by Paul George
A while back, I read the very distressing account of an incident in the life of a young bachelor. He worked in an office where every year the boss gave each employee a turkey as a bonus for the holiday season. Of course, the bachelor could never figure out what to do with his ‘turkey.’ One year the other fellows in the office decided to play a little practical joke on their friend. They exchanged the genuine item for one made of plaster. They could hardly wait to hear his report after the holidays.
On the way home on the bus that evening the young man was contemplating how he could dispose of his turkey. About this time a man in tattered clothing, obviously ‘down in his luck,’ sat in the seat beside him. In the course of their conversation, the young man began to perceive the solution to his problem—he would give this poor fellow his turkey. It would meet a real need for this fellow and his family, and it would solve his problem, too.
In order to avoid humiliating the man he decided that rather than give the turkey to him as charity, he would sell it to him for whatever he could pay. The man gladly produced the last of his money and the exchange was made. Both men parted rejoicing. However, when the bachelor returned to the office, he was horrified to learn of the trick which had been played on him, and the terrible deed unknowingly done to the poor man on the bus. For days, the young attorney and his friends rode that same bus to rectify their error, but no one ever saw the man again.
This story illustrates the principle laid down by Jesus that we are not qualified to pass judgment on the deeds of others. If we were to judge this young bachelor by the act itself, we would conclude that he was a scoundrel. If we were to judge him by his motives, we would have to regard him as a benevolent individual.
Because of our tendency to pass quick and critical judgment on others, our Lord has chosen to address this issue. Chapter 7 verses 1-12 addresses an issue plaguing the religion of Jesus’ day and of ours, that of misdirected effort. Much of what is done in the name of Christianity is unprofitable and detrimental because it is misdirected and misguided. Verses 1-5 warn us of one type of misguided effort, criticism. Verse 6 cautions us not to carry this to the opposite extreme by insisting that we discriminate between receptive listeners and hardened rejecters. Verses 7-11 instruct us to redirect our efforts in the practice of persistent prayer. Verse 12 concludes with a principle that ties together the entire section and guides us in our relationships with our fellow man.
Jesus told the disciples, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). This is one of the most quoted sayings on Jesus and one of the most misunderstood and misapplied. For this reason, we must begin by dealing with what our Lord did not mean by this warning.
Jesus did not mean that it is wrong to have law enforcement and courts. In his letter to the Christians in Rome the apostle Paul told them, that government is a divinely appointed instrument to mete out punishment (Romans 13:1-7). In his second letter to the first century Christian the apostle Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Jesus did not dispute Pilate’s authority to execute capital punishment. Indeed, He stated that this authority came from God (John 19:10-11).
There are Christians who would have us believe that godliness is closely similar to gullibility. They claim we should accept every statement of men on its face value, and in no way should we ponder or weigh it as to its truthfulness. That is not the teaching of Scripture. Luke tells us there were “more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica” in Berea, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), they were comparing what they were taught with what was written in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
So often whenever a Christian takes what might be regarded as a negative position, the response is, “Judge not.” However, the context of Matthew 7:1-12 indicate that we must make decisions and take a stand. Paul took a public stand on the issue of immorality within the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Timothy was instructed to take a stand in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-7). We are to refuse to invite false teachers into our homes (2 John 8-11). We are instructed to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).
It is not wrong to correct those in error. In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
But if he does not listen to you, (take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed – Deuteronomy 19:15). If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
In Galatians 6:1, the apostle Paul told the Galatians they were to restore a sinning brother. Paul corrected Peter face to face (Galatians 2:11). Even the elders of a church are not above correction (1 Timothy 5:19-20).
What, then, did Jesus intend for us to understand by these words, “Judge not”? Since the Lord Jesus has all along been dealing more with attitudes and motives in the Sermon on the Mount, we are safe in concluding that the problem here has to do primarily with a critical, condemning spirit. The criticism of which Jesus is speaking of is that which seeks to put others down, while elevating ourselves, a smug disdain of those who feel superior to others.
The contempt of the scribes and Pharisees was more than just the smugness of superiority it was based upon legalism. The Jews had a neatly packaged system of rules and regulations that prescribed an external kind of righteousness. Those who judged, condemned the people and did so on the basis that those who were righteous kept their rules, but the rest failed to do so, and indeed, were ignorant of those rules and regulations (John 7:49). These self-appointed judges set themselves up as those who were qualified to pronounce upon a person’s spirituality by the standards of his own system of rules. They supposed that men would conform to these rules by the external pressure of those religious leaders who judged their performance by their man made laws.
Here was the problem within Judaism in the days of the Savior. Here is the problem within Christianity today. Men are directing their efforts toward producing righteousness through external acts. Worse yet, they are attempting to force this error on others by pressuring men to be righteous by keeping man made rules and regulations and rituals. These efforts are futile and doomed to failure because they do not change a man’s heart. No man can be made righteous until God radically changes his heart. Religion today is trying to reform men, but only Christ can transform men by giving them a new heart. Religion and reform will never save sinful man; only a renewal of heart can do that (Titus 3:5-7).
Jesus told the disciples why they should not judge others, “so that you will not be judged.” Judging is a divine prerogative. We take too much upon ourselves if we set ourselves over others to judge them. It is not the privilege or the position of a servant to judge other servants. That is the responsibility of their master. We make ourselves masters and not servants when we judge others.
The judging that Jesus condemns is wrong because it is criticism arising from impure motives. It attempts to emphasize one’s own righteousness at the expense of a brother’s reputation. The only criticism or correction that is praiseworthy is that which is prompted by genuine love. Love does not seek a brother’s downfall, but his edification (Romans 14:13, 19). Love is reluctant to believe the worse and hopeful of the best, “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). “Love seeks to conceal unrighteousness, not to expose it” (1 Peter 4:8).
It was the legalistic rules and regulations by which men judged others, rather than by God’s law (James 4:11-12). The tendency to go beyond the requirements of scripture is clearly implied by Jesus when He warned that the standard by which we judge men is the standard by which we will be judged ourselves (Matthew 7:2). If we wish to be overly demanding on others, we must accept this same standard for our own conduct (Romans 2:1-2).
It is easy for Christians to confuse biblical principles and personal preferences, convictions and commandments. We then try to impose these upon others, and we judge men’s spirituality by how well they live up to our preconceived ideas of righteousness.
Personal convictions are to be kept to ourselves, not crammed down the throats of others (Romans 14:22). The entire focus of criticism is upon the lives and conduct of others, but this is none of our business, for each man must give account of himself before God (Romans 14:10). Here we are trying to correct the flaws in others, rather than concentrating upon ourselves. Criticism is minding other people’s business. We listen to a sermon and remark how we wished that Sister Monday were here to hear it. How we deceive ourselves.
The scribes and Pharisees looked upon themselves as the leadership of Judaism. They felt that as such they were obligated to judge those under their authority, and to impose upon their inferiors the full requirements of Jewish traditionalism, which they called “the Law”. Jesus clearly implied in Matthew 7:3-5 that those with the greatest problems were the leaders themselves. How often we project our own failures upon others, while neglecting our own responsibilities.
Judging others is a profitless practice. It fails to edify and build up our brother; it increases our own pride and sets the standard for our own condemnation. Worst of all, it does not produce righteousness in us or in others. However, there is an opposite and equal error. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ virtually divided the nation by His teaching and claims (John 7:40-44; 9:16; 10:19-21). No doubt, one member of a family would tirelessly work to convince the rest of his family that Jesus was the Christ, but often to no avail. Today there are Christians who are saved and yet have spent their lives in apostate churches. They often attempt to stay in the church and to bring about its revival and reform. These words of Jesus have direct bearing on such efforts.
In verse 6, Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine.” If we are not to “give what is holy to dogs”, then we must decide who are dogs. If we are not to throw our pearls before swine, we must decide who swine are.
We are not told what that which is holy is, or what pearls signify, but it is not difficult to figure out. Surely that which is holy pertains to spiritual things, matters which Christians would consider of great value and sacred. We would conclude that foremost in our Lord’s mind is the Gospel of salvation. Other spiritual truths could surely be included. Who are the dogs and swine? Judaism considered both dogs and hogs unclean. Consequently, they were expressions which could be employed with reference to the Gentiles (Matthew 15:27; Mark 7:28). Within Israel, the term dog was an expression of disdain (2 Samuel 9:8; Proverbs 26:11). In Hebrew symbolism, the word “dog” is an epithet for a male prostitute or sodomite (Deuteronomy, 23:18). The apostle Peter wrote of those who were apostates and rejecters of the truth, “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed … For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:12, 21-22).
Dogs and swine are not merely unbelievers, but rather are those who have ample information concerning the way of righteousness and who have stubbornly rejected it. They are hardened in their rebellion and unbelief. To persist in witnessing to such people is wasted energy.
The dogs of Jesus’ day were not well-mannered lap dogs, but wild dogs that lived on the streets, eating that which was discarded and unclean. At times, this included dead bodies (1 Kings 14:11; 21:19-24). In offering meat to an unclean dog, one might be bitten in the process. Were one to cast pearls before swine, they might at first think them to be food, and then, not valuing pearls, might trample them under foot and even turn on the one who offered them. Therefore, although one dare not be overly critical of others (verses 1-5), neither is he to be so naive as to not distinguish between those who are open to the truth and those who oppose it. Jesus followed His own counsel when He ceased speaking openly to those who accused Him of using demonic power (Mark 3:22). When Jesus sent out His disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God He instructed them, “And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet” (Matthew 10:14). Likewise, this was the practice of the apostle Paul (Acts 13:44-51; 18:5, 6; 28:17-28).
While we must initially proclaim the gospel universally and indiscriminately, there comes a time when we must mark those who are hardened to the truth and cease our efforts to convert them and press on. This does not necessarily mean that such persons may not be saved in the future. This is why persistent prayer is profitable.
While the first six verses of chapter 7 have informed us of unproductive activities for the Christian, verses 7 through 11 provide us with a creative and profitable alternative, namely prayer. Nothing neutralizes a critical spirit more than prayer. You cannot long be angry with those for whom you are praying, seeking their salvation and best interest. This, no doubt, is why Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44)
Jesus has told us that we are not to be critical of others, standing over them as their judge and we are to discern between good and evil, truth and falsehood. The question that immediately comes to mind is “How can we distinguish between destructive criticism and discernment?” It is difficult, even impossible we must have divine enablement.
In verses 7-11, we are told to pray for the wisdom and enablement. James tells us, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). Surely, the instruction of verses 1-6 demands divine wisdom. “Seeking” and “knocking” suggest aggressive and intensive prayer. Seeking implies continually seeking to know to whom we should speak and what we should say in the light of verses 1-6. Knocking implies looking for opportunities to share our faith in such a way as to stimulate one’s interest in spiritual things. Rather than persisting at criticism or fruitless evangelism among the hardened, let us pour our efforts into prayer, for God is always willing to help us search our hearts. He is always ready to give us His best. Just as earthly parents, who are evil by nature, are eager to do what is best for their children.
If men, evil by nature, desire to give good things to their children, are we not to be assured of God’s answer to our prayers? While God’s willingness and goodness are here emphasized, nowhere are we told that God is going to give us all we ask for. Jesus has said that God does not give His children useless or dangerous things in response to their asking. What is stressed is that God will always answer our prayers as a concerned and loving Father. He will never overlook a request, nor will He respond in a way that is harmful to His child. However, just because we ask for a fish, something useful, does not guarantee that we will receive exactly what we request. God will never give us that which is not for our good. In addition, what God does give us is just what we really need.
We should be thankful that our loving heavenly Father reserves the right to substitute something better in place of our request. We should never hesitate to allow God to substitute what He knows to be better for us than that for which we pray. If there were ever motivation for prayer, it is in this fact. God is our Father, if we, by faith, have become His sons through Jesus Christ, His Son and we are the objects of His intimate and infinite care. No request of ours is insignificant to Him or ignored.
Jesus, in these few verses has summarized the Law and the Prophets. Implied by our prayer life is the fact that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and we love our neighbor as ourselves.
To love our neighbor as ourselves is a little difficult to translate into everyday life. How do we love our neighbor as ourselves, by treating him, as we would wish him to treat us.
This principle governing human relationships was not new to the ears of Jesus’ listeners. The ancient world had produced numerous parallels to it, yet all with one notable exception: they were expressed in the negative. The essence of these sayings was, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to you.”
How would I want others to treat me in view of my sinfulness and obvious flaws? I would not want to be harshly criticized or condemned. I would want to be treated with respect, with an evident spirit of love, encouragement, and a desire to build me up rather than to tear me down. I would not want my sins to be overlooked or excused, but lovingly to be confronted and corrected.
If I were one who had heard the gospel and concluded that I wanted no part of it, I would hope that once I had made my disinterest and rejection known my feelings and decisions would be respected. I would desire that the same points not be raised repeatedly, and that I would not have to avoid contact with the Christian or to terminate our friendship in order to avoid arguing the same points repeatedly. I would greatly appreciate having my critics spend their efforts in persistent prayer, reporting my faults to God alone, and asking Him to strengthen and save me. Were I an unbeliever I would prefer the Christian prevail upon God for my conversion rather than to pester me.
There are several things taught in these verses, first, Christians prefer things to be all nicely packaged. That is the great appeal of legalism, a law for every possible circumstance. However, Christian liberty is not that easy. Legalism attempts to avoid thinking and faith by setting a rule for every conceivable circumstance and situation. Compliance is enforced by external pressure through fleshly effort. Liberty lives by principles that apply to a broad diversity of situations. These principles are applied by faith through the power of the Spirit. They are applied individually as matters of personal conviction. Legalism concentrates upon others, seeking to get men to live according to our personal preferences and prejudices. Liberty looks to our own responsibilities, living our life before God in the light of personal convictions and biblical principles.
Second, while prevailing upon men to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord can be compared to giving what is holy to dogs or casting pearls before swine, the prayer of one of God’s children is always profitable because we have a heavenly Father who answers every prayer. He never fails to hear or to respond, although He may choose to give us a better answer than we thought to ask for. Prayer dissolves a critical spirit and it is instrumental in obtaining wisdom and discernment.
Third, while the world talks about love, it knows little about true love. True love is not blind to the truth. Love sees things as they are and loves in spite of them. True love does not criticize, but neither does it fail to make necessary distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil.
Our prayer is the prayer the apostle wrote to the Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment; so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).