In 7:3–5, Jesus tells you what you should do. He uses an illustration that comes from His background as a carpenter’s son (13:55). He puts it like this: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Undoubtedly, Jesus didn’t say this with a straight face. He must have been smiling and giggling as He said this. Visualize a man with a plank in his eye walking through the lobby of the church trying to find a person with a speck of sawdust in his eye that he might remove it! But the very image of such a man looking into a mirror but unable to see the plank in his eye because he is blinded by the plank is funny indeed. Again, Jesus did not say that Christians are not to judge under any circumstances. His warning was against hypocritical judgment—someone with a “log” in his eye passing judgment on someone with a “speck” in his eye (7:3). He was warning disciples not to make the mistake of the Pharisees! Jesus’ concern was making sure that we are qualified to judge. This is why He said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (7:5). Thus, believers are to judge error and sin, but in a gracious and non-judgmental fashion.
We naturally tend to exaggerate. We often inflate the faults of others while at the same time underestimating our own. You could say we are perfectionists when it comes to other people, but extremely tolerant when it comes to ourselves. We find it so easy to turn a microscope on another person’s sin while we look at ours through the wrong end of a telescope! Yet, when we let Jesus convict us of our sin, we will be able to judge others with humility, sensitivity, and compassion.
Have you ever had someone attempt to help you remove something from your eye? If so, you can readily understand the amount of gentleness and tenderness that’s required. The eye is very sensitive. It takes a compassionate hand and a delicate touch to do surgery in the eye. When you have eye trouble, you need a doctor who knows what he is doing because even the slightest mistake can have catastrophic consequences. In the same way, when we minister to one another in the Christian community, we must do so only after careful introspection to make sure our own motives are pure. Then we can proceed with appropriate care and humility. Sometimes in our haste to help others, we can cause more damage than the original speck of dirt caused. This doesn’t mean you must be perfect before you can correct another Christian. However, Jesus’ words do require you to have dealt as decisively as possible with any obvious areas of disobedience in your own life before you attempt to correct someone else. Otherwise, it is as if you are attempting to perform surgery blindfolded. In that situation, neither the patient nor the doctor feels confident! Moreover, if you are committing the same sin, the judgment you pass on someone else boomerangs on you. And you definitely don’t want that! Remember, be slow to judge others and quick to judge yourself.
There are a number of ways you can lovingly confront a person.
1. Make sure your own heart is right with God before you confront someone.
2. Pray for the person that needs to be confronted.
3. Set up a time with the person to talk, in private without interruption, but don’t put it off.
4. When the occasion calls for it, confront immediately.
5. Don’t take out your own anger on someone.
6. Begin with a word of encouragement.
7. Ask, “If I could share something with you that would help you, would you want me to?”
8. State the issue as you see it. Give your perspective on the issue. Say, “This is the way I see it, please help me to understand.” Admit that maybe you misunderstood or got the wrong perspective.
9. Ask how you can help the person.
10. Be confidential.
11. Pray for the person.
[How can you judge judiciously? By judging with humility not superiority. The second exhortation that Jesus gives is…]
2. Judge with wisdom not independence (7:6–12). In this section, Jesus indicates that the only way to proceed with confidence in judging is by first requesting wisdom in prayer. Admittedly, not every Bible student agrees with this understanding. Some hold that 7:6, 7–11, and 12 are all independent sayings of Jesus that have no connection to 7:1–5. Yet, this is unlikely for four reasons. First, there is a structural connection. In both sections (7:1–5 and 6–12), there is a similar structure made up of three elements: what you shouldn’t do, what God will do, and what you should do. Second, there is a grammatical connection. The word “therefore” in 7:12 implies that the final verse in this section ties back to the previous eleven verses. Third, there is a personal connection. Jesus is challenging us to redirect our destructive energies to that of productive prayer. More than this, nothing neutralizes a critical spirit more than prayer. You cannot long be angry at those for whom you are praying, seeking their salvation and best interest (cf. 5:44). Lastly, there is a practical connection. We have just been taught by the Lord that we are not to be critical of others, standing over them as their judge. How can I distinguish between destructive criticism and discernment? It is a difficult, even impossible, assignment. I must have divine enablement.
In 7:6, Jesus tells you what you shouldn’t do, with a most unusual statement: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Today dogs are loved as pets and pigs are loved as breakfast. But in Jesus’ day, dogs and pigs were despised because they were unclean animals. When you read the term “dogs” you likely think of well-groomed household pets that are called “man’s best friend.” But in Jesus’ day dogs lived in filth, running the streets and scavenging for food (Ps 59:14–15). These dogs Jesus is referring to are not poodles; they are Dobermans who have not been fed for a week. In fact, the bizarre behavior of dogs produced fear, because their often intense hunger could cause them to attack and eat humans (cf. Ps 22:16–17).
Can you imagine giving holy food from the temple to an unclean dog scavenger? Of course not!
The pig in the ancient world is far different than modern cartoon characters like “Porky Pig.” Although pork was a highly prized food among many people in the ancient Mediterranean world, it was rejected by Jews, probably because pigs, like dogs, were scavenging animals. Their omnivorous habits occasionally led pigs to feed on decaying flesh, a practice deplorable to Jews. Pigs were often dangerous because they ravaged fields (Ps 80:13), and while running wild in city streets were often responsible for the death of little children. Pearls were extremely precious. To throw them into the pig pen would be to not only lose them in the slime, but also to anger the pig, who might come after you for throwing him inedible food.
You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize that these terms “dogs” and “swine” are figures of speech for people. They are not complimentary terms, either. But exactly who are these dogs and hogs? Jesus is talking about people who openly reject the gospel of Christ. He is not talking about unbelievers, but enemies of the gospel. Jesus is saying don’t cram the truth down close-minded people’s throats. Don’t waste your words on those who will not listen. Rather, go to those who are receptive and hungry for hope. The descriptions “what is holy” and “pearls” most likely refers to the message of the gospel (13:45–46), indicating that this holy message must not be defiled by those who are unreceptive to, or have rejected, Jesus’ invitation. Something so valuable should not be given to those who have no appreciation for such precious truths; their nature is demonstrated by their rejection of that message. It is a warning against mistaken zeal in proclaiming the gospel to those whose only intent is mockery or ridicule, or worse.
This verse should be understood as a warning against gullibility, the opposite of judgmentalism. You will have to be very careful in how you apply this verse. It is easy to say, “Well, I’m not going to throw my pearls before swine anymore.” My spouse, my sibling, or my parent has not been responsive to the gospel. They have even mentally or emotionally persecuted me. That may be the case, but you still bear the responsibility to love your family member and share Christ with him or her. It is unlikely that he or she is a dog or pig, regardless of what you may think. The key here is pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray that the Lord would show you how to go about persevering in difficult relationships with unbelievers who are hostile in their rejection of Christ and His gospel. Pray the Lord would make it clear when it is time to move on to more fertile fields (John 4:35–36; cf. Matt 9:36).
In 7:7–11, Jesus tells you what God will do as He transitions into a section on prayer. He says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” These five great verses on prayer have become the bread-and-butter of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity movement. It is suggested that these verses support “Name it and claim it” theology. This view sees God as a celestial slot machine. Pull the handle enough times in prayer, be persistent, and you will get what you want! However, these verses are not prayer verses for anything in general, but specifically for wisdom in judgment! In the Old Testament, King Solomon asked for wisdom, and God granted him wisdom (1 Kgs 3–4).
In the New Testament, James said, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). The expectation is that Christians will faithfully ask God for wisdom in dealing with conflict and judgment. It should be unthinkable that you would approach anyone without first seeking the Lord in prayer. Not just once or twice but continually. These are present tense imperatives: “Keep on asking and it will be given to you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.” Pray for the person’s response before you think about approaching him or her. Pray for hard hearts to be softened. Pray for wisdom on how to approach the brother or sister in sin. Pray for repentance and the reconciliation of relationships.
Will God respond to such prayers? Absolutely! Look at the comparisons in 7:9: bread and fish; stone and snake. What’s the point? Very simply, bread and fish are good for you; stones and snake are not. The earthly son has requested two good items, the earthly father responds accordingly. The reverse is also true. If an earthly son asks for a stone to eat, any loving father would refuse. (Everyone needs minerals in their diet, but this goes a bit too far!) God knows how to give you what is good for you. This is especially true in matters of conflict. He is not going to let you down. You know how much you want to bless your children, right? Well, God as the perfect Father wants to do right by His children. He wants to bless you and give you what is good.
In 7:12, Jesus tells you what you should do. He concludes this passage and the body of the Sermon on the Mount with the so-called “Golden Rule:” “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets”(7:12). This is one of the most misunderstood statements in the Bible. This statement is not the sum total of Christian truth, nor is it God’s plan of salvation. We should no more build our theology on the “Golden Rule” than we should build our astronomy on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” When taken in isolation though, this verse seems to suggest “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours;” if you want someone to do something for you, then do the same for them. Yet, “you get what you give” hardly seems to be a fitting climax for the body of the Sermon on the Mount. Rather, this is practical outworking of the Old Testament law in Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This verse applies specifically to 7:1–11.
We should ask, therefore, “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 smugly condemned. I would want to be treated with consideration, 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 over and over again, 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 over and over again. 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 sanctify me. Were I an unbeliever I would prefer for the Christian to prevail upon God for my conversion rather than to pester me.
Tom is an example of this. Although Tom has a wonderful personality by nature, he has been refined through life’s humbling seasons. He is a former alcoholic who has been sober nearly twenty years! Tom is a huge fan of Alcoholics Anonymous. Before believing in Christ, he attended AA meetings for years. Over the years, he has shared that those who are fighting addiction are helped most, not by people who scold and judge, but by those who have admitted their own powerlessness and confess that change comes only from a higher power. AA has learned some truths that the church doesn’t always practice: We can only help others when we recognize that we are desperate and sinful people who need a higher power. Of course, we know that the higher power is the Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus Himself wants to break you today so that you, as a broken vessel, can humbly help others in their spiritual pilgrimage. Be slow to judge others and quick to judge yourself.