Judgement vs. Discernment
Scripture Focus: Matthew 7:1-6, 15-23
What is the difference between being judgmental and being discerning?
The Greek word for judge in scripture is krino — To pronounce an opinion or verdict often with the intent to criticize or condemn.
The word for discernment is diakrisis — To distinguish or decide.
Discernment is more objective whereas judgement generally rises from a critical or self-righteous spirit.
Matthew 7 is the concluding chapter of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Gathered around him was a mix of people from different classes and backgrounds. His words were directed toward everyone from Pharisees to peasants, pillars of the community to prostitutes. There would have been tensions and judgements being made between many of the people present that day.
Jesus began this sermon in chapter 5 pointing out the difference between abiding by the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. He then builds on that concept in chapter 6 where he gives examples of spiritual disciplines such as fasting, charity, and prayer, and how they are often performed for selfish gain instead of as outpourings of love for God. It’s here in chapter 7 that he gets down to the brass tacks of being a true disciple as opposed to a false one.
It’s easy to read this chapter through the lens of trying to discern the authenticity or falseness of others’ discipleship, but Jesus’ direct address to the listener/reader suggests it’s meant more as an exhortation to self-reflect and examine one’s own faith.
Let’s focus on verses 1-2:
“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.”
Keeping the definition of krino in mind, what is the consequence of judging others? (If we are judging others without grace or mercy, we can’t rightfully expect to be judged graciously or mercifully. When we judge others harshly, we are setting ourselves us for harsh judgement as well.)
What other sins does judging others lead to? (There are many answers to this. We'll be primarily focusing on hypocrisy.)
Jesus goes on to elaborate on hypocrisy in verses 3-5:
“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, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
What are the dangers of being hypocritical? (We lose perspective. We can’t see ourselves clearly and thus can’t take our sins seriously. Hypocrisy blinds us to God’s vision of the best for us and we miss out on the fulness of joy and intimate relationship he offers us.)
How does hypocrisy affect the Church?
How does Jesus instruct us to address our hypocrisy? (Start with yourself. Examine your own blind spots, habits, intentions, and attitudes. We can only begin by taking responsibility for our own sins.)
When we start by addressing our own sins, being humbled by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, our attitude toward others’ sins shifts. We’re able to see them with compassion and come alongside them with empathy. That’s how we build community and a credible witness, by stepping down from our self-righteous pedestals. But, that isn't to say we can't address the sin we see in others' lives.
How can we help one another recognize and repent of sins without judging each other? (Galatians 6:1 says, “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.” Other translations say, “in a spirit of meekness.” *emphasis mine)
Self-examination can be tricky as we don’t have objective perspective on ourselves. Sometimes the differences between false and genuine discipleship aren’t immediately obvious. It can also be tough discerning truth from falsehood in teachings that mask one with the other. Jesus speaks to this in verses 15-20:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
What does Jesus mean by this?
Do these verses suggest “bad” people are unable to do “good” things?
Both trees produce fruit. How are we supposed to tell the difference between good and bad fruit? (A case could be made for quality over quantity of fruit. You can usually determine between good and bad fruit by who is ultimately benefitting from it. Is it primarily benefitting Christ and his gospel, or a worldly agenda?)
It isn’t just teachers or spiritual leaders who can be guilty of producing deceptive fruit. There are false prophets and also false disciples – people who appear to manifest good and beautiful things, but are actually living apart from God. Let’s read verses 21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Why aren’t these good deeds and acts of service enough to enter heaven?
What does Jesus say these false disciples are lacking? (Personal relationship with him.)
It isn’t enough to just call Jesus Lord, and salvation cannot be earned. It is only through genuine faith and overflow of love for God that we can produce fruit that is worthwhile and pleasing to God. Genuine disciples live a lifestyle of obedience to God. They don’t just do good works when others are looking or for attention. They take God’s word to heart and live by it both publicly and privately. It is out of that personal dedication in relationship with God that good fruit is produced.
When we live judgmentally toward others and hypocritically in our faith, we’re failing to grasp the value of relationship with God and life in his kingdom. Let’s jump back up to verse 6:
“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 turn and tear you to pieces.”
What point is Jesus making here?
What is the “sacred” or the “pearls” he’s referring to?
Is this verse speaking of judgment or discernment? How can you tell? (Discernment.)
We can read this verse as a prompt to consider the value we put on the kingdom of God. Remember, among that mixed audience listening to his Sermon of the Mount would have been Pharisees and other religious leaders notorious for their valuing status and authority above relationship and loving obedience to God. They clearly did not value the kingdom of God. Similarly, in today’s world there are those who would use things of God for selfish purposes. We should be wary about who we entrust with gifts of the kingdom. Those who can be trusted and receive God’s kingdom are those who value their relationship with Christ and all he gives them.
Questions to consider this week:
What does my attitude toward others reveal about how much I value God and his kingdom?
How do I address others’ sin: with meekness or hypocrisy?