Keeping Balance

Being judgmental is easy: you just criticize everybody and everything that you don’t agree with. Being gullible is easy, too: you just accept everybody and everything. But Jesus doesn’t want us to slide into either ditch; He wants us to be be discerning without being judgemental. And we can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit Himself.

Chris Hutchison on March 21, 2021
Keeping Balance
March 21, 2021

Keeping Balance

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Passage: Mathew 7:1-12
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This past fall, with all of the political stuff going on on both sides of the border here in North America, I went out searching for some news outlets that were truly balanced. I wanted sources which did not have an obvious bias towards either right or left, which did not treat one candidate as the “good guy” who can do no wrong and the other as the “bad guy” who can only do wrong. I just wanted the facts so that I could make up my own mind.

And I did come across a number of outlets and websites that claimed to be fair and objective and balanced and unbiased. But as I actually began to read some of them I discovered that there’s a big difference between saying you are balanced and actually being balanced. I have no doubt that many of those authors and outlets intended to be unbiased, but it because very obvious very soon how many of them had decided there were sides, and they had chosen a side, and any inconvenient facts that did not align with their side were ignored.

Of course, some people would say that it’s my fault. They might say that I have a particular perspective, and so anybody who doesn’t see things my way is going to appear unbalanced to me.

My point in all of this has very little to do with politics and the news. I’m just drawing attention to the fact that being balanced is hard, isn’t it? Being fair and moderate when there’s a lot going on is tough, isn’t it?

And yet it’s so important. I remember years ago being struck by these words from Martin Lloyd-Jones: “We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right things.”1Martin Lloyd-Jones, The Sermon on the Mount, 2:244

Lloyd-Jones was not speaking about news and politics but rather the Bible. The Bible is a big book and it says many different things. And history is littered with people who got ahold of one of the ideas in the Bible and emphasized that idea in an out-of-proportion way, and ignored the other ideas in the Bible that counterbalance that idea.

And it wasn’t so much that they were wrong. They were just imbalanced. But that can be just as dangerous, and so, so easy.

Now this is true when we consider the Bible as a whole. It’s also true even if we  only consider the Sermon on the Mount, which we’ve been exploring together since late November. This Sermon has made some big important statements which are 100% true, and yet it could be easy to grab onto some of those statements and become imbalanced as a result.

The Danger of Being Judgmental

I’m speaking specifically of the very high standards we see in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember all the talk about the “better righteousness” of the kingdom of heaven, and how Jesus contrasts this better righteousness with the hypocrisy of the religious leaders?

All throughout chapter 5 we were told not to be like the scribes and the Pharisees. In chapter 6 Jesus told us not to be like the hypocrites in the way that we give and fast, and not to be like them or the Gentile nations in the way that we pray. And then we were taught to use our money in a way that was way out of step with the way that almost everybody else uses money.

And all of this is true, and all of this is important, and all of this is necessary for us to trust and obey. But as we do that, there is a danger lurking here. The high standards of the Kingdom of Heaven present us with a temptation.

And that’s the temptation to be judgemental. To be smug. To look down our noses at those stupid Pharisees and those silly scribes and those dumb hypocrites and those ridiculous Gentiles. It would be easy to get out of balance by seeing ourselves as the elite, living out the better righteousness of Jesus far above everybody else, pursuing heavenly reward while those sorry losers far below us waste their lives.

And maybe I’m exaggerating here a little bit, but I’m sure you’ve seen this in real life, maybe even your own life. The more you take seriously the high standards of the kingdom of heaven, the easier it is to look down on other people who don’t.

The more you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, the easier it is for you to get frustrated with those those who are not seeking Him so devotedly.

And that’s why today’s passage is so important. Right before He concludes a Sermon full of high expectations and comparisons with others, Jesus gives a word of balance, telling us that as we seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness, we must not be judgemental towards others.

Look there at verse 1: “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” (Matthew 7:1–2).

In other words, don’t hold people to a standard that you yourself would not want to be held to. Don’t treat people in a way that you yourself would not want to be treated. As you pursue the better righteousness of the kingdom, show others the grace that you would want them to show you.

And like he does so often, Jesus illustrates what He is talking about with an example. This one is the well-known illustration of a speck and a stick in verses 3-4: “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?”

Ok, listen: this is funny. I acted this out with my kids this week and they laughed. Jesus is using humour here to show us how silly it is to have one standard for other people but another standard for ourselves.

The idea of a guy with a log stuck in his eye, just walking around like it’s no big deal, is funny. And the thought of this guy walking up to his friend and saying “um, excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that you have something in your eye” is even funnier. And the thought of this guy, log protruding, trying to remove that speck from his brother’s eye is just hilarious. “No, let me help you.”

If you have a log sticking out of your eye and you try to get close enough to someone else to take a speck out of their eye, what’s going to happen? You’re going to hurt them. Your log is going to leave them bloodied and bruised. Not to mention you’re not going to see clearly enough to make a difference.

And one again, that’s the point of this whole passage. Don’t have one standard for yourself and another standard for everybody else. It doesn’t work and it’s just going to cause a lot of damage.

Please notice that Jesus is not saying that we should never, ever try to help take specks out of our brother’s eyes. Look at what he says in verse 5: “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.”

Jesus is not saying that if we see a speck in our brother’s eye we should just shrug our shoulders and ignore it. What He is saying is that we should not be hypocrites, criticizing them for something small when we’ve got an even bigger problem. We should deal with ourself first and then we will be equipped to deal with others.

This is such a key dynamic in so many types of relationships. I’ve seen it often in churches. Person A offends Person B, but the way that Person B reacts and responds is way worse than anything Person A did in the first place.

Or Person A thinks that their leaders are doing something wrong, but instead of dealing with it biblically they go around gossiping and stirring up division and committing way more sin themselves. This kind of stuff does a lot of damage in churches all of the time.

I’ve seen this kind of dynamic often in marriages. A couple is having struggles in their marriage and you ask the husband, “What’s the problem?” And what’s the first word out of his mouth? “She keeps doing this.” And you ask the wife what’s the problem, and what’s her first word? “He keeps saying this.”

In other words, “It’s their fault! They’ve got a speck in their eye!” So much relationship conflict is two people with logs sticking out of their eyes, beating the other person bloody as they insist on getting that speck out here and now.

And the solution to so much relationship conflict is to check your own eye for logs first. Check your own heart, your own reactions. Sure, maybe the other sinned. But you are responsible for the way that you react to that sin. You are accountable for your attitudes about their sin.

When you see a speck in someone’s eyes, whether it’s your spouse or your co-worker or your boss or your friend or your family member or that guy who just cut you off in traffic, stop and find a mirror and check your own eyes first. Make sure that your heart, your attitudes, your motivation is in the right place. Take out your log first.

And then, and only then, are you equipped to say “Hey, I couldn’t help but notice there’s something in your eye; mind if I give you a hand with that?”

Measure for Measure

Because, as Jesus said in verse 2, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

This is true on just a human level, isn’t it? If you are harsh, judgmental, easily offended, easily angered, applying a critical spirit to everybody else as you hold them up to your impossible standards, then how long is it going to take for people to start treating you the same way? How much sympathy will you get from them when you fall short in their eyes?

But on the other hand, if you are patient, caring, quick to give others the benefit of the doubt, quick to forgive, then when you sin, don’t you think people will be more ready to treat you the same way?

So this works on a human level. But this dynamic is even bigger than this. Do you remember how Jesus taught us to pray? “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Or what He said next? “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15).

Here’s the weighty, scary truth: God will treat you the way that you treat others. With he measure you use it will be measured to you by Him. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

And I just want to point out again that this does not mean that we are earning God’s mercy with our behaviour. Rather, it works the other way: if we have been truly transformed by God’s mercy, we will show mercy to others. If we are not merciful, that is a sign that we have not fully experienced God’s mercy.

So let’s sum up what we’ve seen here: in response to all of the high standards in this Sermon on the Mount, and all of the comparisons to others, we can’t get imbalanced by becoming judgemental. We want to be fair towards others, not holding them to a standard that we don’t hold ourselves to. So we deal with our own logs before we point out other’s specks, and we interact with others in the way we’d want them to interact with us.

The Danger of Being Undiscerning

Now that’s true, and that’s important, and that’s a necessary balance to some of the things that we’ve heard in the Sermon on the Mount. And yet, as some of you are aware, this teaching itself needs some balancing.

I’m sure you know about the people who quote “judge not,” and apply it very liberally, basically saying that we should never, ever say that someone is wrong. We should never even try to evaluate whether someone is speaking the truth or not. We should just be open and accepting of every person and every idea and every behaviour because Jesus said not to judge.

Now we could refute that idea just based off of what we’ve seen to far in the Sermon on the Mount. The way that Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and the hypocrites shows us that we must be able to look at certain ideas, certain behaviours, and say “That’s not right.”

Jesus Himself told us in John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” 1 Corinthians 5:12 sys, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”

So clearly there are times and situations where Christians are supposed to judge. But like we’ve seen, what Jesus is telling us here in chapter 7 is that we should not judge in a way that we would not want to be judged ourselves.

But even here there’s a danger of becoming imbalanced in another direction. Some people could take this and say, “I don’t like it when anybody tells me that I’ve done anything wrong, even if they don’t have a log in their eye. So that’s how I’m going to treat others. No judgement at all.”

This is the danger of being undiscerning. It’s the opposite from being judgmental. It’s the danger of being a jellyfish who goes with the current and accepts anybody and anything that comes their way.

And if that’s a direction you’re tempted to slide off into, Jesus gives this corrective in verse 6: “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” (Matthew 7:6).

There’s some discussion about who exactly Jesus has in mind here when he talks about “dogs” or “pigs” and what exactly He means by these “holy” “peals.”

Most of the Bible commentators understand the “holy” things or the “pearls” here to refer to the treasures of the kingdom of Heaven, in other words, the gospel of the Kingdom itself. And the “dogs” or the “pigs” are the people who, after hearing the gospel, choose to deliberately reject it and mock it and trample it in the mud.

Think of Acts 13:44-46: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.’”

Paul did not continue to waste his time with these religious leaders who were more interested in attacking him than listening to the truth.

And at the same time, Paul didn’t rush this process. Acts 19:8-9 says that when he was in Ephesus, “he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.”

As long as they were open to the gospel and were genuinely considering the gospel, Paul had all the patience in the world. But once it became clear that they were just going to take the gospel and throw it in the mud, he moved on.

Now if that’s the specific kind of situation Jesus is responding to, we can’t miss the bigger idea here: Jesus expects His followers to be discerning, to be able to discern who fits in this “dog” or “pig” category, and to be able to recognize that we should not keep wasting the treasures of the kingdom on them.

We also can’t miss that Jesus uses language here that is not exactly easy on our feelings. Calling someone a dog or a pig is not polite, and that’s the whole point. It’s not polite, but it is accurate. And while we should not go around calling other people “pigs” or “dogs,” we ourselves need to know who they are and how to recognize them.

And maybe you’re thinking, “How do I do that? How do I tell when someone needs patience, and when someone is just wasting God’s time?”

And my response is, “Exactly! Those are exactly the types of questions that this passage makes us ask.” This passage forces us to ask, “what is this person doing with the truth that I am offering to them? Should I continue to pour into this person or is it time for me to move on?” This passage pushes us to be discerning.

The Resources of God

But let’s be real—this is tough, isn’t it? It’s really hard to know where the lines are. It’s hard to be discerning but still gracious.

Being judgmental is easy: you just criticize everybody and everything that you don’t agree with. Being gullible is easy, too. You just accept everybody and everything.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to slide into either ditch. He wants us to be be discerning without being judgemental. He wants us to know how to take the log out of our own eye and yet also be able to know a dog or a pig when we see one.

That’s hard, isn’t it? Knowing how hard this is, I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the very next thing Jesus says has to do with prayer and God’s readiness to answer that prayer.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7–11).

I find this so helpful, because the previous 6 verses make me say, “Help, Lord! I don’t know if I can do both of these things equally well all the time. I need your help!” And in fact, doesn’t the whole Sermon do that for us? Doesn’t this whole Sermon show us just how high the standards are, just how great this “better righteousness” is, and make us see how much we need God’s help?

And verses 7-11 reassure us that this same Heavenly Father is not just standing back expecting us to figure this out on our own. Like a Father, He is ready to help us, ready to give us what we need as we live for Him.

In Luke 11:13, Jesus said almost the exact same words as He did very in vv. 7-11. But there He concluded this way: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

That affirms that these verses are not a blank cheque, as if God is going to give us whatever we want. These verses are about God giving us whatever good thing we need to live for Him. And the best thing He can give us is His own Spirit, who lives with us and helps us to know and trust and obey Jesus.

So we shouldn’t get to the end of this passage or the end of this Sermon and think “Wow, this is just too hard. I don’t know how to be discerning without being judgemental, let alone everything impossible. I’m checking out.” Instead, we should ask. We should seek. We should knock. We should ask God to fill us with His Spirit so that we might know and trust and love and obey Him.

And as we do that, we know that we pray to a loving Father who loves us better than any human father and loves to give us good things.

The Golden Rule

Now I would love to end there. And we are going to come back to this idea before too long. But there’s one more stop for us today. Right before Jesus begins to conclude the Sermon on the Mount, He gives us one more verse that sums up today’s passage, and beyond that, sums up almost everything He’s said to us in the Sermon as a whole.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

This is the Golden Rule. Many scholars have pointed out that Jesus is not the first person to say something along these lines. Numbers of other teachers throughout history said things like “don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.”

But Jesus takes it a step further. He says that you should proactively do for others the kinds of things you want them to do for you.

This is a fitting verse at the end of a passage that began with “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). The whole idea in that section on judgement is that we will be treated the way we treat others, and so a great way to sum it up is to say that you should treat others the way you want to be treated.

If you had a piece of something in your eye, you’d want someone to tell you. But you’d want them to take the log out of their own eye first. So show that same love to others.

And yet, like we’ve suggested already, these words sum up more than just today’s passage. The phrase “Law and the Prophets” bring us all the way back to Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

And here Jesus tells us that the goal of all the instruction in the Law and the Prophets is this: that we would love our neighbour as ourself, doing for others what we would have them do for us.

You want to know a short-hand way of remembering what God wants us to do in any situation? Here is is: whatever you would want them to do for you, do it to them.

This single, simple sentence captures not just today’s passage but so much of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and, in fact, so much of the teaching of the Bible itself.

Some Questions

Now I’ve got to be honest though: as I studied this passage this week, I really struggled with this. Reducing the whole Bible to the Golden Rule seems a little simplistic. And how does this fit with the fact that Jesus Himself is the goal of the Law and the Prophets, like we saw back in December?

If it’s all about Jesus, how can it all be about the Golden Rule, too?

Maybe Jesus is painting with some really broad strokes and doesn’t intend for us to press His words too far. But maybe not. Maybe the Golden Rule is a bigger deal that we might think.

Just think about these words, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12).

Lying in behind these words is a huge, fundamental truth, which is that life is not about you. If life were about you, if you were the centre of the universe, then verse 12 would be different. It would say, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also for yourself.”

And isn’t that the idea of self-love that gets promoted so much these days?

But verse 12, as it comes from Jesus, points us away from ourselves. It reminds us that we are not the centre of the story. Life is not about us.

And as these words point us away from ourselves, don’t they point us all the way to Jesus, who lived these words out perfectly? Didn’t Jesus come “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)?

Or think of 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

You want to know what the Golden Rule looks like? It looks like Jesus hanging on the cross, laying Himself down for His sheep, paying for our sins with His own perfect life.

And you want to know what living out the Golden Rule looks like for us today? Yes, it means not judging people unfairly, like this passage has shown us. But beyond that it means living a whole life oriented around loving others in Jesus’ name. It means good works that bring glory to Jesus. It means serving others with our lives and using our words to point them to the good news of Jesus.

This town, this country, this world, is full of people who are both sinners and sufferers, people who have no hope apart from knowing and trusting in Jesus. What will it look like for you to do for them what you would have them do for you, if you were in their spot?

That’s a huge question, isn’t it? That’s a question that could disrupt your life, in a really good way. That’s a question that could change your plans and change your everything.

So let’s step back and review where we’ve been. We started off this morning talking about being balanced. We spoke about the danger of judgmentalism. We then saw the opposite danger of not being discerning. After that we saw God’s willingness to help us with everything we need as we seek to figure out this balance and live for Him in every way. And finally we heard Jesus sum up not just this passage but a great deal of this Sermon itself with the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

So what’s this going to mean for you this week? What’s this going to look like for you even today?

Do you struggle with being critical and judgmental? Do you struggle with being gullible and naive? Do you struggle with the temptation to believe that life is all about you? Are you scared to tell others about Jesus because all you think about is your own comfort or reputation?

Whatever part of this passage challenges you or even frightens you, don’t forget verse 9 and following: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11).

Whatever you need to live for Jesus you can find this morning from the Father who loves you. And that’s why we’re going to end by asking for Him to work in us by that best gift, His Holy Spirit, giving us all we need for His glory.

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