Judgment At Its Peak | Pastor Chris Absher

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Judgment at Its Peak

Pastor Chris Absher

So, my name is Chris Absher. I'm the Lakewood Ranch Campus Pastor here at Grace. I wanted to start this weekend by showing you all some images. They’re some images that I think all of us have seen over the last few weeks. I’m going to make a little commentary on them, and then we're going to jump in. So, let me show you this first image. Does anybody remember this from a few weeks ago. Right? Everybody remembers. Before Hurricane Ian hit the coast, nobody knew exactly where it was going to go. So, all of us, rightfully so, were concerned and were worried. Everybody went to the gas station to get gas. And if you're like me, probably all of us ended up in a line something like this. Except this one is way more orderly than the ones that I went to because everybody was honking at each other. Beeping. I saw people fighting. Everybody's whipping in and whipping out. It was chaos.

But Imagine you were in this line. We were all there. We were in the line, and it seemed like every car in the line took a little bit longer than the car before it. And you're checking the watch again and again. This is taking forever. And then you finally get up to the gas pump. There's only one car in front of you now. You're already 20 minutes late for work, but there's only one car left in front of you, and this is what you see. You've got somebody who has filled their truck, and now they're filling three gas cans.

And I would suspect we all laugh because we know what we thought, and we know how upset we were when we saw this. Right? I would suspect that what we all did — most of us, at least — is we got upset over this person. We thought things like, “How can this person do this? Don't they know that everybody needs gas? How can they be hogging the resource that everybody needs? I would never do that.”

Though we probably would. But we always jump to the negative judgment. Well, what if this situation is actually totally different? What if this person runs a business that requires him to operate gas-powered machinery, and somebody in his family just got laid off their job, so he's supporting his own family, and also trying to support their family, and money's tight. He can't afford to lose even one day of work because that's bad news. Or maybe this person has an elderly mom who sleeps with a CPAP machine in order to be able to breathe at night. And if this hurricane comes in and she loses power, he has to get gas to her house to run her generator because it is, literally, a life-or-death situation.

Now, if this image is all we see, both of those scenarios — “This guy's horrible, he's just hogging resources.” That might be true. Or these other probabilities could also be true. Maybe he's doing the absolute right thing. But I would suspect though each of them has equal probability of being true if this is all we see, most of us jump to the negative one. We jump to, “I can't believe what this guy is doing.”

And what is so funny about that is we hate it when anybody else does that to us. Right? We want everybody else to assume the best of us. We say things like, “If they just knew my motives, they wouldn't be so upset. If they had just asked about the rest of the details of the situation, then they wouldn't be angry right now. If they just knew my heart, then this wouldn't all be a problem.”

And while we want everybody else to assume the best of us, we very often are not willing to extend that same charitable feeling and understanding to other people. And scripture reads our mail on this in Proverbs 16. It says, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,”

All of us think that we've got it right, and we want everybody to understand, hear more details, and understand where we were coming from. But we don't always think that way about other people. And so, I think what I've described is 100% a human problem. I think all of us deal with this problem more than we realize. And if there's anybody here who is kind of figured out how to never do this, I would love to meet you after service because I need some help. And I would suspect most of us do.

So, what I want to do this weekend, if this really is a very, very human problem that we all deal with, then what does scripture have to say about it? So, what we're going to do is go to a passage of scripture in Matthew 7. It's famously called “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Augustine first called it that because Jesus is up on a mountain. But before we get there and see what Jesus has to say about these snap judgments that we make, we’ve got to do a little bit of setup. So, I need you to give me like three or four minutes to do a little excursus into hermeneutics. How do we read scripture? We can't just pluck stuff out of context. So, what's been going on in Matthew before we get to the Sermon on the Mount? I want to submit to you that Matthew has been doing something in his Gospel very, very carefully.

He's been, over and over again, making parallels between Moses and Jesus, and that Jesus is not only the new Moses, but He’s also the greater Moses. And so, I want to show you a few of those. Just a few. There are a hundred more you could do, and I hope it kind of whets your appetite to maybe go dig into this for yourself. But let's look at a few ways that Matthew compares Moses and Jesus, just by way of setting up what we're going see in Matthew 7.

In Exodus 1-2, Pharaoh is trying to kill Moses as a baby, right? And in Matthew 2, Herod is trying to kill Jesus as a baby. Both begin their lives, the most vulnerable they'll ever be, with a powerful ruler, with all the resources in the world, trying to kill them. Not a coincidental beginning of life.

Then Moses, in Exodus 2, is called out of Egypt, and he goes to Midian. Remember? But in Matthew 2, we read the prophecy from Hosea where Jesus, it says, is called out of Egypt. “…and out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Not a coincidence. Both are called out of Egypt. Moses, in Exodus 4, returns to Egypt to save people. He's going to lead them in the Exodus. He’s going to take them out of Egypt into the promised land. Jesus returns to the promised land. He returns to the land of Israel, but He is the salvation of the world, and He's going to lead the people out of bondage from their sin. Not from the bondage of Egypt as a group or a country but leading them out of their bondage of sin.

Then, in Exodus 13-14, Moses passes through the Red Sea. In Matthew 3, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, which the Israelites will eventually go through, as well. In both of these events, if you remember them, there are these incredible, miraculous things that God does. And then, as soon as they pass through the water, Moses and Jesus both end up in the wilderness. But as Moses is in the wilderness, the people grumble and complain.

“I can't believe you brought us here. There's no water. We're going to die.” God says to Moses, “Speak to this rock. I'll give forth water,” but Moses is angry. He strikes the rock, but because he disobeyed God — he didn't speak to the rock, but he struck it — instead, he's now not allowed to enter the promised land. He dies outside the promised land. So, he fails in the wilderness. But Jesus is not only the new Moses, He’s the greater Moses. And so, when He’s in the wilderness, the devil throws everything at Him that he can throw, and Jesus succeeds. He overcomes all of it. So, He’s the greater Moses. But then, as soon as they're finished in the wilderness, in Exodus 19, Moses is given the law on Sinai. He goes up Mount Sinai, receives the law, and says to the people of Israel, “This is what it looks like to be the people of God.”

Well, what does Jesus do? When He gets out of the wilderness, just like Moses, He goes up onto a mountain, He sits down, and He begins to teach the people. So, I set all of that up, and I tell you that, simply to say that Matthew's doing something really, really important here. So, when we get to the Sermon on the Mount, we can't just read it as some nice phrases or some cool things that Jesus said. Instead, what we see in the Sermon on the Mount is absolutely foundational to what it means to be the people of God. And so, as we read the gospel of Matthew, when we come to the Sermon on the Mount, my contention for all of you is that Matthew wants us to lean in very closely because what he's going to tell us in the Sermon on the Mount is incredibly important. And here is how it begins.

“‘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.” Now, I would suspect that all of us have heard this verse. Right? Has everybody heard this? We’ve all been in that situation where somebody has done something that we feel like is definitely not okay, and is definitely wrong, and we feel like we need to speak up and we need to say something. And then they respond with, “Wait a minute. You can't judge me. And Jesus even said not to judge.”

Because this is the part of the scripture that everybody emphasizes. “Judge not. Don't you dare judge me. Jesus even said not to judge.” But is that right? I want to make a case that, actually, what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7 is not that Christians can never make a judgment ever. If we're going to read this thing in context right, we're going to see that Jesus is talking about a very, very particular kind of judgment. And so, here's how I want to make that argument. First, I want to show you two places in scripture where Christians do make a judgment, and they're actually told to make judgments. And then there's a context for why that happens and how it ought to happen. So, we'll look at that. Then we're going to continue in Matthew 7, a few more verses to see, contextually, what Jesus is really talking about.

So, to start, we’ve got to go to a passage of scripture, Matthew 18, where Christians are actually told to make judgements. And here's how that goes. “If your brother sins against you,” — we've all probably heard this verse, as well, but the reality is, just logically thinking, to make a determination that a person has sinned against us, we have to make a judgment that the thing they did was wrong. Right? We have to say that this action they did, this thing they told us, whatever it is they did, was wrong. For us to make a determination that a brother has sinned against us, we actually do have to be able to say something about the action that they took. And if that's the case, then you have to go and tell him his fault.

Now, we probably stop right there very often. That's the part we love to do. We just go tell people their faults. We're all guilty of that. But it goes on. There's more to this. You’ve got to go tell him his fault between you and him alone, and if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. If we're going to make a judgment that somebody has wronged us, it's never to sit on the sideline, point fingers, label people, get mad, gossip about them, and then push them to the side and never have anything to do with them again. If we make a judgment that someone has wronged us, it's actually because we want to gain them back. But if they don't listen to you, then take one or two others along with you that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

And I’ve highlighted those words “evidence” and “witnesses” because that is courtroom language. Right? You use evidence and you use witnesses in order to render a judgment of some kind. That's how you use those two things. So, it seems to me that in Matthew 18, Christians actually do have to make judgements, but they always do it to gain their brother back. It's never just to point fingers, it's never to call names, it's never to judge people and be angry at them. It's always to gain them back.

But then there's another place that we need to look at. In Galatians 2, Paul makes a judgment, as well, and he does it against Peter. And so, I want to go to that story and see what happens. In Galatians 2:11: “But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”

Now, what does it mean to be condemned? It means you stand under judgment that something you did or something you said was wrong. And Paul says, “Peter stood condemned. He stood under judgment.” “For before certain men came from James,” So, before these people from James and Jerusalem came to where Peter was, Peter was eating with the Gentiles. Peter, remember, is a Jewish person. But now, because of his freedom in Christ, he knows that he's not justified by keeping the law, but he's justified by the work Christ has already done for him. So, he feels totally comfortable eating with the Gentiles. That's all well and good but watch what happens.

“But when they [the men from James] came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” And the rest of the Jews, they did the same thing. He was their leader. They followed his example, and they acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. So, Paul's realized this is wrong, Peter stands condemned, and Paul has to do something. And this is what he does: “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel,” Paul makes a judgment here that the actions they're taking are wrong because they're not in step with the truth of the Gospel. Now, did Peter get to say, “Paul, you can't judge me? Jesus said not to judge.”

That's not what happens at all. Paul knows he's in the right, that their conduct is not in step with the truth of the Gospel, so he makes a judgment that they're in the wrong, that Peter stands condemned. And so, he opposed him to his faith. He saw their conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel, and he said to Peter, to Cephas, before them all: “‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Sounds like a very complicated sentence. To break it down for you, all that was happening is that Peter was a Jewish person, but he was living like a Gentile because of his freedom in Christ. He was eating with them. He's not justified by the law. He knows this. But then, when Jews come around, he feels peer pressure, and he pulls away from the Gentiles and starts living like a Jew again. And now, all the Gentiles think they have to live like Jews and keep the law in order to be justified. So, Peter has totally destroyed the Gospel. Instead of being justified by the work that Christ has done, Peter's actions have made the Gentiles think that they have to keep the law in order to be justified. And Paul says, “This is absolutely wrong. This is the last thing in the world that should be going on.”

He makes a judgment that Peter was in the wrong. So, when we come back to Matthew 7, “Judge not.” What kind of judgment are we really talking about? If we look at Matthew 18, like we did, if we look at Galatians 2, like we did, Christians have to make judgments sometimes, and they can do so rightfully. So, what kind of judgment, then, is Jesus talking about in Matthew 7? And the context that we're going continue on in makes it super clear the kind of judgment Jesus is forbidding Christians to make.

In the next verses, it says, “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?” So, both of these people have a problem. It's an eye problem. One of them has it way worse than the other. It's a log instead of a speck. So, what kind of judgment is Jesus talking about? This is hypocritical judgment. It's where a person who has the bigger problem is judging somebody else and being upset with them that have the same problem but to a lesser degree. That's the kind of judgment Jesus says, “Don't judge that way. That's not what it looks like to be the people of God.”

And then it goes on: “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye?” And then the next verse makes it abundantly clear the kind of judgment Jesus is talking about. He says, “You hypocrite,”

“You hypocrite.” Hypocritical judgment is what Jesus has in view when He says, “Judge not.” And “hypocrite” just comes from two Greek words. “Hupo,” which is a preposition that means “behind” or “under,” and then “krino,” which means to judge. So, hypocrite: Hupo-krino. It's often used in a theatrical context that you put on a mask, and then you portray a character that's not really who you are. And so, what Jesus is saying here is, “Listen, if you've got a log in your eye, you can't put on a mask where your eyes look totally healthy, and then go around getting upset at everybody else that they have a problem with their eyes. Under that mask, you still have a log in your own eye. You hypocrite. First, you've got to take the log out of your own eye.”

And then we ignore this last part of the verse, so often. “…and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” I think we so often read this passage, and we say, “Judge not. So, I can never talk about the speck that's in somebody else's eye. I can never bring that up or help them get it out.” That's not what Jesus says here. It's just so long as you have the log in your own eye, you can't work on the speck on somebody else. But once you get the log out of your own eye, you'll actually see clearly enough to get the speck out of somebody else's eye. So, I say all of this to say — now we're going to make it super practical. What does this mean? There are two kinds of judgment that scripture talks about. There's hypocritical judgment, which Jesus says, in Matthew 7, don't judge that way. That is not what it looks like to be the people of God. But then there's also righteous judgment. We saw that in Matthew 18. We saw it in Galatians 2.And then we ignore this last part of the verse, so often. “…and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” I think we so often read this passage, and we say, “Judge not. So, I can never talk about the speck that's in somebody else's eye. I can never bring that up or help them get it out.” That's not what Jesus says here. It's just so long as you have the log in your own eye, you can't work on the speck on somebody else. But once you get the log out of your own eye, you'll actually see clearly enough to get the speck out of somebody else's eye. So, I say all of this to say — now we're going to make it super practical. What does this mean? There are two kinds of judgment that scripture talks about. There's hypocritical judgment, which Jesus says, in Matthew 7, don't judge that way. That is not what it looks like to be the people of God. But then there's also righteous judgment. We saw that in Matthew 18. We saw it in Galatians 2.

And here is the million-dollar question for all of us: How do we know the difference? How do I know when I'm making a hypocritical judgment versus a righteous judgment? And so, I want to give you some markers of how to know if you're making a hypocritical judgment, how I can know if I'm doing it, and how we can know we're making a righteous judgment. So, here we go. Here are three ways to know that we might be making a hypocritical judgment. First, a hypocritical judgment releases us from all responsibility. When we make a judgment about somebody else that's hypocritical, we don't have to do anything. It's all their fault. All the blame lies with them. We're released from all responsibility. All we have to do is sit on the sideline, point our finger, and that's it. We have no responsibility in the given situation, whatever it might be.

And because we have no responsibility, secondly, a hypocritical judgment requires no change from us. If it's all somebody else's fault, all the responsibility lies over there in the situation and the problem, then there's no change that I have to make in my own life. And third, a hypocritical judgment is used to shun other people. In a hypocritical judgment, we label a person as some kind of way we say, we call them names, we attach all kinds of negative associations and baggage to them, and then we say things like, “I really, probably, shouldn't even be around that kind of person. I wouldn't want bad company to corrupt my good morals.” We use hypocritical judgements to label people and then to shun them. That's how we use hypocritical judgments. And Jesus would say this kind of judgment is absolutely not what it looks like to be God's people. So, I'm going to go ahead and put a big “X” through hypocritical judgment. This is what Matthew 7 is talking about. Judge not. Don't judge hypocritically. Don't put a mask on, cover your own problems, and judge other people who have the same problems. 

Now, I'm about to be a dad, in about three weeks, for the first time. And I have — aw, you shouldn't have. I have learned a lot of parental lingo over the last eight and a half months. And so, you parents in the room are going to have to tell me if I've got this right. Hypocritical judgment, I think, is what we would call a no-no.

I'm pretty sure that's using it correctly. See me in the lobby if I'm wrong. But this is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7. Judge not. It's not that we can never make judgments, as Christians. We have to in order to deal with situations and restore relationships with other people. But we can't judge hypocritically. Well then, if we can't judge hypocritically, and Jesus says, don't judge that way in Matthew 7, what about righteous judgment? How do we know if we're making a righteous judgment? So, here are three ways I think we can know.

don't get to sit on the sideline, point fingers, call names, feel good about ourselves, and go about our day because that person, over there, it's all their fault and they're so terrible. A righteous judgment lays the responsibility on us. We read it in Matthew 18. If your brother sins against you, they might be the one in the wrong, but the responsibility to do something is with us. And because it lays the responsibility on us, it requires action from us. We don't get to sit on the sideline. We actually have something we have to do if we're making a righteous judgment. And what we have to do is this: A righteous judgment is used to restore other people. A hypocritical one is used to shun other people. A righteous judgment is used to restore people. And we saw that in this passage of scripture. If your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault between you and him alone. And if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. The only reason we make a righteous judgment is because there's a broken relationship that needs to be brought back together. It's never to gossip, it's never to call  people names, it's never to shun other people. It's always to seek restoration of a relationship that's been broken in some way.

And so, to summarize it all, a hypocritical judgment releases us of responsibility, but a righteous one lays it right on us, a hypocritical judgment requires no change from us. Nothing. A righteous one actually requires action from us. A hypocritical judgment, we use that to shun people, to push them to the side, but a righteous one seeks restoration with the person we're making the judgment about. That is the difference. And so, if that's true, I want to give you three things to think about. Three take-homes that I think we can chew on and munch on, this weekend, that I think will really, really help us.

So, here is the first one. In the story, we all want to be Jesus or the person with the speck in their eye, but we are the person with the log in our eye. Right? When we read stories, we never read ourselves as the villain. We always read ourselves as, “I'm so much more like this hero. I'm so much more like this great character who did great things.”

We never read ourselves as the bad guy. But if we're going to read this passage of scripture correctly, and if we're going to let it read us, shape us, and transform us, we've got to realize that Matthew intends for the reader to read it as the person with the log in their eye. And you can see that in the way he writes. “Why do you, reader — why do you see the speck that's in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log that is in your own eye?”

These are all singular. You and yours. This is all talking to the reader, the person who's reading this. That's all of us. We're the person with the log. Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there's a log in your own eye? And then we have another singular. You hypocrite. First, you’ve got to get the log out of your own eye, then you can help your brother with the speck in their eye. If we're going to read this story right, it's talking to us. It's reading our mail. We don't get to be Jesus, and we don't get to be the person with the speck in our eye. We're the person with the log in our eye.

And if that's true, then secondly, this is also true. What we hypocritically judge most in others often reveals our own shortcomings. The very thing that we hypocritically judge in other people often reveals our own shortcomings. And the reason for that is because we have this stuff, these things we deal with, and we can't stand it that we have the problem. And so, we project it onto other people while we climb behind our mask. And then, in comparison to that person who's now burdened with all of our problems, in comparison to the mask that we're wearing, man, we look good, we don't have to change, and we have no responsibility in the situation because, in comparison, man, it’s got to be all their fault. Look how terrible they are.

But the reality is the very thing that frustrates us and other people is often indicative of our own problems. And Matthew makes that clear, even in this passage of scripture. You see a speck in your brother's eye, but you've got a log in your eye. Both people have eye problems. The only difference is by degree. Who has the worst eye problem? And I think it's intentional that Matthew doesn't write this scripture to say, “Why do you notice your brother has a foot problem, but you have this log in your eye?”

That's not how it's written. It’s that both characters have the exact same problem, and the very person that's judging other people is actually the one who deals with it more themselves. That's us. That's what we do. And if that's true, then we've got to stop pointing fingers and start looking more here for how we’ve got to deal with our stuff. And you can see King David does this in Psalm 139. I want to read these verses to you and just show you what he does because I think it's an example for all of us.

He says, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain.” Pointing fingers. “Can you believe these people?” David's saying. “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

So, he is pointing the finger. “I can't believe all these people. They are my enemies. They're the worst.” And you would think that's how the Psalm would end, but he writes two more verses. He takes all the fingers that are pointed out this way, and he turns them right back on himself. He says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” All of a sudden, it's all about King David himself. “Search me, O God. Know my heart. Try me. Know my thoughts. See if there's a grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” If we're going read Matthew 7 the way I think Jesus wants us to read it, we're not pointing fingers out this way. All of a sudden, we bring it back here. “Wait a minute. I've got my own stuff to deal with.”

Third, and finally, I want to leave you with this. The church is the place where we practice righteous judgment, always aiming for restoration. This, right here, Grace Community Church, is the place, the sparring ground, the practice ground where we practice judging righteously, always aiming for restoration. And we know that from Matthew 18. The context is if a brother or sister in Christ does these things to you, this is the place where we get really, really good at doing everything we can to judge righteously. Not to make snap judgments and be angry at each other and shun each other, but instead to make righteous judgments that seek to restore relationships that have been broken. And the goal of all of them is that if any of us will just listen to each other, we might gain each other back. This is the place where we practice these things.

Because the reality is this: It's no chore to love people all over the world because all we have to do is say that we do. The hard part is seeking restoration with the person in the seat next to us. That is so much more challenging, but it's what God is calling us to do. And what if we got so good at it here that then, when we go out there, we just absolutely wow everyone? Instead of when we see this kind of person, whereas everybody else was honking the horns, yelling, calling him names, frustrated — what if instead of making a snap, negative judgment, instead, we said, “You know what? I want to build a relationship here. I don't want to burn the bridge. I want to build one.”

Instead, I would walk up and say, “Hey, I know things are crazy right now. Let me get this gas for you. Also, here's a card. It has Grace Community Church’s phone number on it. If you need something after this storm, call this number. We'll be here to help you.”

Can you even imagine the witnessing ability we would have, as believers, if that's the kind of way that we live? And I think Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is asking, calling, and reaching for us to do exactly that. So, Kennedy and Jay have prepared a final song, and I'm actually going to invite you just to stay seated as they sing it. If you want to stand during the song or something, that's totally fine, but I want this to just be a moment of reflection. It's a song about seeing the other. It's a song about expressing God's love to the other who needs it most. And so, I hope this will be a time where we shift our focus, we learn how instead of judging hypocritically, to judge righteously so that we're building bridges, we're connecting together, and we're being the kind of people that God is calling us to be.