Chapter 4

Christian Characteristics Matthew 7:1–5

The Uncritical Temper • matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Criticism is part of the ordinary mental powers of human beings. We have a sense of proportion; we see where things are wrong and we’ll often pull the other person to bits. But Jesus says, “As a disciple, cultivate the uncritical temper.”

In the spiritual domain, criticism is love turned sour. In a wholesome spiritual life there is no room for criticism. The critical faculty is an intellectual one, not a moral one. If criticism becomes a habit it will destroy the moral energy of life and paralyze the spiritual force. The only person who can criticize human beings is the Holy Spirit. Human beings dare not criticize each other, because as soon as they do, they put themselves in a superior position to the ones they criticize.

A critic must be removed from what he or she criticizes. Before we can criticize a work of art or a piece of music, our information must be complete. We must stand away from what we criticize as superior to it. No human being can ever take that attitude toward another; if we do, we put ourselves in the wrong position and grieve the Holy Spirit.

People who are continually criticized become good for nothing; the effect of the criticism is to knock all the initiative and power out of them. Criticism is deadly in its effect because it divides people’s powers and prevents their being a force for anything. That is never the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone is in the true position of a critic; He is able to show what is wrong without wounding and hurting.

The temper of mind that makes us eagle-eyed in seeing where others are wrong does not do them any good, because the effect of our criticism is to paralyze their powers. That only proves that the criticism was not of the Holy Spirit; we have put ourselves into the position of a superior person.

Jesus says a disciple can never stand away from another life and criticize it. So He advocates an uncritical temper: “Judge not.” Beware of anything that puts you in the place of the superior person.

The counsel of Jesus is to abstain from judging. At first, this sounds strange because the characteristic of the Holy Spirit in a Christian is to reveal the things that are wrong. But the strangeness is only on the surface. The Holy Spirit does reveal what is wrong in others, but His discernment is never for purposes of criticism—it is for intercession. When the Holy Spirit reveals something of the nature of sin and unbelief in another person, His purpose is not to make us feel the smug satisfaction of a critical spectator—“Well, thank God, I am not like that!” It is to make us take hold of God for that person, so much so that God enables him or her to turn away from the wrong thing.

Never ask God for discernment, because discernment increases your responsibility terrifically. You cannot get out of it by talking, but only by holding up those people in intercession until God puts them right. “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death” (1 john 5:16). Our Lord allows no room for criticism in the spiritual life, but He does allow room for discernment and discrimination.

If we let these searchlights go straight down to the root of our spiritual life, we will see why Jesus says, “Don’t judge”: we won’t have time to. Our whole life is to be lived so completely in the power of God that He can pour through us the rivers of living water to others. Some of us are so concerned about the outflow that it dries up. We continually ask, “Am I of any use?” Jesus tells us how to be of use: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (john 7:38).

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” If we let that maxim of our Lord’s sink into our hearts, we will find it brings us to a halt. “Judge not”? Why, we are always doing that! The average Christian is the most penetratingly critical individual—there is nothing of the likeness of Jesus Christ about many of us. A critical temper is a contradiction to all our Lord’s teaching. Jesus basically says of criticism, “Apply it to yourself, never to anyone else.” Or, as the apostle Paul put it, “Why do you judge your brother? . . . For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (romans 14:10).

Whenever you are in a critical temper, it is impossible to enter into communion with God. Criticism makes you hard and vindictive and cruel, and leaves you with the flattering idea that you are a superior person. It is impossible to develop the characteristics of a saint and maintain a critical attitude. The first thing the Holy Spirit does is to give us a spring-cleaning, and there is no possibility of pride being left in us after that. I never met a person I could despair of after realizing all that lies in me apart from the grace of God.

Stop having a measuring rod for others. In essence, Jesus says about judging, “Don’t. Be uncritical in your temper, because in the spiritual domain you can accomplish nothing by criticism.”

One of the hardest lessons to learn is to leave the cases we do not understand to God. In every life, there is always one fact more of which we know nothing. So Jesus says, “Judge not.” We cannot do that once and assume we are done. We always have to remember that this is our Lord’s rule of conduct.

The Undeviating Test • matthew 7:2: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

This statement of our Lord’s is not a haphazard guess—it is an eternal law that works from God’s throne right down. The measure you dole out is measured to you again. Jesus speaks of it here in connection with criticism. If you have been shrewd in finding the defects of others, that will be exactly the measure brought back to you—people will judge you in the same way.

“I am perfectly certain that man has been criticizing me,” we think. Well, what have you been doing? Life serves back in the coin you pay; you are not necessarily paid back by the same person, but the law holds good: “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged.” And it is so with regard to good as well as evil. If you have been generous, you will meet with generosity again; if you dole out criticism and suspicion to others, that is the way you will be treated. There is a difference between repayment and revenge. According to our Lord, the basis of life is repayment, but He allows no room for revenge.

In Romans 2, this principle is applied even more definitely.

What if I am guilty myself of what I criticize in another person? Every wrong I see in you, God locates in me; every time I judge you, I condemn myself. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (romans 2:1).

And God does only not look at the act, He looks at the possibility. Do we believe the statements of the Bible to begin with? For instance, do we believe that what we criticize in another we are guilty of ourselves? We can always see sin in another person because we ourselves are sinners. The reason we see hypocrisy and fraud and unreality in others is because those sins are all in our own hearts. The great danger is when we call carnal suspicion the conviction of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit convicts people, He convicts for conversion, that people might be converted and show other good characteristics. We have no right to put ourselves in the place of the superior person and tell others what we see is wrong; that is the work of God’s Spirit.

The great characteristic of the saint is humility. We must fully realize that all these sins (and others) would have been shown in our own lives but for the grace of God. Therefore, we have no right to judge. Jesus says, basically, “Don’t judge others, because if you do, it will be measured back to you exactly as you have judged.”

Which of us would dare stand before God and say, “Lord, judge me as I have judged my fellow humans”? We have often judged other people as sinners; if God had judged us like that, we would be in hell. God judges us through the marvelous atonement of Jesus Christ.

The Undesirable Truth-Teller • matthew 7:3–5

When it comes to pointing out the defects of others, the “helpful” boldness of the average truth-teller is inspired of the Devil. The Devil is eagle-eyed over things he can criticize, and we are all shrewd in pointing out the speck in our fellow believer’s eye. It puts us in a superior position.

Where do we find that characteristic? In the Lord Jesus? Never! The Holy Spirit works through saints without their knowledge; He works through them as light. If you do not understand this, you will think your preacher is criticizing you all the time. He is not—it is the Holy Spirit in the preacher discerning the wrong in you.

The last curse in our lives as Christians is the person who becomes a providence to us; he is quite certain we cannot do anything without his advice, and if we do not heed it, we are sure to go wrong. Jesus Christ ridiculed that notion with terrific power: “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Hypocrite—literally, “play actor”—one whose reality is not in keeping with his or her sincerity.

Hypocrites consciously play two parts for their own ends. When we find fault with other people we may be quite sincere; yet Jesus says in reality we are frauds. We cannot get away from the penetrating words of Jesus Christ. If I see the speck in my brother’s eye, it is because I have a plank in my own. The statement really hits home. If I have let God, by His mighty grace, remove the plank from my own outlook, I will carry with me the implicit confidence that what God has done for me He can easily do for you—because you have only a splinter, and I had a log of wood!

This is the confidence God’s salvation gives us. We are so amazed at the way God has altered us that we can despair of no one: “I know God can undertake for you—you are only a little wrong, but I was wrong to the remotest depths of my mind. I was a mean, prejudiced, self-interested, self-seeking person and God has altered me. So I can never despair of you, or of anyone else.”

Our Lord’s statements save us from the fearful peril of spiritual conceit—“God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (luke 18:11). They also make us realize why such a man as Daniel bowed his head in vicarious humiliation and intercession—“confessing my sin and the sin of my people” (daniel 9:20). That call comes every now and again to individuals and to nations.