Flags, Cards, and Whistles

Live and let live. It’s none of our business. Who are we to judge? Matthew 7:1 is arguably the most misused verse in all of the New Testament. Hey, there’s a log in my eye! Am I a hypocrite?

Flags, Cards, and Whistles ~ October 07, 2018 ~ Matthew 7:1-6

This month, over the next few weeks we are going to spend some time in the gospel of Matthew. Specifically, the seventh chapter, which is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Let’s begin by getting to know Matthew a little bit. Matthew, before he met Jesus, was a tax collector in Capernaum. He was known as Levi back then, the son of Alphaeus. Both Luke and Mark refer to him in their gospels as Levi, which means joined in harmony. However, it is not uncommon for a person to be given a new name, or a different name, after an encounter with God. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. Matthew was the name Jesus gave to Levi after his conversion.

Now, we’ve talked before about tax collectors. How many here are big fans of the IRS? Well, guess what? Tax collectors were no more popular back in Jesus’ day. In fact, tax collectors were literally despised by the Jews, for good reason. The Romans needed money, so they imposed taxes on the people who lived in their kingdom. They hired people to go and collect the taxes. Now, Jews and Romans were not friends, so if you went and worked for the Romans, it was like working for the enemy. So, if you took a job as a tax collector, number one, you were hated because you were working for the enemy. Number two, the Romans asked you to collect a certain amount of money. Once you reached that goal, anything you collect above and beyond that, you could keep. You’re not supposed to do that, but they turned their head and didn’t look, because as long as they got what’s coming to them, they didn’t care. So, tax collectors would collect what they needed to collect from you to pay Rome, and then they would collect an extra amount from you. You knew when you went to pay your taxes, you were being extorted – but you couldn’t say anything, because Rome protected their tax collectors as long as their tax collectors paid the amount they were supposed to bring in. So, you were doubly hated. You were working for the enemy, and you were extorting from your fellow Jews.

Now, I don’t know (it doesn’t say in Scripture), but I’m guessing that was weighing pretty heavily on Levi’s mind. His conscience was really, perhaps, starting to bother him, because when Jesus approached him, he responded immediately.

Flags, Cards, and Whistles Matthew at Booth

It says in Luke’s gospel, chapter 5:

Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. (Luke 5:27-28)

Simple request. Follow me and be my disciple. Levi leaves everything behind, a very lucrative job, good paycheck, and follows Jesus. So, obviously, Levi was probably being bothered by his occupation. Levi repents of his sin, and Jesus gives him a new name, Matthew, which means gift of God. He invites him to be one of his disciples and later on we realize that Matthew actually becomes one of the apostles.

Now, the gospel of Matthew is not written in chronological order. I don’t know if you realize that, see most people don’t. When we buy a book, we always open up the first page, and on the first page is the beginning of the story. You read the story as it unfolds, and on the last page is the end of the story. Books that we are familiar with are written in chronological order. The Bible is not. Now, Genesis is certainly the beginning of the story, and Revelation, the return of Jesus, is certainly the end of the story. But the 64 books in between are not always in chronological order. They are grouped together for different reasons; same with the New Testament. It’s the same with Matthew’s gospel. He doesn’t write his gospel in chronological order. So, when you are reading the gospel of Matthew, do not always assume that what took place in chapter 9 happened right after chapter 8. Sometimes, not always.

Matthew instead arranges his gospel through a series of six conversations. It is a very accurate account, because as a tax collector, Matthew possessed a certain skill that makes his writing unique and all the more exciting for Christians. You see, tax collectors were expected to know how to write shorthand. Does anybody know what shorthand is? Any ladies here that used to know how to write shorthand? My mom used to. When I was little she used to write shorthand, that’s one of her skills as secretary. And you watch somebody write shorthand and it’s just a bunch of scribbles, and dashes, and dots. It’s fascinating to watch them fly across the page. And then they can go back and read it to you – all these little scribbles that look like hieroglyphics to you, they can translate into words.

Writing shorthand was a skill you needed to have to be a tax collector because you needed to take accurate accounts. So, essentially, when it comes to Matthew, it means he could record what a person was saying word for word, as they spoke it. That means the gospel of Matthew is not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, but it’s an actual transcript of some of Jesus’ sermons. Much like a court stenographer who is at that little machine recording every single word that is spoken in a courtroom, Matthew had the ability to write down in shorthand every single word that people spoke, such as here in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, lots of people think the Sermon on the Mount is just what we call the Beatitudes in the beginning of chapter 5 (these will sound familiar to you):

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth…” (Matthew 5:3-5)

And on and on and on and on. Or in some versions, “Blessed are they that….” But that’s just the beginning. The Sermon on the Mount actually takes up chapter 5, chapter 6, and chapter 7. It’s three chapters long. Jesus is sitting on the hillside, the Mount of Olives, and he’s got a crowd before him – not just the disciples, not just the apostles, but followers of all stripes, and people who might be curious. So, there are lots of people sitting on the Mount of Olives as Jesus delivers this sermon that we’ve come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. And Matthew chapters 5-7 is a meticulous account, word for word, of Jesus’ great message. Before we get into it, would you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

So, in chapter 7, God, through Matthew, writes down what Jesus was saying to the crowd. At this point, he says:

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!”

(That seems kind of harsh, we’ll talk about that in a minute)…

“… They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:1-6)

Because pigs don’t know what to do with pearls, right? Pearls mean nothing to them. They’re jewelry to us, but you throw some pearls to the pigs, they don’t know what’s going on. They’re going to trample it and move on.

The reason I wanted to mention Matthew chapter seven was because beginning in Bible study this Wednesday at Experiencing God! for the next two weeks, we’re going to set some of our attention on the most misused, misquoted, and misunderstood verses in all the Bible. One of them – probably one of the chief ones – is Matthew 7:1. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” Or, you might have heard it in the King James version: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I believe this has the dubious distinction of being one of the most misused verses in all the New Testament by Christians and non-Christians alike. See, often it is misused as a shield for sin, or as an excuse for sin. When you see somebody doing something wrong, “Hey, judge not, lest ye be judged.” We allow people to justify living as however they please without any regard for moral boundaries or teachings found in God’s word. No accountability whatsoever.

It usually goes something like this: “But we’re all sinners! What gives me the right to make a moral judgment about somebody else? That’s God’s job!” While that may sound good to all of us, that is absolutely not what Jesus is saying here. Did you notice the difference between verse 1 and verse 2? Jesus begins with, “Do not judge others and you will not be judged.” And then the end of verse 2 he says, “The standard you use in judging is…” What a minute. You just told me I wasn’t supposed to judge! So, which is it? Am I supposed to judge, or am I supposed to have a standard to judge? I’m confused. Because people oftentimes, especially Christians, when they find a verse that they like, they just pull that one out, and they memorize that one and they throw it in your face whenever it’s convenient. They don’t read before it; they don’t read after it; they don’t try to find the context behind it; they don’t try to find the meaning was in the first century (which often can open up your eyes and your heart to what it’s trying to say today). They just pull out one that they like.

So, which is it, do not judge others, or there’s a standard you’re supposed to use when judging? Well, first of all you have to understand, Jesus is the ultimate judge of us all, and he and only he will determine our fate on Judgment Day. But those of us on Team Christian, who claim to be part of this Christian team, we don’t get off so easily as to say, “Oh, well, it’s none of my business. Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Sorry. That’s not how it works. We make moral judgments about people every day. Come on. Or, do you give money to every single person who comes up to you in Hartford and asks you for a dollar? Or do you make a judgment? So what if they’re going to take it and go buy some drugs or some alcohol. What’s that to you, we’re all sinners! Aren’t we all sinners? What gives us the right to make moral judgments about someone else? But we do. All the time.

We just went through a really difficult time in our country trying to determine our next Supreme Court Associate Justice, and people made all sorts of judgments on both sides of that issue. So, it’s so hypocritical to say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged! It’s none of my business!” when we judge all the time.

Jesus is saying there’s a standard that we’re supposed to be using. Not that we’re not supposed to judge at all, there’s a standard we’re supposed to be using. I mean, let’s face it. Elections are coming up in the next month and we will all vote based on who we believe is the best candidate. We will all make a judgment. We all best vote! We have an amazing opportunity in this country, that a lot of countries don’t have all over this world: the freedom to choose our leaders. There have been veterans that have gone to war and have given their lives so that we would have the freedom to vote at the ballot box. You have a responsibility to vote. You also have a responsibility to be an informed voter. Don’t walk into a voting booth and just check a block because somebody told you to or because you’ve always done it that way before. It’s incumbent upon us to learn the issues, to get to know our candidates, and to make an informed choice. But you’re supposed to vote! If you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear you complain about nothing afterwards! You had a chance. If things don’t go your way, stuff it! You’re supposed to vote. Alright, that’s my commercial.

So, it’s a responsibility of an American to vote – to make a judgment. Well, we also have a responsibility as a Christian – we do – to judge. We do. Paul – well, God through Paul – puts it this way in his Corinthian letters. In the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul had a new church. He was facing a brand new church full of brand new believers, so their kind of not really sure how this whole Christian thing works. The city of Corinth, people in Corinth, are surrounded by centuries of pagan tradition, pagan culture, pagan influence, but the chief deities in Corinth were Aphrodite and Poseidon.

Flags, Cards, and Whistles Aphrodite     Flags, Cards, and Whistles Poseidon

That was the competition for Jesus and the whole Christian church. And some of the worship for Aphrodite, in the temple of Aphrodite, it housed over a thousand cult prostitutes. I’m not exactly sure – well, I know what prostitutes do, I’m not stupid – but I’m not exactly sure what the point was. What exactly did you do for Aphrodite with a cult prostitute in order to fulfill whatever religious obligation you supposedly have? I don’t know. But that’s the kind of worship that surrounded this little church in the city of Corinth in the first century.

It wasn’t quite Sodom and Gomorrah, but it wasn’t that far off. But even knowing that, even knowing that atmosphere in which this little church existed, Paul was still shocked to find out what was going on in the Corinthian church. He writes in 1 Corinthians 5:

I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you – something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Now, we all know what living in sin is a euphemism for. He’s having intimate sexual relationships with his stepmother. Paul goes on:

You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship…

I told you not to associate yourselves with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers… You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. They surround us. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders…

– to judge people who are not believers –

But it is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. (1 Corinthians 5:2, 9-11)

Why are they celebrating? Why is nobody confronting this man at all? Why do they continue to pet his invisible dog and not say anything? I don’t know. It doesn’t say. Maybe he was a big giver, and they didn’t want his offering to go away. It’s incredible how many churches will do things and favor people because of big givers. Maybe he was powerfully connected. Maybe he was a Roman officer of some authority, and they were afraid. I have no idea. But here is a man sleeping with his stepmother, and they’re not only ignoring it, they are celebrating it. I mean, Paul says throw him out! You’re not supposed to allow that. Not inside the church, not amongst believers! He is saying (Paul), but aren’t we all just sinners? “What gives us the right to make moral judgments against someone else” is a cop out! There is someone in the church who is being flagrantly immoral, they are sleeping with their stepmother! And they’re all not only ignoring it, they’re celebrating it. Celebrating obvious immoral behavior. No! Christians are not supposed to pet the invisible dog.

You know the story, the emperor has no clothes. If a fellow believer walks in the meeting house this morning buck naked, we’re supposed to say, “Hey! Put some clothes on!” No one says, judge not lest ye be judged, that’s none of our business, we’re all sinners, some people want to wear clothes, some people don’t… no!

We, as Christians, have a responsibility to hold each other accountable. Each other – believers – not those on the outside. See, that’s the problem. Too many Christians want to condemn people who aren’t a part of the church. They don’t subscribe to this, so we cannot hold them to this standard. That’s not fair! Our job with the outside non-believer is to share with them the truth of the gospel so that they will become a believer, and they will come in the church, and now they agree to hold up this standard. As believers we all agree to the standards. When you said yes to Jesus, you said yes to God’s word. Period. There’s no compromise. Not just the verses you like – you said yes to all of it, from beginning to end. You don’t get to edit the book. I don’t get to edit the book. It’s the word of God.

So, we’re not supposed to judge outsiders. We are supposed to hold each other accountable. It made me think of the NFL. It’s football season. (The Jets are really blowing it, but whatever, what else is new?) If you walk onto the football field, you know the parameters in which you’re supposed to play, and if you illegally block someone in the back, that’s a penalty! A referee throws a penalty flag. “Illegal block in the back.” You knew that was wrong, you did it anyway. There’s a set of rules, right? In soccer they pull a yellow card, or if they do something really bad, they pull a red card. (But we don’t care about soccer, because we’re Americans.) In basketball, they got the whistle, right? Somebody travels, they blow the whistle.

Now, if you’re on the football field and somebody runs over to them and flashes a red card at them, the football player’s going to go, what? I don’t get it? What’s with the red card? I don’t do red cards, I’m a real man. (Just kidding.) A football player’s not going to understand a red card. A basketball player is not going to get a penalty flag. That doesn’t make sense to them, that’s not what they signed up for. So, an outsider, a non-believer – we can’t throw flags, cards, or whistles on people who haven’t subscribed – who haven’t joined the Christian team yet. We’re supposed to be sharing the gospel with them and loving them into the family. However, once you are a football player, once you are a soccer player, once you are in the NBA, you know the boundaries, and when you step outside of the boundaries, someone says something.

When Jesus says in verse 1, “Do not judge others and you will not be judged,” he is not advocating a hands off policy – live and let live, whatever, judge not lest ye be judged. Absolutely not. What he’s focusing on here is our tendency towards hypocrisy. See, Christians oftentimes get a big kick out of running up to somebody and throwing a flag on them, while they’re illegally blocking someone in the back as well. That’s the whole speck and log thing. For example, you should not overhear another believer using some really salty language, some profanity that would make a truck driver blush, then go over to them and in humility and gently and lovingly correct them in private as the Bible tells us to do it; and then a moment later get on the phone and share with a friend some juicy gossip about someone in the church. You can’t do that. You cannot correct someone else’s tongue and not be willing to restrain your own.

A father can’t say to his daughter, “You’re not wearing that to the mall! No way! Go put some clothes on!” and make her dress more modestly and send her off to the mall; and then when she leaves the house and he’s all alone, lock all the doors, go into my office, flip open my computer and start looking at porn. You cannot, as a father, set up a standard for your daughter that you’re unwilling to follow yourself. You can’t point out her speck when you’ve got a log in your own eye.

Now, judging our culture is God’s job, not ours. That’s what verse 6 is all about when he says, “Don’t waste what is holy on people that are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!” You can’t run around throwing flags on outsiders who don’t believe the gospel, who aren’t Christians. They’ll get the flag, and they’ll just, eh, whatever, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe in the Bible, it’s not my foundation of faith, I don’t believe that it’s true. So, trying to convince me and trying to hold me to these standards doesn’t make any sense. Don’t waste your time. That’s like throwing pearls to pigs. It doesn’t make any sense, they’ll just trample them and move on.

Too many Christians enjoy throwing flags, blowing whistles. We’re supposed to take someone aside in private, and gently and humbly and lovingly remind them, when you joined the team, you got an owner’s manual, and you said to the best of your ability, you were going to be obedient to God’s word. And what you’re doing right now is not consistent with God’s word. Is there any way I can help you over this issue? I mean, I know it’s tough. But how far, how far are you going to watch me going down the wrong road before you say something? How far am I going to watch you? How is that loving?

It kind of goes like this. I put my canoe in the water, and there’s a church member standing on the shoreline. Ah, that’s interesting. You see that, Pastor Adam just put his canoe in the water. They call over to another church member, do you believe that? There’s a canoe in the water. What do you think, that’s kind of unusual… All of a sudden you have this little cabal, six or seven church members going, man I can’t believe he put his canoe in the water. I don’t know that right around the corner is Niagara Falls!

Flags, Cards, and Whistles Niagara Falls

They all know Niagara Falls is there, I’m just fat, dumb, and happy right there in the middle of that river! And all they’re talking about with each other is, geez, I can’t believe he put his canoe in the water, what an idiot! Rather than saying, hey! There’s a big waterfall!

How far would you let me go? (Don’t answer that.)

What if I told you, gosh, I’m so excited. I’m just about to give my social security number and all my bank information to some guy because I won the Nigerian lottery! Is that what you’re going to say, go for it! How far would you let me go? I mean, you’re not really judging me as a person, not really. You’re judging a choice or a decision that I’m making, or that I have made. And as a Christian, I’m counting on you to gently and lovingly pull the red card on me, just as you should be able to count on me.

Now, before I run over and pull a red card on you, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be telling you to watch your mouth and blah blah blah, and the next thing you know, two minutes later be talking about you behind your back. We will be judged in the same way we judge others. Other believers. We’re not talking about outsiders, non-believers, we’re talking about believers.

Now look, everyone has a past. I know it, you know it, and most importantly, Jesus knows it. We also know that Jesus is all about forgiveness. That’s what that cross is about, that’s what this table is about. But don’t misuse Matthew 7 as a shield for sin. “Judge not lest ye be judged, live and let live. Let him go, we’re all sinners after all, what gives us the right to make any moral judgments about anyone else? I’ll tell you what gives you the right: this.

That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that we should not be talking about morality while celebrating a guy who’s sleeping with his stepmother! That’s what he’s saying! We all signed up for Team Christian. That means we all agreed that the Bible would be our guide for faith and practice. We certainly understand that if a football player got caught using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs), that there would be consequences, right? Maybe there’s consequences for, say, deflating footballs. I don’t know! And that’s ok, everybody gets that. Oh yeah, yeah, string him up! Well, there are consequences for being outside of the bounds here too. There should be consequences for sleeping with your stepmother.

I know this is hard. This whole Christian life thing is hard at times. That’s why we need some help. Every once in a while we need some help. And sometimes, the truth is throwing a flag, blowing a whistle, pulling a red card is the only thing that will get our attention.

Flags, Cards, and Whistles Flags

Look, South Church is an imperfect Christian community loving, serving, and equipping an imperfect world; and we should be willing as brothers and sisters in Christ to help one another, to hold each other accountable, so that this church would honor and glorify God. I don’t want Paul to talk about the people at this church the same way that he does the people in Corinth. I want him – more importantly I want the Lord – to say, look at those folks at South Church. They watch out for one another. They warn each other when Niagara Falls is around the corner, and when necessary, they pull a red card, or they blow a whistle in a gentle and respectful way. They must really love each other.

And all God’s people said, Amen!

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