The Plank, The Splinter and the Spirit of Condemnation
Do not judge. Jesus continues His discourse on the mount with this statement that is often quoted, and also often misunderstood. In this message we discover how condemnation hurts ourselves, others and the One Who's name we bare. We explore how to embrace a spirit of humility instead of condemnation and will look at an example in the life of Jesus where a life was changed through His non-condemning presence.
A few weeks back, a group of so-called ‘influencers’ started a hashtag on Instagram saying that they wouldn’t participate anymore with the measures preventing the spread of covid-19. They were communicating that they were done with it and were going back to life as it was before, come what may.
The next day, the influencer with the most followers was invited to a late-night talk show, along with the person who oversees the Dutch ICU situation during the pandemic and is part of the team that advices the government on the regulations.
During the whole interview, it became very clear that the girl who started that hashtag really had no idea what she was talking about and couldn’t properly explain the reasoning behind her action. Twitter went wild on her, calling her out on her irresponsible behavior.
But this overseer of the ICU, who very well understood what ignoring the restrictions on a big scale could lead to, calmly asked her to tell him more about how she felt, what she missed in government communication and how they could perhaps do a better job at explaining the what and the why behind all the restrictions to young people.
The person who had all the reasons to sharply condemn her actions and make a point defending his hard-working personnel at the ICU’s, chose to not condemn but treat her with respect and dignity.
In the following days, as the influencer girl suffered a lot of harsh critique, the man called her every day to check up and see if she was okay.
I think this was a beautiful example of a non-judgmental attitude, which accomplishes far more than all the shouting and boo-ing and harsh comments we slip into so easily.
Do not judge
Let’s dive into the passage. We’re first going to look at the first three words of this new section and then discuss the rest of the passage bit by bit.
Matthew 7:1 (NIV)
“Do not judge”
Clear and to the point as these words of Jesus may be, actually living them is quite something else. The Sermon on the Mount sets out a way of life that will be a continuous challenge for us. We might even ask: “who actually lives this way?” and a follow up question would be, what must happen in me, in order to be able to live this way?
What is this ‘judgement’ that Jesus speaks of?
The Greek word used here is krino, and has a wide variety of meanings, from a harsh condemnation of someone’s action, to making distinction and separation between things. Much like our use of the word ‘judge’.
And it is highly doubtful that Jesus is talking about that wide range of judging here. After all, these lighter forms of judgement are part of our everyday life.
When doing groceries, I judge the avocado’s carefully to see if they’d make a good guacamole. Before pouring a glass of milk, I check the expiration date and so judge if I can drink it or not. When I drive my car, I judge traffic situations constantly and adjust my driving to not get in an accident. A society can only function well if there is good law-enforcement and a fair justice system. Politicians and managers can be fired from their jobs because they treated a situation with ‘poor judgement’.
So surely, not all judging is meant here.
It’s important that we get some clarity on what Jesus means here exactly, because, this statement is also misused often. Have you ever heard someone say: “the Bible says; don’t judge, so don’t you tell me what to do and what not to do…”
Really? Well, for one, the Bible constantly tells us what to do and what not to do, even the phrase ‘don’t judge’ is a very clear instruction. Also, a few verses later, Jesus categorizes certain people as pigs and others as dogs. Now, that’s not a compliment in any culture of any time, and certainly not in the Jewish culture of the first century.
When Jesus says ‘don’t judge’, He is not talking about making a distinction, or discernment, analysis, not even criticizing, correction or punishment – He is talking about condemnation.
And along with this, we may recall Jesus calling people hypocrites, nest of snakes, white washed graves – and He certainly wasn’t speaking kindly to the money changers He changed out of the Temple.
When Jesus says ‘don’t judge’, He is not talking about making a distinction, or discernment, analysis, not even criticizing, correction or punishment – He is talking about condemnation. Why?
Because through condemnation we devalue the other person. Condemnation is a sentence to exclusion. It’s a form of passing judgment where we see the other person as irredeemable – beyond help.
And the sad truth is that everyday life is full of condemnation.
We do it during covid:
"Oh, you are wearing a mask, you must be scared"
"All those young people apparently don’t care about the rest of us"
We do it in politics:
"My views on morality are the only valid ones out there and the rest are bigots!"
"You can’t be a Christian and vote for…"
We do it in class:
"That teacher doesn’t know what he’s doing"
We do it in traffic:
"Hey! Grandma! Why don’t you learn how to drive!"
A spirit of condemnation is incompatible with a spirit of love and humility.
Should I go on? Or should I perhaps specify it a bit to how so many professing Christians pass judgment on other Christian’s theology, morality or taste in worship music?
I think you get the point.
A spirit of condemnation is incompatible with a spirit of love and humility. Kingdom people are called to change the world, not to condemn it. A condemning spirit corrupts the very mission Jesus has sent us on. And that is why Jesus will give us three reasons why we should nip it in the butt.
1) What goes around comes around
Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
What Jesus points out here applies in two ways.
Firstly, having a judgmental attitude never leads to life-giving relationships with other people. Who likes to be around a negative and harsh person that always has something to say about what you do and how you do it? Also, because of your harsh attitude, people will also naturally treat you more harshly. You reap what you sow.
Secondly, this ‘measure used against you’ surely also applies to how God judges you. God is the Superior Judge. He determines what is right or wrong, truth or lie and good or evil.
Now, for those in Christ Jesus, there is no more condemnation (hallelujah). Christ has suffered and died to pay the price for our sins. He was condemned in our place. But the Bible still clearly speaks of a day when we will all appear before the Judgment seat of Christ, and I’d like Him to be mild when it is my turn.
Pass on what you receive from God, or you will block the flow of grace from God’s throne.
This ‘do not judge or you’ll be judged’ falls into the same category as ‘forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sinned against us’.
There are things that we won’t receive from God when we are unwilling to pass on the gift. It works this way with generosity, prayer, judgement and forgiveness. Pass on what you receive from God, or you will block the flow of grace from God’s throne.
2) Humility is key
Matthew 7:3 (NIV)
“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?
As I said before, a condemning spirit is incompatible with a humble spirit. When you condemn others, by definition, you place yourself above them – which effectively means that you devalue them, because to God, we are all equally valuable.
But a humble person acknowledges that he himself is not without fault or blame.
A humble person understands that other people may have different views and priorities, and are not necessarily ‘wrong’ because of it.
A humble person also understands that life comes differently for every person.
I discovered this when I studied theology and we were discussing things around contextual therapy, which looks at a person’s upbringing to understand the current issues. This helped me to not always see a person acting out as an idiot, but perhaps as hurt.
It’s interesting when you look at the life of Paul. Now, Paul was very active in taking specks of sand dust out of people’s eyes. When you read his letters, they are full of correction, sometimes using very strong language.
Yet, there is a progression in his life of humility.
In one of Paul’s earliest letters, he refers to himself as the least of all the apostles.
A few years later, in one of his letters, he speaks of himself as less than the least of all God’s people. In one of his last letters, he calls himself the worst of all sinners.
I want to grow up before I grow old.
As Paul, probably the most impactful Christian who ever lived, progressed in his journey with Jesus, humility grew. He was aware of his faults and shortcomings and his own guilt. And from that place of humility, he could instruct and correct with the authority given to him.
I want to be like that. I want to grow up before I grow old. As I progress in life, I want to grow in humility, patience and soft-heartedness. I want to be more like Jesus.
3) Condemnation corrupts your good intentions
Matthew 7:4-5 (NIV)
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? 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.
So, here’s the deal. A speck of sawdust or splinter in your eye is super annoying. You don’t want to go through your day like that. It’s constantly annoying, distracting and can really do damage if it stays in there for too long. If I’ve got a speck of sawdust in my eye, and I cannot get it out myself, I’d like some help.
It’s the same with sin. If there is something in my life that is limiting me, distracting me and damaging me and my calling, I may need the help of someone else to deal with it.
This is where humility is also incredibly important, because I can’t imagine anyone with a “don’t judge me” attitude to actually live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.
And sometimes, I’m the person that needs to help someone else. Yet, if there is a plank in my eye, it won’t only be hypocritical of me to try and help you, the plank in my eye, which is the condemning spirit in me, would corrupt my ability to help you! Because through condemnation, I only push the splinter in deeper and it will do even more damage!
Jesus point isn’t that we should let others just walk around with splinters in their eyes, but to get hearts set right so we can help.
Living the Kingdom
So, how are these powerful statements of Jesus going to change our lives? Let’s discuss how we can respond living and anticipating the Kingdom.
The clear lesson is that we should lay off any attitude of condemnation. It’s damaging to us and damaging to others and a bad reflection of the One who’s name we bare. Instead, let’s take on an attitude of humility and love whenever we deal with people that, in our eyes, are doing something wrong.
In the spirit of condemnation, you bring people down.
In the spirit of humility, you lift people up.
In the spirit of condemnation, you ignore the other’s pain.
In the spirit of humility, you embrace the other’s pain.
In the spirit of condemnation, you place yourself above the other.
In the spirit of humility, you place yourself below the other.
In the spirit of condemnation, you view the other as irredeemable.
In the spirit of humility, you lead the other towards redemption.
Condemnation never leads to a positive change. Speaking the truth in love does.
Anticipating the Kingdom
Let’s move on to anticipation. This a step further. Living the Kingdom means that we behave in a way that reflects God’s order. It’s living a life that is worth being called ‘Christian’.
Yet, anticipating the Kingdom goes a layer deeper. This is acting in a way expecting the Kingdom to come soon. We’re not seeing it yet, but we believe that, as we radically follow the way of Jesus, it is going to come.
When it comes to our attitude towards behavior we disagree with, anticipating the Kingdom looks like loving and respecting people who live completely different lives, without the agenda to correct them. And this is something that will be very important for us if we want to reflect Jesus to a secular world.
Let’s take the story of Zaccheus as an example, found in Luke 19. Zaccheus was a corrupt tax collector, hated by the people of his village. When Jesus came to town, He invited himself to Zaccheus’ house to eat with him and talk. As a result, Zaccheus changed his life around.
Did Jesus condemn? Certainly not.
Did He lovingly correct? No… Strangely enough, we don’t see that in the passage.
Jesus chose to enter into Zaccheus world and eat his food - even though it was paid for with corrupt money. Jesus hung out with Zacheus’ friends – even though it meant listening to their vulgar language. But by being such a peaceful and centered presence, He gained access to point to a different way, without condemning or correcting his current path.
Luke 19:9-10 (NIV)
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus didn’t compromise His standards, ever. Yet, He was found hanging out with sinners and scum and talking to a Samaritan woman at a well. Among His close followers were former rebels, tax collectors and prostitutes.
Somehow, the Creator God in human form, the only one with the fullest right and authority to judge and condemn points us to a way of non-judgement and humility – which will actually lead to Kingdom transformation.