The Sermon on the Mount—“Stop Judging”
FOLLOWING his counsel about the need to seek God’s kingdom first, Jesus admonished his hearers to desist from a very harmful practice. He said: “Stop judging that you may not be judged.” (Matt. 7:1) According to Luke, Jesus added: “Stop condemning, and you will by no means be condemned. Keep on releasing, and you will be released. Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing.”—Luke 6:37, 38.
During the first century C.E., the Pharisees tended to judge others harshly according to the false standards of non-Biblical traditions. Any of Jesus’ listeners who were in that habit were to “stop” it. Instead of continually finding fault with others, they should “keep on releasing,” that is, forgiving and overlooking the shortcomings of their fellowman. (Compare Luke 6:37, Authorized Version.) Doing so, they would impel others to reciprocate with the same forgiving attitude.
In addition to pardoning others and treating them mercifully, Jesus’ disciples were to “practice giving.” This would result in the disciples’ receiving into their laps “a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing.” According to Word Studies in the New Testament, the Greek word for “laps” literally means “bosom” and denotes “the gathered fold of the wide upper garment, bound together with the girdle, and thus forming a pouch. In the Eastern markets at this day vendors may be seen pouring the contents of a measure into the bosom of a purchaser.” (Compare Ruth 3:15; Isaiah 65:7; Jeremiah 32:18.) The more a person practices generosity, the more he encourages others to respond in kind.
Pointing to an important general principle, Jesus stated: “For with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure [way of dealing with people] that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you.” (Matt. 7:2) As to their treatment of others, people ‘reap what they sow,’ so to speak. This will prove to be true, not only in what they reap from fellow humans, but, more importantly, in what they reap from God.—See Matthew 5:7; 6:14, 15.
To emphasize the danger of imitating the overcritical Pharisees, Jesus gave a twofold illustration: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Both will tumble into a pit, will they not? A pupil is not above his teacher, but everyone that is perfectly instructed will be like his teacher.”—Luke 6:39, 40.
It would be ridiculous for a literally blind person to try guiding another blind one over unfamiliar terrain. If there was a pit along the way, surely both would fall into it. When it came to judging their fellowman, the Jewish religious leaders were figuratively “blind.” (Compare Matthew 15:14; 23:16, 24.) They refused to take note of good qualities in the humble common people. On one occasion the Pharisees exclaimed: “This crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people.” (John 7:49) Anyone imitating such a condemnatory attitude is headed for dangerous pitfalls.
Too, just as “a pupil” who imbibes the thinking patterns of his teacher becomes “like his teacher,” so all who imitated the Pharisees would end up being like them—out of God’s favor and in danger of losing their lives. Hence, Jesus said on another occasion:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one you make him a subject for Gehenna [eternal destruction] twice as much so as yourselves.”—Matt. 23:13-15.
Pointing to the foolishness of being overcritical, Jesus asked: “Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye?”—Matt. 7:3, 4; compare Luke 6:41, 42a.
Jesus is not speaking merely of individuals who pay attention to the faults of others while having greater ones themselves, though this is a common human failing. Instead, he refers to someone who would take note of a minor defect in his brother’s “eye.” The critic would claim that his brother had impaired faculties of moral perception and judgment. Even if the fault was a minor one, like a “straw,” a sliver of wood or a speck of dust, the one criticizing would make an issue of it and hypocritically offer to “extract the straw,” that is, to aid the individual to see matters more clearly, enabling him to render more acceptable judgments.
The Jewish religious leaders were especially prone to criticize the judgment of others. For example, when a person whom Jesus healed from congenital blindness declared that Jesus must have come from God, the Pharisees retorted: “You were altogether born in sins, and yet are you teaching us?” (John 9:34) However, when it came to clear spiritual vision and ability to judge, the Pharisees had, as it were, “a rafter” in their own eye. They were altogether blind.
Did this mean that disciples of Jesus were to use no discernment at all in connection with other people? No, for Jesus next said: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw your pearls before swine, that they may never trample them under their feet and turn around and rip you open.”—Matt. 7:6.
According to the Mosaic law, dogs and pigs were unclean. (Lev. 11:7, 27) It was permissible to throw to the dogs flesh of an animal torn by a wild beast. (Ex. 22:31) But Jewish tradition forbade giving to dogs “holy” flesh, that is, meat of animal sacrifices. The Mishnah states: “Animal-offerings [Hebrew, qodashim: “holy things”] may not be redeemed in order to give them as food to the dogs.” Throwing literal pearls “before swine” would be something else quite inappropriate. Likely the swine would mistake them for peas, acorns or other items in their diet. Finding them inedible, the pigs would trample them underfoot and, becoming enraged, could harm the one who threw the pearls.
In a figurative sense, “what is holy” and “pearls” refer to precious Scriptural truths regarding God’s Messianic kingdom. Disciples of Jesus were to share these truths with everyone. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) But if individuals showed themselves to be without appreciation of spiritual things, like dogs or swine, Christians were to seek out more receptive ears.—See Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5; 10:11; Acts 13:45, 46; 18:6.