our attention to here, is what’s going on in our mind and our heart, when we’re trying to get the speck out of someone else’s eye.
Jesus is saying we have a bifocal problem.
It’s like we’re wearing bifocals that magnify everyone else’s faults, but minimise our own!
Someone’s late to a meeting. “They’re inconsiderate and unreliable.”
I’m running late. “I got caught up.”
Someone else’s children are playing up. “They’re a bad parent. They’re bad kids.”
My kids are making a racket, “They’re just a little excitable today.”
You know how it works, don’t you?!
Someone makes a careless remark, “They’re offensive”,
I hurt someone with my words, “I meant no harm. They should be more resilient.”
Do you reckon we’re like that?
I’m convinced we are! I certainly am! There’s nothing wrong with my bifocals!
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Part of living in a world where people just wish Christians were less judgmental, is that before we try and sort out someone else’s problem, or bring their sin and error to light, we need to look at our own lives.
Then once we have a clear understanding of our own failings, we’re we’re in a position to , gently and carefully speak with others.
And, of course, acknowledging and dealing with our own failures first, before we try to help others, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the only way that community can work!
The comical illustration proves that point.
The person with the plank in their eye can’t see clearly Jesus says to take the speck out of the other person’s eye, until they’ve removed the plank from their own eye.
The problem is not just that they’re being a hypocrite, they’re actually unable to do what they’re trying to do!
Like on the plane when the oxygen masks come down! They always say “put your mask on first, before you help others”! If you don’t get your mask on quickly, you’re no good to anyone else!
Friends, let’s hear Jesus’ warning here,
If you are not constantly looking at your life and asking God to reveal your sin,
Asking to be shown where your actions have hurt others,
Asking God to make you more like Jesus,
Without that, you are next to useless to other Christians as a pointer-out of sin and error.
If you can’t see sin in your own life, you don’t even know what sin is!
Deal with your sin first, ask for help to deal with it, so you can be helpful to others.
I know there are times that people have come to me and said “Clayton, I think you need to be aware of this sin,
Or being ungracious there”,
Or “Did you realise how those words hurt people”, or whatever it is,
And they say, “The reason I’m telling you this is because God has convicted me of something similar in my own life.”
When someone has worked hard to get their own eyes clean, well, by God’s grace , two of us learn from that experience.
So let’s come back to the myth, in a world that says “Christians shouldn’t judge, just accept”, how do we help people with the speck in their eye?, ‘cause remember the speck still needs to come out
So how do we do it?
How do I know that I have removed the plank from my own eye first?
Well, I reckon there’s a helpful question we can ask ourselves at that point, and that is, “Who are you trying to help?”
Are you really trying to help your brother or sister walk more closely with Jesus,
To strengthen their relationships,
To grow in godliness and and model Christ-likeness,
Or, are you really trying to help yourself,
To help yourself feel useful,
To help yourself be known as the person with discernment
To help yourself appear wise and godly.
If, when we ask that question, the answer is , well, maybe I am trying to help myself, that’s a plank that needs removing, before we go any further.
Friends, if we’re to really care for each other the way Jesus expects that Kingdom citizens will, we must not think that we can leave specks in eyes,
Not our own eyes, not other people’s eyes.
But maybe “plank removal” needs to become part of our TMB vocabulary, so that when we speak to each other, we can ask, “how is your plank removal going?”, and maybe sometimes a few of us will have to say, Well, I’ve got enough planks to build a house, how ‘bout you?
Maybe we can work on plank removal together.
Don’t just accept, but be discerning
But while those two instructions, “don’t be judgmental”, and “don’t be a hypocrite”, might sound pretty similar to what that myth would have us believe, we get a fuller picture of what Jesus thinks in verse 6, and then down in verse 15.
A Christian can absolutely not “just accept” other people’s behaviour.
Jesus commands us to be discerning.
Be discerning when speaking (v 6)
Firstly, be discerning when speaking
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
It’s a strange little verse, but these words really are the qualification for what Jesus has just said;
“Don’t be judgmental, and don’t be a hypocrite, But, Do be discerning.”
There are some people who refuse to receive correction.
Jesus’ experience with the religious leaders of his day proves that.
You may have witnessed it, also.
There are some people even, who refuse to hear the good news of the Kingdom;
Peace with God,
Forgiveness for sin,
These priceless treasures are scorned and rejected,
Sometimes aggressively rejected.
Imagine throwing pearls, to a pig. It has a sniff and a chew, and then realises, “I can’t eat these! I might try eating that person over there who’s throwing these stupid pearls at me!’
If, after you’ve gone through the plank removal process, asking yourself, “Who am I trying to help?”, If after all of that, you keep being rebuffed, rejected, with vicious contempt, hear Jesus’ words here, it is appropriate to move on and share the pearls of great value that you have, with others.
You could spend your entire life trying to steer one person who doesn’t want to be steered onto the path of life. And in the process, you’d actually be ignoring scores of others, who would long for a gentle word of correction, people for whom one prayerfully considered word of rebuke might lead to transformation of their entire life
Later in Matthew’s gospel, the pearl represents the Kingdom of God itself, and Jesus’ disciples, the messengers of the Kingdom are told to exercise just this sort of discernment, If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (10:14)
And if we as citizens of the kingdom are seeking to correct those who have fallen into sin,
Or trying to remind people once again of the great things that God has called us to as his people, won’t it be the good news of the Kingdom that we seek to bring to bear on their life?
Won’t it be the message of the Kingdom that is the message of correction and restoration?
Won’t it be the riches that are ours in Christ,
The greater things to which we are called,
The hope of eternal life for all those who are in Christ, who persevere to the end,
Won’t that, the gospel of Jesus, be the very means by which we seek to correct, and take out those specks?
Isn’t that the thing we have to offer?
If that’s our message, Jesus says, be discerning, ‘cause we will encounter because some who want nothing to do with it.
Who will trample underfoot that which we value above all else, and then turn on us.
It’s a hard call to make,
It’s a call to make only after we remove the planks of our own stubbornness and arrogance
But people’s decision to reject the good news Jesus is a decision God allows them to make.
Be discerning when listening (v 15 – 20)
The other part of being discerning rather than simply accepting, is to be discerning when we’re listening.
Look down at verse 15 of Matthew 7 with me.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them
Not everyone who looks like one of God’s people really is one of God’s people.
Not everyone who claims to speak God’s Word really does.
Not everyone who says, “come follow me” will lead you to Christ.
In fact, Jesus says, some will lead you far away.
Now, it’s not thought very polite to call someone a false prophet, and we should certainly have the warnings from Jesus ringing in our ears, as we think about how to exercise this discernment.
But there are some who have abandoned the good news of Jesus,
They’ve turned their backs on the Bible as the authoritative revelation from God,
They water down the great truths of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and they chip away at the assurance we can have of our future resurrection to be with Jesus,
They cause us to doubt the promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
And they always seem to be the ones invited to give a “Christian” perspective, when the media comes calling.
But as damaging as those, kind of high profile false teachers are, and we can think of the names, I’m sure, John Shelby Spong was popular some years ago. Without wanting to minimise the damage they cause, Jesus warns about a different kind of false prophet here.
These most dangerous ones come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
These ones look like us.
They look like me.
They come into our churches, they graduate from our Bible colleges.
We know not to listen to Jack Spong anymore,
We know Rob Bell’s abandoned orthodox Christianity.
But Jesus warns us to be discerning even when we’re listening to those we think we can trust.
But we’re not left wondering, who these false teachers are.
We’ve had 4 visiting preachers in the last month, are the odds that one of them is like this?
No need to wonder, Jesus says, you can tell them by their fruit.
Verse 16, By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
The very first thing I did in our yard after my 8 weeks of sick leave, was to prune our peach tree.
I was ruthless and brutal, apparently that’s what I needed to be! But I prune that tree in the hope that when summer comes around, I’ll get bucket loads of , what? , Peaches!
I may not have a green thumb on either of my hands, but I know that you don’t get apples from peach trees, or as Jesus says, grapes from thornbushes,
A tree bears fruit in keeping with its nature. Now forget about hybrids and GMO and everything else, Jesus isn’t talking about genetic engineering, but what is naturally the case!
Good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.
True prophets, those who speak God’s Word truthfully and carefully will bear good fruit. They can’t help but bear good fruit because it’s really God’s Word , by His Spirit, that brings the fruit.
In contrast though, false prophets, those who distort the Word of God, will bear bad fruit.
That’s how you spot the false prophets, look for their fruit.
Look at what grows out of their life,
The things they do,
The shape of their relationships,
How they treat people.
Or do they stir up dissent,
Are they selfish?
Do they cause people to stumble, to give up their faith, to walk away from Jesus and his church?
By their fruit you will recognise them.
Last week I was looking at the Facebook page of a church in Australia, a church whose leader is absolutely one of these false prophets that Jesus warns about. He has well and truly walked away from the hope held out in the gospel of Jesus. He’s identified as a leader in his denomination, his job title would give you great confidence to listen to him, but he’s a wolf!
And as I read this man’s interactions with people on church’s Facebook page, I was, I was dumbfounded.
Language that would not be tolerated in any of your workplaces,
The most offensive treatment of people I have ever seen on an official church communication.
By their fruit you will recognise them.
Don’t just accept.
In a world that says “Christians shouldn’t judge, just accept”
So we’ve got a challenge, haven’t we? A stereotype to debunk.
But imagine if we could combat it with another stereotype. Not , you know, right around the world, but just , in this part of the world.
Imagine if in our region, there was a stereotype of a TMB Christian, that, as soon as the name of our church was mentioned, people immediately had a picture in their mind, not of a judgmental Christian,
Not of Ned Flanders,
Not even of a Christian who just accepts everyone’s behaviour and teaching without question.
But a stereotype of people who long to shine the light of the gospel of Jesus into the lives of others,
Gently correcting where necessary,
And being open to that guiding and correcting and restoring in their own life where needed.
Confessing sin and failure for themselves, before addressing it in the lives of others,
Christians who , say to each other, “Please , help , me, live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.”
Wouldn’t that be a stereotype worth living up to?
Let’s pray that we might.