Your ‘I’ Problem

“You are stubborn, but I have strongly held opinions.” “You are inflexible, but I am firm.” “You are wishy-washy, but I am compassionate.” How do you see yourself compared to how you view others? In Matthew 7:1–6 Jesus commands you not to judge.

Do not judge! Jesus is not prohibiting all judgments. This verse, taken out of context, is sometimes uses as a shield to reject any and all criticism, particularly in our relativistic society. The Scriptures encourage, even command you to be discerning, to exercise judgment: Proverbs 4:14,15; 1 Corinthians 5:9; Philippians 3:2. Later in the chapter Jesus tells you that you will recognize a tree by its fruit, v. 16 (part of a warning against false prophets). In the immediate context he warns you not to throw your pearls to the swine, ; Matthew 7:6. In Matthew 18:15–17 Jesus calls you to confront a brother who is sinning. “See, however, 18:15–17… for a proper desire to correct a ‘brother who sins.’ The balancing of such pastorally responsible criticism against the dangers set out in this pericope calls for a rare degree of self-awareness combined with unselfish concern for others.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 274). You must exercise judgment and discernment. Exercise it in the choices you make in your personal life. Exercise discernment in political matters. Show sound judgment in choosing what you believe!

Judging is dangerous! The judging that is prohibited is a hypercritical attitude. It is self-centered. “Self is always at the back of it, and it is always a manifestation of self-righteousness, a feeling of superiority, and a feeling that we are all right while others are not. That then leads to censoriousness, and a spirit that is always ready to express itself in a derogatory manner.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 167). It delights in criticizing others. The same measure will be used on you. Others will tend to judge you as you have judged them. The person who is always criticizing, will be criticized himself. What goes around, comes around. More importantly, God will judge you as you have judged others. If you judge without mercy, what grounds do you have to expect God to be merciful to you? The principle of fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer repeats itself here. “Still more seriously, behind the passive verbs lies the judgment of God, who maintains impartial justice. ‘You will be judged’ looks beyond social criticism to God’s ultimate verdict.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 275).

Beware of the beam in your own eye! Be aware of the danger of hypocrisy. Jesus uses graphic imagery of objects in your eye. It’s not that this adds much new content to what he has said, but it brings the point home. Imagine a “mote” (sliver, or speck of sawdust—whatever it is, it probably feels as big as a football) in someone else’s eye. You’re telling your brother, “Hold it! Let me pull out that sliver!” Meanwhile you ignore the beam in your eye. (This is not just a plank or 2×4, it is a major rafter, floor beam, or even a log!) While the imagery gets impossible if you try to take it literally, Jesus makes an effective point. This attitude reflects hypocrisy, and Jesus doesn’t hesitate to call it that. And he is not just targeting the “safe” Pharisees. He wants you to wake up to the hypocrite in each of you. It’s a sin that all Christians have to struggle against. You’d think twice about consulting an eye specialist whose own vision was impaired by a beam in his eye. Beware of being a self-centered “I” specialist, who is quick to criticize others, while remaining blissfully unaware of your own failures.

Trust the righteous Judge to remove the beam from your eye. Jesus’s solution sounds obvious. Get rid of the beam in your eye before you concentrate on the handicaps of others. But isn’t Jesus asking the impossible? You can’t do eye surgery on someone else, how can you operate on your own major problem? It’s like Jesus telling Nicodemus that he has to be born again, or Ezekiel preaching to dry bones. Jesus’ point is that your situation is beyond your remedy. There is no do-it-yourself procedure for operating on beams in eyes. But what you cannot do yourself, what is contrary to human inclination and desire, God does do for the citizens of his kingdom. The Father sent his Son as the one who would be filled with the Spirit, and who would judge righteously. He will execute perfect judgment at the end of the age. That is one reason you don’t have to be hyper-critical or try to correct all wrongs. The day will come when Christ will set all things straight. The Messiah also came bearing the sins as he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. He redeems you from self-centered idolatry to a life of humble, obedient service. He sends that same Spirit who equipped him for his work to change your life. The Lord cuts through your hypocrisy. He clarifies your sight. He makes you able to focus, not on your brother’s splinters, but on the beams which formed the cross. The solution to the problem of self-centered hypocrisy lies in the perfect work of the sinless Son of God, who gave himself as your Savior. Among the sins for which he died was the sin of pride, the focus on “I” that so easily tempts you. The redemptive work of the Lord involves not a make-do surgical operation, but a resurrection from the dead, a new life that flows from him.

How you see yourself compared to others is not nearly as important as recognizing your own natural self-centeredness—provided you flee to the only One who can remedy the situation.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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