We're going to turn to the word of God this morning, to Matthew's gospel. We're turning to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew's gospel chapter 7. You remember this is when the Lord Jesus Christ ascended the Mount of Olives and began to teach the teaching of the kingdom of God. This was the teaching of the way things ought to be, the way things eventually would be one day, and the way Christians ought to try and live by the help of the Spirit while they are here upon the earth.
Reading from Matthew 7 and verse 1: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam", or a plank, "is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye". Verse 12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets".
'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 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 out of your brother's eye'. Verse 12: 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets'.
I read yesterday a very sad story of a fatal accident where four young girls were driving down a motorway, and the car crashed and they were all killed. Evidence that drink was the culprit was found in a broken whisky bottle, lying among the debris of bodies and blood that was found. In anger one of the parents, one of the fathers, was heard to say: 'If I could get my hands on the person that sold this drink to these young people, I would kill him!'. When that father went home he opened a cupboard in his room, the cupboard where he kept his drink - there he found a note in the handwriting of his daughter which said: 'Dad, we're taking along with us some of your good drink. I know you won't mind'.
Another story that I read yesterday was of a six-year-old boy who came home from school one day, and he brought home to his mother a note from the teacher in which it was suggested that that boy was taken out of school because he was too stupid to learn. His name was Thomas Alva Edison, the man who invented electricity. Another story I heard was about a young boy who was sent shopping to the grocery store. After he came home his mother realised that he hadn't brought back what she had asked for. So she phoned the grocer and she said over the phone: 'I sent my little son, James, to your store for five pounds of apples - and I find by weighing them that you have only given me four and a quarter pounds'. The grocer replied by saying these words: 'Madam, my scales are regularly inspected and corrected - have you weighed your little boy?'. All aspects of bad judgement - are we guilty?
The title of my message this morning is this: 'You Could Be Wrong'. I remember hearing Enoch Powell personally say these words, that when he gave that famous speech 'The Rivers Of Blood' that got many people's blood up, he said that he believed at that moment in time he was right. Someone asked him the question: 'Why did you make it? Surely you must have known in your mind, leaving the politics of it aside, surely you must have known what this was going to cause and the reaction that this was going to give? Could you have been wrong? Or would you even admit that you were ever wrong in your life?'. Enoch Powell said these words that sounded very pompous, he said: 'I have never been wrong. I have never thought I have been wrong in a decision that I have made'.
Now whether you think Enoch Powell was right or not is irrelevant, but what he said was correct: because every time we make a decision, we think. We may be thinking wrongly, but we always come to the conclusion that what we have come to, and what we're about to do, is right. We make that decision. Now I'm not talking about sinning, because often we know that's wrong, but I'm talking about decisions that we really think through - and even when we are wrong we must, at the time, have thought we were right. It's a hard thing, isn't it, to - when you thought that you were right - have to admit that you are wrong. Could that be you today?
You know, there are notorious Christians - and I have personal friends like this, and I'm sure if you could think hard enough you could think of ones like them - they are deeply critical people, they criticise everything. As soon as you meet them the first thing that comes out of their mouth is criticism or censoriousness. The church they go to is too cold, the church they go to is too modern, the church they go to is too traditional, if you fall into sin within this church there is no-one there to pick you up again. The Pastor speaks too long, he is too short, they don't like the translation that he reads from. They don't like it if he shouts, they don't like it if he whispers. People who are critical. One Sunday the heat is too hot, the next it's too cold. The toilet door should be painted green, not blue. You've heard it all before.
Now, I'm not saying that we do not come to decisions, I'm not saying that we do not express our opinion - what I am saying is this: often a critical spirit betrays something more. I believe at times, in fact all the time, criticism is from sin. Many times people who have secondary issue agendas - in other words they make things more important than they are - often, do you know what this is? It is a mask, it is a way to cover over something that is wrong deep inside. When people begin to make secondary issues fundamental doctrines and hobbyhorses, I believe that there is a void within their life. There is a lack of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, and because there is that gap in their life they have to put something else in it. So what they do is, they put within their heart a crusade for what they see as being good - a crusade for righteousness.
One of the easiest ways to cover our sin is to judge others. I believe today, that there could be people here, that there are people even among all churches that are met together today on the Lord's Day, and think of this: they are actually here, they have come through the door, they could be sitting where they are, and their eyes are open - like a bird of prey - looking for people who are doing things wrong. They could be looking for a wrong word, a wrong action, a wrong attitude, a mistake, what they see as wrong behaviour for the church of God.
Our mind, you know, and our heart is warped - and we thought of that a couple of weeks ago. Our heart is deceitful above all things - and do you know what I think at times? That when I am my most critical - that's what the devil tells me - that when I am at my most critical, and when I in front of people weigh things up and give my opinion (and sometimes it's very hard not to give your opinion) the devil tells me that at those moments I am my wisest, and I am I most spiritual. We all know, don't we, that the word of God teaches that the opposite is true.
The word 'prejudice' has been changed in meaning. The word 'prejudice' originally was a neutral word, it was a word that meant 'judgement beforehand, pre-justice' - someone who judged or gave an opinion on something before they had all the evidence. But it was a neutral word, it could have meant positive justice - that someone made a positive judgement, a positive conclusion, without the evidence. We all know, today, that that word has a negative meaning - and do you know why it has a negative meaning? Because we so often are so negative in our judgement that that word, in the English language, has lost its positive definition.
It could be good judgement, or it could be bad judgement. I want, from this passage this morning, to speak to you on good judgement, on bad judgement, and on tough judgement. Let's look at good judgement first of all. Now, as we read this passage in Matthew chapter 7, we see that the Lord Jesus seems to categorically say: 'Do not judge, or you too will be judged'. I want to tell you first of all what does not mean: that does not mean that every kind of judgement is wrong. If that's what it meant there would be criminals running the streets, the jails would be empty, and the place would be in chaos. That's not what it means. It doesn't mean, either, that we are not to judge things that people do to a certain extent - but what the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking about here is motive: motives for judging other people.
He says: 'Yes, there is a righteous type of judgement, but that type of judgement is meant to be expressed with careful discernment and not with a censorious spirit'. He said that in John 7 and verse 24, where He told the disciples and He told the people around Him: 'Stop judging by mere appearance, and make a right judgement'. You see, in order for this passage that we read this morning to make sense you must judge to a certain extent. We see that from verse 6 where He says: 'Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you'. Now, if you are expected not to cast your pearls before swine, you've got to discern, you've got to decide who are the swine and who are the ones that you should cast your pearls before. That requires judgement, but that is good judgement as opposed to bad judgement.
You see from verse 5 that the Lord Jesus Christ expects us to take the speck from our brother's eye, because He says to us that we can only see clearly to do that when the plank is out of our own. So, there is a time when it is good to judge, but you see that this judgement is positive in the way that we're trying to help the person that we are judging. How can we help that person is the issue that we are thinking about, if the thing that we are criticising in their life, if the thing that we're trying to help them with, we have problems with that thing too - or we have other glaring problems in our own life that everyone can see, or perhaps no-one can see?
Often we are guilty of the sins that we see in others. You see that in Romans 2 and verses 1 to 3, where Paul said: 'You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else - for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things. Now we know that God's judgement against those who do such things is based on truth, so when you - a mere man - pass judgement on them, and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgement?'. Do you know what we need brethren? We need prayer, and we need love, and we need to care for people. We need to show love and not criticism - even the God of heaven who is holy, who is all-righteous (we were singing about it in our first hymn), it is not primarily our sin that keeps us from God, it is His holiness! In light He is inaccessible, we cannot come near to Him - yet even He chastens us in love and not in anger.
I want to ask you today: could this be you? Could you be wrong? Do you have this spirit of a critical person? You need to deal with that today, and before God, and before the Lord's Table, and before an Almighty Creator, you need to deal with this. Believers today, you need to learn to discern - what I mean is: you need to tell the difference, and know how to tell the difference, between good judgement and a critical spirit. In some weeks time we'll be dealing with that subject: 'Learning To Discern'.
I want to turn our attention - we've looked at good judgement - but I want you to look at bad judgement for a moment today. What is that? Well He says in verse 5, He says to them: 'You hypocrites' - you hypocrites! Censoriousness, a critical spirit - they were criticising others for doing wrong, when they had wrong within their own life, and at times it was the selfsame wrong that was in their life! I heard about a Pastor who carried a book around with him, and every time someone came to him talking about another person, or criticising this or that or the other thing, he would open the book to him, he would give them a pen, and he would say: 'Now, I would just like you to write that down in this book, and this is going in the foyer of the church. I just want you to write it down, write your name beside it, the date that you wrote it' - and you know what happened. No-one wrote in the book.
One of the stories in the Bible that gives me great comfort is found in John 8, and I want you to picture this for a moment this morning. The Lord Jesus Christ - now get this - He knew no sin, He did no sin, and I believe He could not sin. A woman is caught in the act of adultery - now that does not mean that she was an adulteress at the weekend, it doesn't mean that it was a rumour that was going about, it doesn't even mean that she confessed to that sin, it means that people found her in the sin! Straight from that sin she was found at the feet of Christ - can you imagine it? Can you imagine if a member of this church, by an outsider, was dragged into here and was brought before us, and it was told what they were found doing - how would they feel? More importantly: how would you react? What spirit would well up within you?
The Lord Jesus Christ, what did He say? Now I want you to get this: He said: 'Let him without sin first cast a stone at her'. That is the spirit of our Lord, that is the spirit of the Creator who became man, and came to earth to die and to save sinners. As He stood before this woman, He didn't stand before her as a judge, but He stood before her as her Saviour. We as His disciples, as Christ's ones, are to stand before the world, and stand before the church, not as their judges, but as their helpers.
A young lady was disciplined for breaking the church covenant, and after the Breaking of Bread one Sunday morning she was brought before the church. Some of the church suggested that she be dropped from the church roll, she was to be excommunicated. As the debate developed the Pastor stood, and he said: 'Let us also call the Church Treasurer and have him read the record of the giving, the financial giving of every member - and let us also vote to drop everyone who has violated God's law against covetousness'. Now listen, friend, this morning: there is no grading of sin - do you hear that? The smallest sin takes you to hell, the smallest sin would have had to have been put upon Christ, and the wrath of God put upon His own Son and poured upon Him - that would've had to been done even for the smallest sin. Don't grade sin today! Whatever you do, don't look at others, and don't look at adultery and fornication - even homosexuality, heinous as it is - don't look at that sin and turn to God and say: 'I thank God that I am not as that person' - because, in the sight of God, you were.
In Philippians chapter 2 we are told how to judge. We're told in verse 3 that we are to esteem each - now don't let this run off your head because you know the verse, listen to it: esteem everyone greater than yourself! Can you imagine if Christians did that? If you and I did that: thought of our brothers and sisters in Christ better than we are! But what do we do? We try to look better than they are. In Philippians 3 we're also told that we're not to compare ourselves with other people, we're not to strive to be as good a Christian as that person or the other person, we're not to look better than they are, we're not to try and copy other people - but it says that we are to compare ourselves with ourselves. In other words: the only judgement that we should be doing is our own judgement. We can hear the Holy Spirit saying: 'You forget about those people and, man, mind yourself'.
You see, we're to look at yesterday, and we're to compare yesterday with our life today. We're to compare ourselves with ourselves, and make sure that tomorrow we're better than the way we were yesterday. But in reality what we do is: we try to be better than someone else was yesterday. Steve Curtis Chapman has a song which is entitled 'You Know Better', listen to the words of it:
'I saw you staring out your window,
Watch the people passing by,
Taking some notes on what you saw out there,
So you would know how hard you need to try.
I heard you are asking lots of questions,
And how in comparison you stand.
Please let me warn you to be careful' - listen:
'God wants our best, and not our better-than'.
Have you got that? God wants your best, He wants everything you can give, He wants His standard for your life - not someone else's standard! Therefore when we get that right in our lives, and we realise that God wants us to be ourselves, to be honest before Him, to live a life that is open before Him - not to look at those who are in the pulpit, or those in Christian books, or Christian service, and say: 'I wish I could be like them', or, 'I'm glad I'm not like him!'.
When William Gladstone was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he sent to the Treasury for certain statistics on which he was to base his budget. The statistician that was drawing them up made a vital mistake but - listen - Gladstone was relying so much, and was so sure of, this man's accuracy that he didn't even take time to verify the figures. He went before the House of Parliament, before the Commons, and he made his speech based on these inaccurate figures. The speech was no sooner made, than the Press were able to expose the mistakes and Gladstone was shamed. You can imagine how he felt, he was embarrassed, he may well have been angry. He sent for that statistician to come into his office, and that man was terrified of what was going to happen - he had one of the highest jobs in the land. Gladstone looked at him and said: 'I want to congratulate you, Sir, for not making a mistake until now'.
Do we esteem each other better than ourselves? Or are we, on our own wooden pole with our own penknives, making marks of the faults of others - so that we ourselves, within ourselves, feel better than they do? Do we revel when someone falls into sin, and think: 'I'm glad it was not me. In fact, I would never do something like that'? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that that is taking delight in evil, that is not love!
The golden rule of every Christian is: rough justice. It is found in verse 12 of our reading, where Jesus said: 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you'. You can go to Buddhism, you can go to Islam, you can go to the cults, you can go across the face of the earth, but every religion admits that it has not a rule like this. Many religions have great teaching, but no religion says: 'Do to others what you would have them do to you'. Have you ever thought about those words? Have you ever really thought about what that means?
Philip Keller was a shepherd. He wrote a famous book on the 23rd Psalm: 'A Shepherd's Look at the 23rd Psalm'. He, in one of his books, described how he saw in the life of another person verse 12 of Matthew 7 carried out - how someone did to him what they would want him to do to them. I want you to listen to this as I read it. He says: 'For two weeks it had snowed off and on almost every day. I was beginning to weary of shovelling snow, cleaning giant cornices of snow off the roof, knocking snow off each block of wood carried in for the heater, cleaning snow from doorways and driveways. It seemed there was no end to snow, snow, snow. I even wondered where room could be found to pile the wind-driven drift. Then it happened: suddenly one day I came home, gingerly through the gathering gloom, to find that all the driveway, the sidewalks and even the doorways, had been shovelled clean. Stunned, I paused momentarily in the drive, and it simply seemed to good to believe. The bare pavement appeared almost unreal. The huge piles of snow heaped up on every side astonished me. Did someone with more strength than I care enough to come over and do this job out of a sheer goodwill and heartwarming concern? Yes, someone did. He did it with gusto, and I learned later that it was a young man from town, 10 miles away. With enormous energy and strong muscles he had moved mountains of snow on my behalf, and with this one gracious act of generosity he had not only saved my aching back, but he had broken the back of winter. In a warm and a wonderful way my spirit welled up with profound gratitude. What a lift our Father gave me through that young man's strong arms.
'Then another evening the doorbell rang, and I went to see who was there. Cold wind tugged at the eaves and swirled around the door, and I opened it carefully to keep out the formidable frost. Standing there all wrapped up in wool cap, mitts and thick winter jacket, stood a neighbour. His bright blue eyes sparkled above crimson cheeks. 'Just brought you a wee treat', he muttered, pushing a covered basket of food towards me. 'I won't come in just now, too much winter', and he was gone. Softly I unwrapped the unexpected gift, it steamed a pungent and tantalising a fresh home baked meat tart, drawn from the oven only moments before. Beside it was piping a hot bowl of rich, dark gravy. What a feast! What a banquet to nourish one's body in the ice and sleet! Every mouthful of that delicious meal was relished, every particle of the pie was consumed with contentment, every drop of gravy was licked up with glorious delight. It was a meal that will be remembered to the end of my days. That night I curled up like a cat and slept for nine hours solid, I had peace and rest - deep joy - besides quickened faith in the gentle goodness of generous neighbours'.
In this weary old world it's good to know, isn't it, that there are still some sterling souls who really do know what it is to love their neighbours. Listen! This is Christianity: to love their neighbours as themselves. Why did you read those stories out, David? Because, going through your mind, you would probably think: 'Those are wee small things, insignificant things' - but to someone, when you do them, they mean so much.
Aesop's Fables are very famous. There's one of those tales that is about four bulls which were great friends. These bulls went everywhere together, they fed together, they lay down together. They were always keeping so close to each other, that if any danger happened, if there was something near them that could threaten them, they were able to face it together and they always overcame. But there was a lion, and that lion wanted to have them, and was determined at any cost to have them - but he couldn't when they were together. But he would watch, and daily as they would walk together there was always one bull that would tail off at the end. When he saw him he would run over to him, and behind him would slink up and whisper to him that the other bulls had been saying unkind things about him. The four friends began to become uneasy with one another, and each thought that the other was plotting against him. Finally, as there was no trust among them, they went off by themselves their separate ways - and their friendship was broken. This is what the lion wanted, and one-by-one they were killed, and he had four good meals.
Now listen today, and I'm saying this from my heart: the word of God teaches that Satan, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. To the Christians who are tailing off at the end, who are slow behind, who actually think that they are the strongest - where in reality they would be offended to realise that they, indeed, are the weaker brother. He, day-by-day, is whispering in their ear, and the church of Jesus Christ is suffering from distrust of one another.
Do you judge? More importantly, listen Christian, do you love? Jesus said: 'By this shall all men know that you are my disciples: if you love one another'. Perhaps you're here this morning and you've felt God speaking to you, and perhaps you know deep down that you do have a critical spirit, and that you are judging others. Well, listen: you will never ever grow as a Christian, and listen more importantly: the peace that God purchased for you at Calvary by the blood of Christ is being robbed from you by a critical spirit. Maybe you know that you've lost the joy of the Lord and you wonder why - let me ask you the question: could it be you?
Father, may the love of Jesus fill us as the water fills the sea, Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory. Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus, we thank You for His teaching, we thank You for His example - that He was the summary of the law and the prophets, because He did unto others as they should've done unto Him. Sadly Lord, we scratch other people's backs when they scratch ours - but Father, we ought to be like Him, and when He suffered He only blessed. Lord, help us to make these changes, and help us to be more like Jesus. For we ask it in His name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "You Could Be Wrong!" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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