When we read the radical, world-changing sermon that Jesus preached on the mount, we are learning what it means to be subjects of His Kingdom. It is a strange Kingdom. We can’t see it, and yet He is seated on a throne ruling in mighty, sovereign power. His Kingdom has no land on earth and it is not a democracy. Democracy can be a pretty good idea when human beings are put in charge. When everyone gets to vote, nobody gets to tyrannize the rest of the people (at least in theory). But God doesn’t have the limitations of broken humanity. His ways are perfect and so is His rule. When we seek to do the will of God, we join the work of expanding His Kingdom.
The next thing Jesus taught about in His sermon had to do with how we look at others. Jesus said that when a person’s eyes are full of light, it means there is light inside them. But if their eyes saw things darkly, it means their inner life is full of darkness. This is an important idea when it comes to how we are meant to look at others.
In the ideal beauty of God’s Kingdom, it’s members should be filled with hope for others, wanting, even yearning for, God’s blessing in their lives. They should look at their friends and neighbors and even strangers with faith that God, the Great King, loves them, too, and has a plan for them. It is the natural outflow of Kingdom love that we would want to help them, to walk the extra mile with them along the road, and give generously to them.
While it is not our job to always help every person at every moment (we aren’t God, after all), if that basic desire is not a part of our daily way of life, then it is a sign of trouble. It is an opportunity to turn to the Lord in prayer about a need for transformation. And it might be a time to seek Him for practical ways to serve others. Action is a powerful way to retrain our habits so that we can live like citizens of His Kingdom.
If most of us get really honest, we have to admit that we often don’t feel or think with Kingdom love at the center. Often, our root motive is to do better by comparison to others. We want to have more things, to be better looking, to have better grades or a better job or a better family. We can even make ourselves feel better by being better at serving others! It becomes a toxic element that subtly taints the very relationships that God wants to bless for the sake of His Kingdom.
One of the great human offenses against love is the driving desire to be superior to the people we compare ourselves to. It feels so wickedly delicious when we think we have won. But if we don’t, we pay the price of our comparisons. We live with terrible shame. We want to hide. We get angry and try to make more money or look more beautiful so we can feel better about what we have and who we are. Our judgments and comparisons drive us to worship all the wrong things, and this, in turn, drives our actions. It is the lowness of greed, territorialism, and envy. It makes generosity, tenderness, and mutual respect emotionally impossible. God hates all of it. It doesn’t belong in His Kingdom!
When we truly come to Jesus with the longing to become poor in spirit, we will begin to have the power to stop all that. We will grow in our trust in His love for who we are and not what we do. It will feel safe to live lives of humility. We will feel deep freedom because we will be able trust that He will lift us up in His time instead of our own timing, the timing the world tries to pressure us into, or the timing that frantic comparisons and competition drive us to. It frees us to spend our energy on giving glory to Him instead of to ourselves.
But there is a danger when we start to seek the Lord and when we long for spiritual things. It is just as easy to be proud and arrogant about purity and our spiritual life as it is to be proud about having the right job or nice clothes. Instead of comparing cell phones or houses, we compare our righteous deeds or our knowledge of Scripture. We make ourselves feel better by looking more spiritual than others, and that is a grave sin. That is exactly what the Pharisees did to make Jesus so angry. Our way of relating to others is no longer about longing for His righteousness. Instead, we run to judge and critique, using spiritual arguments for the sake of shutting down someone that threatens us.
It is using the sacred beauty of God for selfish gain. Jesus said:
“‘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.’”
Wow. If we judge someone harshly, God is going to be harsh with us. But if we show love and mercy and grace, God is going to show that to us.
Instead of focusing on what we think about others, Jesus said that our primary focus needs to be closer to home. We need to be honest with ourselves about our own sin first. Our first responsibility is to our own obedience. This is how Jesus said it:
“‘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? 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, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’”
I think Jesus was being very serious here, but it is also kind of funny. Imagine two men standing on the road talking to each other. One of them has a tiny speck of dust in his eye. That dust is a symbol for some kind of sin. But the other man has a huge board sticking out of his eyeball. It is a whole plank of wood! It is so big that he could hit other people in the head with it. It is hard to even talk to him! Yet in his mind, he is thinking, “This man in front of me has a hideous speck in his eye. Why does he allow that? What a terrible sinner!” He is totally ignoring his own gigantic plank because he is too busy judging the other man for having the tiny speck.
Isn’t that a great picture of how we treat each other? We sit and judge others and make ourselves feel better by diminishing them, even about the sacred things of God. Yet all the while, we are the ones who are sinning! We not only have our own sins that we are ignoring, we are adding to them by failing to look at our brother or sister with love or grace.
Imagine the two men on the street again. What if the man with the plank realized with sweet humility that he was standing there with a big huge wooden board sticking out of his eye? What if he had the humility to simply ask the other man to help him remove it? How do you think the other man would feel?
Well, if the other man loves God, he would probably feel honored! He was being invited to share in important Kingdom work! It feels good to be able to help, and it undermines pride when someone else is brave enough to be vulnerable. Imagine him taking that plank out of the first man’s eyes. Suddenly, the man would be able to see clearly! Then the one who removed the plan might say, “Hey, I think I have a speck in my eye. Will you help me get it out?”
Instead of judging each other, they would be able to serve each other in rich, life building love. And instead of two people living in the ugly rancor of judgment, two more members of God’s Kingdom would be living in greater freedom, happiness, and mutual support. They would be more ready and able to obey and honor God with good works. And they would have gained a true friendship.
Jesus was trying to guard the people of His Kingdom from having a harsh and critical spirit towards one another. Humility allows us to look at ourselves honestly and ask for help. When the Body of Christ works together in mutual confession and uncompromising grace the love of Jesus shines.
It might be easy to read this passage from Matthew and decide that Jesus never wants us to judge at all. That is not true! We have to use discernment, which is another way of saying good judgment. How else will we know right from wrong? Using good judgment is an important part of living a worthy life. In Jesus’ next instructions, He actually commands His followers to judge.
It is one thing to be critical of someone with a speck in his eye. But what if someone has totally rejected the ways of God? What if they enjoy doing evil things that hurt other people? What if they lie? How long are Christians supposed to keep sharing the truth about Jesus and the Kingdom of God with them? This is what Jesus said:
“‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces.’”
Sometimes it is very important to make judgments about others. Believers must decide if someone is ready for the sacred truths of God. If someone continues to reject the beautiful message of the Gospel, there comes a point when it is right to stop sharing it with them.
As we continue to read about the life of Jesus, we will watch Him do this. He will travel all over Israel preaching the Good News of the Kingdom. At first, Jesus will preach in the Jewish synagogues of the towns and cities. As the Jewish leaders listen to Jesus and see His power, He will fulfill the prophecies that they were given to help them recognize the Messiah. They will have a chance to repent and believe. Most of them will reject His message of the Kingdom. They will try to trick Him in His words so they can accuse Him. They will spend all their secret energies trying to get Him arrested and killed. So Jesus will take His message out to the countryside. He will preach to all those who will follow Him there. First to the Jews, and then the Gentiles will start to come. And then, when the crowds reject him, Jesus would focus on His own disciples, preparing them to proclaim the Kingdom of God once He is gone. Through the wisdom of the Spirit, Jesus had to judge whose hearts were truly open to the truth and who was not. His followers would have to also.