Matthew 7:1-12

Matthew 7:1-12

What You Give Is What You Get

Note:  This sermon was preached by Executive Pastor Ken Epp at First Free in St. Louis. 

Introduction:  The Golden Rule!  Ask the average church attender and they’ll probably be able to recite it for you.  Ask the average person on the street, and they may give you some form of it, or at least remember hearing it as a child.  Actually, when I worked as a young man in manufacturing and then the trucking industry, the rule was: “Do unto others before they do unto you!”  It was a dog-eat-dog, stab-them-in-the-back world where everyone looked out for his own interests.  You knew that eventually someone—perhaps even a person you trusted—would turn on you to his or her own advantage:  it might be for a promotion ahead of you; it might be to settle a score from a grudge that they had nursed against you for months or years.  So you did it to them when the opportunity presented itself, aware that if it came back to haunt you, that would only be fair.  Sort of a survival of the fittest mentality.  Not a great way to treat other people, but it gets many by in life, doesn’t it?

If you’ve been following this sermon series, you know that we’re in the passage of Scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  In this extended lesson, Jesus is teaching His disciples what Kingdom living is about.  He began with the beatitudes; He talked about us being salt and light in the world; He raised the bar on righteous living, by focusing on issues such as murder, adultery, divorce, taking oaths, getting revenge, and loving our enemies; He gave a caution about how we give to others—whether publicly to be seen by men or privately to be recognized by God; He taught us to pray, to fast, to store up heavenly instead of earthly treasures, and not to worry.  That’s quite a list, covering the major areas of life and relationships.  

In the passage before us today—which culminates in the Golden Rule—Jesus drives home His point about Kingdom living in a different way.  He tells us that what goes around does indeed come around; that what you give is what you get.  But He also answers a very important ethical and moral question:  Why should I treat others the way I want to be treated?”  What’s the point in it?  The point is that my treatment of others is a measure of my love for God.  That treatment cannot be based on self-righteousness; it requires discernment; and it is guided by the model of God’s generosity.  Please follow as I read Matthew 7:1-12 in the New International Version.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in 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 in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me 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 from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Danger of Self-Righteousness (1-5)

Jesus begins with a very strong statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  Now, some have taken this verse to mean that we cannot pass judgment on anyone for anything at all.  In fact, in this current age of moral relativism that you and I live in, such teaching is very appealing to the human heart.  If I am not allowed to judge your actions, then you are not allowed to judge mine, either.  It’s live and let live, as long as we don’t tread on each other’s territory.  

It might also be interpreted, then, that it’s wrong for anyone in God’s family—the Church—to evaluate others or to make judgments about them.  Yet, from other Scriptures, we know that this is clearly not what Jesus is saying here.  He’s not telling us that we shouldn’t ever make evaluations about another person—even a fellow-believer.  Quite the opposite is true, in fact. 

Listen to 1 Corinthians 5:3-5:  

Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit.  And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.  When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (NIV)

Paul is telling the Corinthian believers how to deal with a brother who willfully commits sexual sin.  And even though it was an Apostle who was making the command, the Corinthian church still had to exercise discipline by carrying out his command.  A judgment had to be made about this man’s sin.

Or consider Galatians 6:1-2:  

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ. (NIV)

Here Paul is encouraging loving restoration of an erring believer.  But for that to occur, someone must make a judgment about the fact that this believer is caught in a sin of some sort.  So it’s clear in Scripture that God does instruct us to make certain evaluative assessments of others, even in His Body, the Church.

What, then, does Jesus mean by this statement: “Do not judge?”  What He means is that, as Christ-followers, we are not to form negative, condemning opinions about the motives or the heart of others—especially those who also claim to belong to God.  We are not to put others down for the sake of lifting ourselves above them, because when we do, we only reveal our own sinful self-righteousness.  That’s what the Scribes and Pharisees—the religious leaders of that day—did so often and so proudly.  But Jesus has already said (Matt. 5:20) that our righteousness must exceed theirs. 

Have you noticed how quickly we rush to judgment on others?  Do you ever wonder why we do that?  We watch early news reports of crimes committed in our city, and we assume guilt before innocence—especially if the alleged perpetrator is non-Caucasian. When the Enron case began to break last year, how many of us rushed to judgment on the executives, even before charges had been laid or trials held?  Why do we do that?  

If you have sat in Pastor Gene Moniz’ “Inside Out” class here at First Free; or if you’ve read Larry Crabb’s Inside Out; or if you’ve read an older book by Dr. J. Grant Howard, The Trauma of Transparency, you may have come to understand that self-righteous judgment of others is rooted in the Big I – pride, with its demands for perfection and its desire for self-protection.  

One writer says this of self-righteousness: “Judging others is profoundly arrogant, and arrogance in turn is rooted in our deep insecurity.”   Again, he says: “At the core, judgmentalism is a failure to admit our own sin.”[i]  Isn’t that just what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did when they dragged before Him a woman caught in the act of adultery (probably set up by them), and tried to trap Him into agreeing to her stoning (John 8:1-11)?  Isn’t that what one of the thieves crucified beside Christ meant when he hurled insults at Jesus and demanded that, if He were the Christ, He should save Himself and them too?  The Scribes and Pharisees were declaring, “Look, we’re so much better than this woman of the streets.  We deserve to live; she deserves to die.  Don’t you agree, Teacher?”  The dying but unrepentant thief was saying, “Look, Jesus, you’re no better than we are, otherwise you’d save us all!”  In both cases, arrogance and pride leads to a judgmental spirit.

So Jesus tells us, “Don’t judge, lest you too be judged.”  If you want to live like a citizen of My Kingdom, He says, then don’t allow the sin of your own self-righteousness to lead you into making negative moral judgments of others by trying to read their hearts.  If you do, then understand that your own judgment may come back around to haunt you.

Expanding on verse 1, Jesus tells us that we can expect to receive back exactly the kind of treatment we give to others.  Our unrighteous, self-protective actions toward them have a boomerang effect, returning on our own heads, sometimes months or even years after we initially take them.  Back in the 1980s, when I was in Christian college administration, I took one of those actions, against a Christian brother, no less.  I was the Vice President for Student Services in a Christian Liberal Arts College, with the Admissions Department as one of my responsibilities.  When I arrived at the school in the summer of 1986, I discovered that our Director of Admissions was a good ole’ boy from the South who walked around with a toothpick in his mouth—and he did it while taking prospective students and their parents on college tours, no less!  

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a Southerner (especially since the college was inthe deep South), or with a toothpick.  But the combination of those things—on the job—coupled with the knowledge that our enrollments had been slipping, was too much for me to bear.  We had an image to protect, and I didn’t think this man could do that for us.  Besides, I had heard a complaint or two from college alumni about him.  So, using the pretext of financial emergency, I fired this Director of Admissions while retaining his younger staff people.  

As one might have predicted, I created an immediate firestorm among his faculty colleagues.  I soon learned what I should have discovered earlier—that he had served in almost every important role in the school short of the presidency itself; that he was a much-loved faculty member; and that he, a born and bred Southerner, had just been fired by a young, upstart “Canadian Yankee.”  Resentment seethed among many; and five years later, it came back on my head in a five-minute conversation with the college president, who fired me!  Ironically, he had his “financial” reasons at that time as well.  

You see, the judgments we make about others, when done for the wrong motives and for the purpose of finding fault or condemning them, inevitably come back to haunt us.  Bible commentator William Hendriksen puts it this way:

         The inclination to discover and severely condemn the faults, real or imaginary, of others, while passing lightly over one’s own frequently even more lamentable violations of God’s holy law, was common among the Jews … especially among the Pharisees (Luke 18:9; John 7:49), and is common always and everywhere.  According to the words of Jesus … the habitual self-righteous faultfinder must remember that he himself can expect to be condemned, and this not only by men but also and especially by God …[ii]   

So we should be very careful how we treat others.

Now in verses 3-5 Jesus gives us a graphic word-picture of what He means by this principle.        

         Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, “Let me 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 from your brother’s eye.

Notice how close to home Jesus brings this illustration.  He doesn’t give advice about removing a speck from a “neighbor’s” eye, or from a “stranger’s” eye, or even from the eye of some tribal pagan in the jungles of Africa or India.  Instead, he narrows the focus right down to where it hurts the most—to one whom you would call your “brother.”  He’s talking about Christians making sinful, self-righteous judgments against other Christians.  Isn’t it funny how those we love we hurt the most!?!  Perhaps that’s because, having come so close to that other person—whether husband, wife, blood brother or sister, or fellow-believer, we know them too well.  We can see faults that others miss or overlook from a distance.  And then we use that intimate knowledge to throw back at them in a moment of anger or as we attempt to make ourselves look good at their expense.  I don’t know about you, but I find myself doing that all too often.

Ironically, most of the time, it’s not even an issue of something real big—a huge sin or personal fault or major mistake on the other person’s part.  In marriage, it’s usually a series of little things that slowly add up over time (as we add them up in our minds), until finally we’re saying things like, “You always leave your dirty clothes lying around!”  “You never iron my shirts like I want them!” “You’re just like your mother!”  “Oh yeah? Well, your father was a drunken bum!”  

In the church, it might start with differing opinions about worship (should we sing hymns or praise songs?), Student Ministries (should we have social events every weekend?), Small Churches or Small Groups (should we have both?).  Soon, what began as something quite insignificant has escalated out of control, and we find ourselves with factions in the church or divisions in our marriage.  But it begins, says Jesus, with that “speck of dust” that we see in our brother’s eye.  Somehow, we don’t have to look too carefully to find those irritants.  No matter how small and almost invisible they might be, we can spot them in others, can’t we?     

When the dust settles and the smoke of battle clears, we usually find that we’re left with the very point Jesus is making here:  the intention was all wrong because, in my effort to point out the sin of my brother, I’ve overlooked what amounts to a beam of wood in my own eye.  The word translated “plank” (NIV) can also be rendered as “log,” or a “beam,” that is, the “main support beam of a house.”  Hyperbole, to be sure.  Overstatement for the sake of making His point.  Picture it in your mind’s eye for a moment!  What’s He saying?  Simply this:  to go through life with major, unresolved issues of my own is far worse than anything I might condemn in my brother.  Therefore, I shouldn’t judge because I have neither the right nor the clear sight to do so.

How else do such judgments occur in the church?  What do they look and sound like?  Here are a few examples:

1.  My self-talk.  Do I mentally destroy people without saying a word to them?

2.  Kitchen chatter.  What do my spouse and I talk about over the kitchen sink (as I’m washing the dishes)?  Do we take other Christians apart?

  • How often do we have “roast preacher” for dinner?  Is it on today’s menu?
  • Do we disguise our Christian gossip as “prayer requests” or “confidentially speaking,” and subtly lead people to judgment about others?

We do that so easily and quickly, don’t we?  Picking microscopic particles out of our brother’s eye (even in their absence) while missing the log in our own.  In fact, the words Jesus uses in verse 3 to describe the act of seeing are different.  He asks, “why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye”—the common word for simple sight or vision.  But then he intensifies the idea by saying, “and you pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.”  That’s amazing but tragic, isn’t it?!  How can a person do that?  John MacArthur ventures a response:

         The wretched and gross sin that is always blind to its own sinfulness is self-righteousness, the sin that Jesus repeatedly condemns in the scribes and Pharisees ….   Almost by definition, self-righteousness is a sin of blindness, or of grossly distorted vision, because it looks directly at its own sin and still imagines it sees only righteousness.[iii]  

It’s also what James talks about when he says:  

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:23-24)

Now, for some of us, that’s a real blessing!  In fact, full-length mirrors are much worse!  But James drives home his point about the danger of self-righteousness two verses later, when he says: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).   When I forget who I am and focus on who you’re not but I expect you to be (and I tell others about it), I’m committing the sin of self-righteous judgment against you.

What is Jesus’ conclusion about such a person?  In verse 5 He calls him a “hypocrite.”  A stage actor.  Someone who, as Pastor Andrus pointed out a few weeks ago, speaks from behind a mask.  When you see or hear this person, you’re not seeing or hearing the genuine article.  This is a word that Christ normally reserved for the scribes and Pharisees (See Matthew 6:5, 15; 23:13, 16, 23, 25, 29—and verse 33 for good measure!)  But in the case of judging a fellow-believer, that harsh term is applied by our Lord to any among us who would draw self-righteous conclusions about our brother.  MacArthur concludes on this point:

         Whenever we assign people to condemnation without mercy because they do not do something the way we think it ought to be done or because we believe their motives are wrong, we pass judgment that only God is qualified to make.[iv]

If my treatment of others is a measure of my love for God, then I need to watch carefully for the danger of self-righteousness, lest it cause me to miss seeing what’s really important—the beam of wood in my own eye rather than the speck of dust in yours.

The Need for Discernment (6)

We turn now to what some have called a “hard saying of Jesus.”  As you first read through this passage, verse six seems to stand out by itself.  Having warned us against the sin of self-righteousness, Jesus now appears to change course completely, when He says:

         Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces (6).

What does this new warning have to do with the preceding context?  And how will it lead us to the verses about asking, seeking, and finding which will follow, leading up to the Golden Rule?  

We need to keep in mind what the Lord is teaching in the entire passage (verses 1-12):  He is giving His disciples instructions about how they ought to live in relationship to others, especially their brothers in the faith, the family of God—that is, how they ought to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Remember, He has taught them already that they are the light of the world and, as such, they are to let their light shine before people so that they may see the good deeds of Christians and glorify the Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).  

The first step in that process, He has told us here in chapter 7, is to examine yourself to make sure that your motives are pure and that your spiritual eyesight is 20-20.  If you’re going to live a righteous, holy, and humble life, you have no option but to look at yourself in a brutally honest way, making sure you understand your own depravity before you judge someone else.  Otherwise, God’s light can’t shine clean and bright through you.

Now, He says, you also need to examine others, because, as you seek to live out your Christianity by the power of God, there will be some who do not understand what you’re doing and will reject both you and Christianity no matter how you live before them or what you say to them.  That’s why Jesus called the Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and vipers—He knew their heart, because they constantly revealed it in their actions.  He knew that the majority of them would never accept Him or His teaching, much less the sacrificial offer of His own life as a payment for their sin.  Even Jesus, in all of His grace and mercy, ultimately rejected these supreme examples of religious bigotry and self-righteousness.  

In a similar way, He now warns His disciples that we too may have to stop presenting what is holy—the Gospel of God—to such people.  We may have to reserve the pearls of God’s grace—the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus—for those who will respond positively to it and accept it.  Of course, the question immediately arises:  How can I know who will and who won’t?  God doesn’t place red flags over the heads of those will reject the Gospel and green flags over those who will accept it, does He?  And He tells us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, doesn’t He?  So, how can I know the difference?  

Do you see why this is such a hard saying?  Sometimes, the only thing left for us to do is to withdraw from a person who persistently rejects the message we share.  Hopefully, we’re not making the Gospel obnoxious by shoving it down that person’s throat.   But when we have shared our message persistently, in love and humility, and an unbeliever treats it with scorn and contempt, God does not call on us to keep sharing that message indefinitely.  Ultimately, that person will bear his or her own guilt for what they did with what they heard from us.  

Such people, says Jesus, are like “dogs” and “swine,” both of which were despised in Jewish society.  The “dogs” referred to here were not your common, household Fido that we know today.  These were curs, wild, vicious, untamable hounds that scavenged for food in the garbage dumps and back streets of society.  If you met them, they would just as soon tear you to pieces as ignore you. And the “swine” were little better.  Jewish society had hated pigs for millennia.  They were an unclean animal and could easily be as vicious as wild dogs.  If you, for some strange reason, tossed them a few pearls, they might taste them for a moment but then, realizing they had been deceived, turn on you and tear you to pieces with their hooves and teeth.  

That’s the way it is with some unbelievers, isn’t it?  You share your faith from a pure heart; you try to introduce them to the kind of spiritual life that you know they need, yet they turn and scoff you.  They call you a weakling, one who needs God as a crutch in your life.  If only you’d grow up and realize that you can stand on your own without this God-belief to prop you up.  I’ve had personal experience with such a person—one with whom I repeatedly shared my faith story and my theology until I had no arguments left to share.  My defining moment with him came when I sent him a book by author Peter Kreeft, which contained what I considered were some excellent and convincing philosophical and theological arguments for the existence of God.  His response?  Absolute rejection and scorn of me for even recommending the book to him.  

Try the Bible, you say?  Oh, he had long since rejected that one, too.  And I finally had to admit to myself that all of my fancy arguments—no matter how sincere and well-intentioned—were only driving this man farther from God rather than drawing him close to the Kingdom.  So I stopped sharing and just prayed—which I continue to do today for this person.  Will he ever come to Christ?  I surely hope so.  But is it my responsibility to keep sending him tracts, book titles, and stories of my faith journey?  I don’t think so.  I was just casting what was holy before a dog; throwing valuable pearls to a pig.  Does that make me unloving toward that person?  Absolutely not!  I love him as I would my own brother.  But will I keep exposing the Gospel to his ridicule?  Just as surely not!  He stands before God on his own now.  He knows the truth, yet he has willfully rejected it.  

As you and I strive to live the Kingdom life, only godly discernment will enable us to know when the sharing of our lives and the truth of God’s Word are falling, not just on deaf ears but scornful and stony hearts.  The danger is that we may draw that judgment prematurely.  The corollary danger, however, is that we may overstay our welcome and invite ridicule of something that God regards as of great value.  

But we’re not left alone in this task.  Jesus now turns to the Source of such godly discernment—the only One who can help us avoid self-righteousness and be discerning we handle the wealth of God’s treasures before others.   

The Model of God’s Generosity (7-11)

Do you want to live a life free of self-righteousness?  Do you want to have godly discernment in your relationships?  Then turn to the model of the Father and make that your own, says Jesus.  Verses 7-11 are simply an expansion of what Jesus has been saying in the preceding verses.  He has lifted the bar on relationships in the Kingdom:  radical self-examination, godly evaluation of others. Who can do these things successfully and consistently?  It seems as if only God Himself would be able to do so.  And that’s the very point that Jesus now makes.  God is the only one who is able to do this perfectly, yet He has commanded us to live this way also.  Therefore, our only option is to go to Him and ask for the wisdom, the discernment, the humility, to live like a Kingdom child.  And when we do that, we’ll find Him overflowing with generosity, to give us exactly what we’re asking for (verses 7-8).  

Jesus uses a very earthy example (verses 9-11) to illustrate His point.  Human fathers give their children what they need, don’t they?  If my son asks for bread, I don’t give him a stone, do I?  It would be a foolish and cruel joke to hand him a flat stone that looks like a piece of bread and say, “Here you go, son, take a bite!  Tastes real good!”  That would be a deceptive act.  Or if he asks for a piece of fish, I don’t substitute broiled snake meat, do I?  That, too, would be an unkind and unloving act.  No, we human fathers delight in giving our children good gifts.  If that’s true, then how much more true is it of God our Father who, when we ask Him for the gift of humility or discernment will give it graciously and abundantly!  

In fact, the “best gift” that God will give us as His children is the Holy Spirit Himself.  In the parallel passage to this one, Gospel writer Luke says this:

         If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:13)

What a powerful promise; and what fantastic power for Kingdom living:  to ask for and receive the Holy Spirit—the only One who can provide us with what we need to live this Christian life effectively.  We can’t do it by ourselves, but God doesn’t ask us to!  He gives us the potential for godly living by implanting His Spirit in us when we come to Christ.  He tells us, in Ephesians 1:13-14:

         And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (NIV)  

By His power, you and I can live righteous, holy, and discerning lives that reach the standard God has set for us.

Summary (12)

All of which brings us to the famous “Golden Rule.”  Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  What goes around comes around.  What you give is what you get.  Why is this principle so important?  Because my treatment of others is a measure of my love for God.  And my treatment of you, when the Holy Spirit is in control of my life, will be radically different than what it would be if I were in charge of myself!  

In conclusion, we need to ask ourselves a few questions:  If I ridicule or despise others, can it be said that I truly love God?  Will my love for God allow me to draw negative, condemning conclusions about another person, especially when only God can measure their heart and motivation?  Am I allowing the Spirit of God to examine my life each day, to point out my own hypocritical sin instead of seeing some tiny imperfection in another person?  

The bottom line is this:  Does my relationship with God make a difference in my relationships with other people?  How will this Golden Rule make a difference in my life—and the lives of those I touch—tomorrow morning?  Will I speak more gently to the waiter or waitress at my breakfast meeting over at Uncle Bill’s?  Will I tip 20% instead of the usual Christian 5%, whether the service is great or poor?  Will I pay my taxes—all of them—cheerfully because I’d want to be treated that way myself if I were running the government?  Will I lavish God’s love on my neighbors (not to mention my fellow Christ-followers) because God has already lavished it on me?  

And how will I treat other Christians in this Body of Christ—First Evangelical Free Church—when they disagree with me?  If I’m committed to loving God and loving others; if I’m convinced that I want to be treated kindly and fairly by them, then it must change how I treat them also.  When I do that, the world looks on and shakes its head in utter amazement!  The Body of Christ is built up on the principle of love; and God is able to shine His light through us.  Treat others the way you want to be treated because that’s the simple summary of everything that the Word of God teaches us about Kingdom living.


Golden Rule





[i] Pastor Donovan Followill , “Don’t Leap To Judge . . . Look To Heal,” sermon, December 4, 1994, 2.

[ii] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, 357.

[iii] John MacArthur, The New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7.  Winona Lake:  BMH Books, 1985, 435.

[iv] MacArthur, 433.