Jesus warned us about “judging a book by its cover” in Matthew 7:1-5. He simply states, “Do not judge lest you be judged” (v.1). The word used here is krino (kree-no) and in this passage it refers to forming or expressing an unfavorable opinion about a person or thing. Others have suggested this word can also mean to criticize, condemn, or find fault. No matter how severe the judgment, Jesus is essentially saying that there is never a good reason to judge a person this way. Our knowledge of the inner person is always limited. We deceive ourselves if we think there is no prejudice in us concerning these types of judgment calls. There really is a great amount of truth in the old saying, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” We don’t know what temptations a person faces, the life story that has shaped the way they act or react and the intensity of the struggles they face with sin. Only God knows what inner struggles a person faces and therefore only God can be the judge.
Jesus continues His teaching with a rather comical illustration (vv. 3-4). Imagine a man with a 2x4 sticking out of his eye trying to remove a splinter from the eye of another. It’s a ludicrous picture! But it humorously drives home the point. Jesus asks, “Why do you keep looking at the speck in your brother’s eye...?” The verb tense here is very significant. It indicates that this type of judging is something we are always doing. Not only that, our sense of right and wrong is fickle. We are not fair judges. Our moral barometer fluctuates with every circumstance. Instead of judging others, Jesus says it is better “to take the log out of our own eye”. It is better to take stock in ourselves. What Jesus is implying here is that criticizing reveals a serious problem- the plank in our own eye. The Bible offers us some sobering verses concerning our negative thoughts toward others: Ps. 53:2-3; Is. 64:6; Lam. 3:40; Rom. 3:10, 23; 1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Jn. 1:8. When we are tempted to be critical of others, particularly over “specks”, reading these verses might make us think twice.
We knew a man many years back who was extremely critical. He didn’t like the new worship choruses. He didn’t like anything but the King James Version of the Bible. He didn’t like the new hymnals. He didn’t think anybody but a pastor should teach Bible Studies. He disagreed with the elders on how to lead the church (but refused to be one when asked to serve!). He was hyper-critical. Jesus says we should avoid this like the plague! Why? It is because there is not much difference between a hyper-critical person and a hypocrite. The person who criticizes a lot is often deceived about their own short-comings. And more often than not those who criticize others about certain behaviors, faults or inabilities often lack the same qualities, and exhibit the same behavior, fault or inability themselves. They easily see the problems in others, but fail to see it in themselves (Gal. 6:3; Js. 1:26 are appropriate for especially critical criticizers!).
Jesus’ warning is clear in Matthew 7- by the standard of measure that you judge others you also will be judged (v.2). But more to the point, Jesus is letting us know that no one has the right to judge another in this fashion- period. The only One who has the right to judge in any way, shape or form is Jesus Himself, because He was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:14; 1 Jn. 3:5). It is one thing to express an opinion about what you like and dislike, but it is an entirely different matter when that opinion turns into a way you measure a brother or sister’s walk of faith. So, listen to Jesus’ words today and examine your own “eye” (i. e. heart) instead of the other person’s (Ps. 51; Rom. 2:1-8; 1 Cor. 13; Js. 3:13-18). Make sure there are no planks in there!
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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