Judging Others is a Two-Way Street

“To escape looking at the wrongs we have done another, we resentfully focus on the wrong he has done us.” Bill Wilson wrote this in his Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions essay on Step Eight. But the wisdom of these words applies to all of us who resentfully judge others. In the Sermon on the Mount, it seems that Jesus agrees with Bill.

In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus taught about the consequences of judging others. In essence, he begins by saying in verses one and two: “First you have to realize that if you aren’t judgmental of others, then you won’t be judged harshly yourself.” This discussion seems to be a more narrow application of the golden rule set forth in verse 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Doing to others what you want them to do to you summarizes the spiritual teaching of the Scriptures on how we should relate to others. Another way this is expressed is by the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” originally found in Leviticus 19:9. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus said that loving your neighbor was the second greatest commandment after loving God.

The word translated as “judge” in Matthew 7:1-2, krinõ, is used with the sense that the act of judgment is done in order to somehow influence the life and behavior of another. Judging is then a two-way street. When you judge others, you are saying to God that you also want to be judged or influenced by Him. So be careful in your judgment of others, because you’ll get the same thing back. What goes around, comes around.

In the next three verses Jesus uses hyperbole (the speck and log language) to illustrate what too often happens with judgment aimed at influencing others.  In his commentary on Matthew, Craig Blomberg said we often criticize others when we have much more serious shortcomings in our own lives. Particularly when we treat fellow believers (brothers) that way, we are hypocrites; phonies or pretenders. Nevertheless, we are not off the hook entirely. “Rather, once we have dealt with our own sins, we are then in a position gently and lovingly to confront and try to restore others who have erred.”

In counseling, I simplify this teaching by telling people the following. Whenever you find yourself wanting to point a finger at someone else, stop and look at yourself first. There may be one finger pointing at the other person, but there are three fingers pointing back to you.  What’s going on with you that you want to point a finger at someone else?

Verse six is an odd expression, and perhaps even opposed to what Jesus has just said in verses one through five. It seems that he is addressing the opposite extreme to what came before. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus addressed the error of being too harsh when judging others. Here he cautions against being too lax. So you can think of what is being said by adding the phrase On the one hand …” before 7:1-5; and then “But on the other hand …”before verse six.

There is a literary structure called a chiasm in verse six, that was used in both biblical Greek and Hebrew to reinforce the message of what was being said. A chiasm (or chiasmus) is a writing style that uses a specific repetitive pattern for emphasis. So the chiastic structure of verse six would be:

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs,

and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs,

lest they trample them with their feet

and [lest they, the dogs] turn and tear you to pieces.”

This then communicates more sensibly that the dogs are doing the turning and tearing, while the pigs are doing the trampling. Craig Blomberg noted how the terms “dogs” and “pigs” were both regularly used as derogatory epithets for Gentiles in ancient Judaism. There is also the possibility that Jesus is quoting or paraphrasing a proverb, much as we hear the saying “don’t cast your pearls before swine” used in modern English. Jesus thus commands us here not to give what is holy, what is from God, to dogs and pigs; they won’t appreciate it.

There seems to be a contrasting parallel here between “brothers” and “dogs,” which is similar to that of the “wise” and “fools” (or scoffers) in Proverbs. So then here Jesus is giving advice similar to that found in Proverbs 13:1 (and other passages): “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” Then the Matthew passage is saying, don’t be judgmental of others or think of yourself as better than them. Take care of your own faults before trying to point out where someone else has a problem.  You get back what you give to others. On the other hand, be careful to whom you give advice. They may turn on you or totally disregard what you have to say.


Where have you found yourself pointing a finger at someone else and what they did?


This series is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention in seminary to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”