To this point in the Sermon on the Mount, reliance on self-righteousness has been exposed as worthless. It is simply not possible to share in the blessings of the kingdom through obedience to the law, for such obedience would have to be perfect. The full appropriation of kingdom blessings is a gift of grace through faith. Matthew now records Jesus' teaching on the outward evidence of a law-righteous condition. The evidence is unbridled judgmentalism. The reader is warned of the danger of failing to discern this condition.
v1. To "make a right judgment" is good and proper, Jn.7:24. To be judgmental and censorious is evil.
v2. "The judgmental person, by not being forgiving, testifies to their own arrogance and impenitence, by which they shut themselves out from God's forgiveness", T.W. Manson. When we demand justice of others, we cannot easily seek mercy for ourselves, James 2:13, 4:12.
v3-5. Jesus now illustrates this point. There is nothing wrong with helping a brother recognize and deal with a weakness in their Christian life, 1Cor.11:31, Gal.6:1. There is a problem though, if, oblivious to our own failings (the "plank"), we busy ourselves exposing the failings of others - the art of speck-removal.
v6. Jesus now quotes an old proverb. This proverb is often lifted from its context and given numerous interpretations. eg. Don't preach the gospel to people who mock it; exclude unbaptized persons from the Eucharist (Didache). Of those who link it with the context, some argue it is a warning to those who fail to deal with their own "specks", while others argue it is a warning to those who are into speck-removal. It is most likely that Jesus uses the proverb to make a comment about his word on speck-removal. Sadly, this precious word is well beyond the grasp of most people. Their response will be righteous indignation rather than repentance. When pearls are set before pigs they only trample them.
v7-8. Jesus finally lets us into the secret of salvation. The "righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees", without which a person will "certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven", is not earned by doing, but given as a gift by asking.
v9-11. Jesus now illustrates this point. If a father, a member of the sinful human race, knows how to give good gifts to his son, "how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him." If we humans can be gracious, imagine how gracious God can be. The "good gift" is God's promised blessings - salvation and everything that entails.
v12. Rabbi Hillel, AD10 said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law, all the rest is commentary." Jesus gives a positive spin to the "golden rule" and uses it to sum up the substance of neighborly love. "Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them", Phillips. What a wonderful practical summary of the law, although how pointedly it reminds us that "none is righteous, no not one."
A believer, who has not grasped the full extent of God's mercy in Christ, tends to see their Christian life progressed through obedience to Biblical law. Faithfulness to Christ becomes an essential element in their Christian walk. The problem is that daily they find recurrent sin undermining any notion of faithfulness. This constant failure to measure up promotes guilt, which in turn undermines a sense of worthiness in the sight of God.
There are numerous ways we can blunt guilt. One of the most effective ways of dissipating the energy of buried guilt, and the one most commonly used, is that of judgmentalism. The power of guilt is dissipated when we give maximum exposure to the sins of others. Jesus describes this as picking the specks out of another's eye.
There is nothing wrong with helping a brother see some weakness in their Christian character. Yet, the "preacher" must first face their own state of loss, recognize their own sinfulness, their own "log", and look wholly to its removal through the grace of God in Christ. Only then is the saying true, "who best to preach than a sinner?"
Given that ethics plays an important part in church life, it is very easy to find ourselves returning to law-obedience to progress our Christian walk. If we find ourselves getting into speck removal, note the warning bell and return again to grace.
Hopefully, we are all patently aware of our own unrighteousness, of our total inability to act with integrity. If we are to stand before God it will only be in the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is ours as a gift for the asking, ours when we "ask", "seek" and "knock". As for the doing of righteousness, let the golden rule be our guide. Just do what you can, and remember, your can is always enough for God.
Let us never forget, the counting of specks is the evidence of a log jam!
1. How does judgmentalism expose the danger of legalism?
2. "Who better to preach than a sinner?" Explain why.