My friends, I believe I have a message from God for you today. And I’m so grateful that you’ve allowed me to share it. The scripture came into my mind unbidden and though the words come from my heart, I believe it’s from the heart of God that I speak them. I love this church and I love God’s kingdom, and I’m so grateful that we are willing to hear from God when he wants to speak to us, amen?
Like the ministry in which I am so grateful to serve, this sermon comes from prayer and from the advice and mentorship of others. My choice of scripture is Matthew 7, which if you are intimately familiar with the Bible, you may already know what’s coming next.
You see Jesus didn’t preach his sermons to crowds of friendly faces like I’m privileged to do. When he spoke of snakes and teachers of the law, he was speaking to a crowd of those very same snakes. When he talked about the end of days when the sheep would be separated from the goats, he was speaking to a crowd of goats. When he spoke of wolves in sheep’s clothing, he was speaking to the pack, their fangs still bloody from their latest kill.
Let’s read together what he had to say to these enemies of the kingdom of God.
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “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? 4 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? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Would you like to make yourself an enemy of Christ? Because this is the easiest way: judge others. Hatred isn’t always cloaked in a white hood and a burning cross, hatred sometimes looks like the instantaneous dread you feel when someone you don’t like talks to you. Hatred is a joke about someone else when they’re not there. Hatred is conveniently forgetful of my own sin, but remembers all the wrongs I’ve been done. Hatred ignores the pain of others, but loves its own people. Hatred loves winners, but hates losers. Hatred is quick to judge which is which.
The sawdust that Jesus speaks about in another’s eye, he acknowledges that it’s blinding. It does need to be removed. But if you’re using the board sticking out of your eye to beat the Bible into a heathen on Facebook, then you are misusing scripture. If you have something to say to someone about their lifestyle but you haven’t taken the time to invite them into your life, then maybe you haven’t earned the right to say something yet. If you, like me, tend to demand respect but don’t give out double to others, then you might be a snake. If you hate the sin of others more than your own sin, because their sin is louder than yours, then you might be a wolf that dresses like a sheep.
Sins that are easily hidden include rage, greed, and jealousy. I can pretend my anger is righteous with a few choice sentences: “it’s not about what they did to me, it’s about my family,” “they’re just ignorant,” or “they tried to take my rights away.” See how comfortable the rage feels when you have an explanation? It’s like a blanket comforting us. Who knew that sin could be so warm.
Greed manifests itself in many ways beyond money. I can look at my own past and see this too. When I lived in the city, I used to not carry any cash so that when I went downtown I would be able to say I didn’t have anything if somebody asked. I thought that because I was poor, I was justified in keeping my money. But I find that became a habit even during the times when I had money. I could have set aside some cash in my wallet for that purpose, but my time holding on to every dollar didn’t make me more thrifty, or more financially secure, it increased my lust for money as surely as any rich tycoon. Greed likes to point out that it’s the love of money that is the sin, rather than the money itself, not realizing that accumulation is what love looks like. We strive to increase the things that we love.
If the cost of following Jesus is time, we’ve got precious little of it anyway, so it might as well be given away. You cannot add more to your life by worrying about it, so give your life away freely. Keep the Sabbath, take a day off every week. It was God’s first command. (If you’re a leader on Sunday, then today doesn’t count for you, sorry!) But those other six days? Those belong to God, to your family, and then to others. Some weeks are harder than others, trust me, I get that. But if every week is too tough to spend time with God or your family or your fellow Christians or your friends who don’t know God, then greed has got your number, and he’ll keep calling you with an extended warranty, an emergency just for you.
Jealousy is a particularly insidious sin. It’s like greed, but worse. I find that the temptation to be jealous is always there. All that you need to be jealous is to want something, and that want becomes desire, becomes longing, becomes envy. That’s because jealousy comes wrapped in a package called love. Like love twisted around with its head on backward, jealousy inspires us.
It inspires you to fall in love… with someone who isn’t your wife.
It encourages you to work hard… so that you’ll impress someone else, or live up to some worldly American ideal.
It gives you boundless energy… to complain about your boss and the other employees who make more money than you.
Oh yes, jealousy is so often indistinguishable from love that it’s impossible to notice it in ourselves. How easy it is to judge someone for their sin when you secretly wish that it was you.
I list these three sins because they are just as dangerous as violence, lust, or disobedience. A life with hatred, rage, greed, or jealousy can send someone to hell as surely as any lifestyle. These sins are always apparent to everyone else, except us. Maybe you’ve got friends who will back you up, tell you that your righteousness is pure. But talk to your enemies, and they’ll tell you the truth.
The famous chef Gordon Ramsay warns his employees against positive feedback and refuses to read it to them–instead, all they get is the negative feedback from the customer, because that’s how they improve. If you need encouragement after a bad day, then go to your friends! Enjoy the company of others who believe like you. But when you’re ready to improve, find a person who hates you, and make them your friend. And remember: friends don’t judge each other.
So after confronting our own sin, how can we stop judging people? I have a few suggestions that I’ve had to take into my own life.
1) Give them the benefit of the doubt.
o “Maybe they’re just having a bad day.”
o “She probably didn’t see me.”
o “Maybe there was something I know don’t know about happening in their marriage.”
o “Maybe my spouse isn’t angry, but is actually deep in thought.”
Giving someone the possibility that it’s not as bad as it looks or that there’s a circumstance you’re not aware of means that you’ve done the work in your own heart. You’re ready to ask questions instead of demand answers.
2) That leads me to a second way to stop judging people: Give them an opportunity to explain themselves. If it’s a brother or sister in Christ, Scripture gives excellent steps for that:
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Pastor Sabian has already preached about how to confront sin in the church, so I won’t repeat it today. But Matthew 7 makes no distinction between the family of Christ or those outside of it: we are not to judge. If you decide to talk to someone about their sin, it should be a conversation, not an argument. We should offer help instead of expectations.
3) The third way not to judge someone is to pray for them. Jesus says to even pray for your enemies. I suspect that has less to do about changing them as it gives the Holy Spirit a chance to change our heart.
So let’s bring these high concepts down to the real world.
If you have driven someone out of your life because of any belief other than Jesus Christ, then you are not a martyr. The world has another name for someone like that, but I won’t repeat it here. “Pharisee” will do. “Wolf” or “snake” does just as well.
If you have hitched Jesus to your cause like a caboose at the end of a train, then that is not serving Jesus. He is the engine and the conductor. He chooses the path this train is going.
Jesus did not die for your cause, Jesus did not die for your country.
He died for your sin!
Now I want to remind you that I was not thinking of anyone in particular while I was writing this sermon. This is what the Lord gave me to preach after days of prayer. I might be a mouthy young pastor but I’m not stupid. I don’t want to talk about judging others anymore than you do. But Jesus was courageous enough to speak about it to a crowd of people who wanted to–and did–kill him, so I think we can be courageous enough to examine ourselves and see if we match up to Jesus’ words. My father in heaven has a gospel he wants to share, and this is part of it.
If any part of what I have said today has stirred your heart, then I invite you, get on your knees with me and beg God for forgiveness. Make your chair an altar. God forgives a humble heart.
I’m asking the worship team to play for us while we pray, but if you need to meet God at this altar too, don’t worry about the music.
This is not the time for spiritual gifts, God has already spoken to his church as a whole today. This moment is for a personal conversation. We do it together so that no one here has any right to feel awkward. You’ll be praying beside other believers.
I’m going to be praying, too, so there’s no gratification in my heart thinking, “I’ve preached a good ‘un!” Instead, after you and the lord have had your conversation, feel free to quietly leave. There’s no judgment!
I love you guys, so let’s spend time with God as a family.