Reading What Isn't There

“Judge others, but you are exempt from judgment. You must go out and tell it like it is, exposing sinners wherever you find them. You will receive a special bonus for each evil you expose.”
—Matthew 7:1-2, Reversed Fractured 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.”
—Matthew 7:1-2 NIV

First, let’s clear something up. In English and in Greek, the word ‘judge’ has two meanings. One means simply to appraise. We certainly can’t get anywhere in life if we do not appraise each other, because then managers couldn’t review employees, teachers couldn’t grade their students’ papers, and churches would have no way of determining whether their members are in good standing. Recommendations would be worthless, if we bothered to give them. Scripture not only permits us to appraise the value of each other’s temporal contributions, we are even commanded to do so. In the first sentence, Jesus has the second meaning of “judge” in mind, which is “to condemn.” It is quite okay to say that Rev. Jones is a lousy preacher but a ready friend and able counselor; it is quite another thing to circle the man’s house armed with lurid signs that denounce him as a sinner who is going to hell. The former situation opens up channels of communication, which can allow him to work to improve his preaching in a community of love; the latter situation cuts off all communication and leaves the victim outwardly defiant and inwardly terrified and even obsessed with thoughts of hopelessness and self-destruction.

I am not a clinical psychologist, but the Spirit has led me to many people who were driven to suicide attempts by the condemnations of well-meaning Christians who got stuck on the first of the “four spiritual laws.” I can only plead with you to heed what Jesus says. An Old Testament prophet said that mercy and justice are greater than sacrifice; I tell you that Jesus died to save sinners, not to validate a system of theology. It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed with enthusiasm so that what looks to you like an abstract exposition of theological truth becomes to the recipient a lynch mob, and many lambs have fallen over the edge of the precipice as a result of people getting carried away like that.

Jesus died for the rejected, sin-sick, wounded, Bible-shy lambs. He’ll really be upset if He finds you hurting them. So do not sacrifice His precious lambs on the altar of any theology. After all, you’ve changed your mind about theology before, so there’s a good chance you might have to revise it in the future. Do not overwhelm the lost with a sense of their lostness so that they despair of any salvation. Do not condemn, or as Jesus assures you, you will be condemned. Remember the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive me my sins, as I forgive others” and do not make it into a curse. Appraise people in ways that you won’t mind being appraised, giving them the benefit of the doubt and lending them a loving, helping hand to help them up. Do not overwhelm people with condemnation, or you will be overwhelmed with it too.

“You have been given a special gift of discernment to remove specks of sawdust from your brother’s eye. Why do you spend so much time in the mirror looking at yourself? Go to your brother and say, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ and then go tend to yourself.”
—Matthew 7:3-5, Reversed Fractured Version

“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.”
—Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

Note that Jesus doesn’t say you shouldn’t meddle into other people’s affairs. He said you should not meddle into other people’s affairs until you’ve straightened out your own. That implies that there will come a time for some constructive meddling in the future…

At some point in your life, you had a problem that revealed so many embarrassing things about you that you didn’t want to share it with anyone, but yet it was so huge you couldn’t ignore it. So, certain of condemnation, you gathered the courage to approach a Great Saint In The Lord, the light of whose spirituality blinded you, and you confessed your problem. As you did so, your face grew hot, your hands were clammy, and your voice quavered in shame. You studied his face, certain that any moment he would denounce you sternly as a fraud, a fake, a false Christian. Finally, as you came to the end of your sordid story, you began to sob.

Then to your surprise and great relief, the face that seemed so stern became compassionate. The Great Saint In The Lord recounted his own struggle with the very same problem, put the whole thing into perspective, and gave you some helpful hints for surviving it until you can overcome it. You left the room walking at least three feet off the floor in elation and empowerment.

Now haven’t you noticed that the most spiritual people you know today would have been the most messed-up people you knew if you had met them ten or twenty years before?

Here’s what is going on. Don’t go off half-cocked giving out spiritual advice when you’ve got splinters in your eyes. Your advice will be unbending and uncompassionate. Rather, look to the splinters in your eyes. They weren’t placed there by some enemy, they are gifts from God to teach you compassion and grace, so that some day you can be a Great Saint In The Lord who can counsel lost sheep such as you are now. God has given you a training course for the most wonderful career there is! Remove the splinters from your own eyes, so that you can fulfill God’s will for you, as another Great Saint In The Lord who compassionately and gently guides sinners onto the paths of righteousness.

On that last day, imagine how pleased the Shepherd will be at the lost lambs that you helped to save!

“Wherever you go, make a big deal about your religion. Pray loudly over restaurant meals until the whole place comes to a stop. Be known as a holy Joe. Go to business meetings with a two-ton Bible in tow.”
—Matthew 7:6 Reversed Fractured Version

“Do not give to 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.”
—Matthew 7:6 NIV

There is a difference between being a witness and creating a scene. If you create a scene, you will just add material to the comics on the cable channels and you will be transformed into a public buffoon. Instead of furthering the cause of Christ, you will actually set it back by bringing it into ridicule. They’ll tear you to pieces with their jokes after you leave the room. Therefore, keep your feet on the ground. Think not just about the message you are sending, but how it sounds to those who receive it. Remember, Paul preached in gentile terms to gentiles and in Jewish terms to Jews. You also must be mindful of your audience.

“Some of you guys really crack me up. Why one little boy here asked his father for a fish, but the fellow gave him a snake instead as a joke! Scared the poor little squirt to death, but we all had a good laugh. So when you pray, watch out! You never know when God might throw a pie in your face.”
—Matthew 7:9-11 Reversed Fractured Version

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Of if he asks you for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, who 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!”
—Matthew 7:9-11 NIV

You probably think I just invented the Reversed Fractured Version, but you’d be amazed how many people take it seriously and live by it.

When I was in high school, one girl in our Sunday school class actually became terrified of praying, for fear that God would call her to be a missionary in Africa and then she’d have to leave all her friends! You waffle between believing that God will ignore your prayer altogether and fearing that God will take the opportunity of playing some dreadful practical joke on you. My high school Sunday school class had another joke: whoever told it would hold both hands out, one normally, the other one painfully clenched. Then they would say, “Oh God, make my hand like the other one!” and then both hands would be painfully clenched.

Look, if your child asks you for food, you don’t give him rat poison for yucks. God is neither cruel nor a stand-up comic. If you ask Him for something that you need, He will supply it, just as surely as you will feed your hungry child.

Now I don’t have a hungry child, but I do have a perpetually hungry dog. When she asks me for her dinner, I give it to her. Of course, I might delay her dinner until the proper time, so she won’t get too hungry the next day. And if she begs for something, not knowing that it isn’t food, I don’t give it to her. I think that when God answers our prayers, He’s at least as smart as I am when I grant my dog’s requests. He will delay the answer if it is in our better interest for the answer to be delayed, and if we should unknowingly ask for a snake, He’ll substitute a fish.

“You don’t have to worry about false prophets much. Everyone makes a few mistakes now and then, but that doesn’t mean anything. Sure, their statements about biblical prophecy might need periodic revision and they may be indicted for embezzlement or perversion, but we all have our faults.”
—Matthew 7:16, Reversed Fractured Version

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
—Matthew 7:16, NIV

Most of us lack discernment about our teachers. One minister embezzles huge sums of money and is sent to prison for embezzlement, yet he has faithful followers. Another is exposed as having a lascivious lifestyle, yet he carries on. A half-century ago, a minister claimed to be able to rise from the dead, but she didn’t and her followers didn’t disperse. Another claimed the Spirit of prophecy about political developments in the Soviet Union only to watch the exact opposite happen. In fact, today there isn’t even a “Soviet Union” anymore! He still preaches the same line, after making some substitutions, and his amnesiac followers still tune him in.

And then there are people like you, who get spiritual guidance from strangers on the Internet..

I know from the story about Balaam’s donkey that God can use anyone to speak His word, but why do we keep forcing Him to do it? Why is it that when a well is shown to be polluted that people continue to draw water from it?

And now pay attention to this last one.

“Everyone who at some point in their life whispers, ‘Lord Jesus come into my heart,’ or who upholds me as an important historical religious figure will enter into the kingdom of heaven. If you’re particularly religious you can obey my commandments, but that’s not required. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘How nice of you to go to so much trouble for me! But you would have entered my kingdom anyway.’”
—Matthew 7:21-23, Reversed Fractured Version

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
—Matthew 7:21-23, NIV

You Might Also Like:

The Art and Agony of Translation

1 John 5:7-8 reads differently in the King James Version than in other translations because Erasmus lost a bet. If you compare this verse in the King James Version, you will find a Trinitarian formula (“the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” ) that does not appear in mos...
Read More

Translations of the Bible Into English

You decide to buy yourself or someone else a Bible, so you run down to the nearest bookstore—but they have so many different translations, you don’t know where to begin. Here is something that might help: a list of modern translations that you are likely to find in a bookstore, with a description of...
Read More

About Those ‘Literal’ Translations

Every so often, someone writes to ask me about some obscure Bible translation, and invariably they add, ‘it is supposed to be a literal translation.’ For me, this is a red flag. Let me explain. New Testament Greek is quite a different language from English, and a strictly literal translation is impo...
Read More

The Nicene Creed and the New Testament Canon

The New Testament and the Nicene Creed are deeply entangled with each other. The wording and the concepts in the Nicene Creed come from the New Testament—in fact, one of the most important debates at the Council of Nicea concerned whether it is proper to include a word in the Nicene Creed that does ...
Read More

The Torah in Modern Scholarship

The first five books of the Bible are called the Torah by Jews and the Pentateuch by scholars. The word ‘Torah’ is Hebrew for ‘teaching’ or ‘law,’ and the word ‘Pentateuch’ is Greek for ‘five books.’ Sometimes scholars include the book of Joshua and term the collection the ‘Hexateuch,’ which means ‘...
Read More

The Apocrypha and the Old Testament

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.—Proverbs 30:5-6, NIV The canon of scripture—that is, the official list of what’s in the Bible—is not revealed to us by any saying of Jesus, nor does scr...
Read More

New Testament Scholarship

The Insufficiency of Literary Analysis Unaccompanied by Other Tools New Testament critics generally assume that our gospels are the product of a scribe having two or more editions before him, which he takes together to produce a new version that contains material from the old sources. They say this,...
Read More

The Synoptics and John

If you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke in a row, you get a “haven’t I read this before” feeling, because they are so similar to each other. In many places, they even have identical wording! For this reason, Bible scholars lump them together with the term “synoptic gospels.” The word “synoptic” means “t...
Read More

Leviticus For Christians

A few interesting laws from Leviticus, which at first glance don’t seem to concern us today: Forbidden leftovers When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day;...
Read More

Slavery and Sonship

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”—John 8:34-36, NIV Notice that Jesus has the slave living in the house, albeit temporari...
Read More

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise yo...
Read More

The Rescue of Lot

The story of the destruction of Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah is of compelling interest today because of the current debate in the churches over homosexuality. In the course of this debate, these two chapters of Genesis have been degraded from a story of God’s justice and providence to a dia...
Read More

Evolution and Creationism

Why does water boil? Fred and Ethel have different explanations. Fred says that heat causes the vapor pressure within the water to rise to the same level as the atmospheric pressure on its surface. That causes bubbles to form, which rise and break the surface.Ethel says that’s nonsense. The water wa...
Read More

Wrong Impressions

Do you have a regular Bible study plan? Well, I’m so glad to hear that! You don’t? Well, maybe that is not so bad. You know, a lot of people who have a regular Bible reading plan are very systematic about it. Certainly you’ve met the type: they read a chapter a day, or some other arbitrary amount. I...
Read More

But Is it Biblical?

Recently I helped my boss decode a rather obtuse document, in which the writer had used obscure words instead of plain language. “This is,” I said, “an example of what happens when people go to the dictionary for permission instead of guidance,” and my boss thought that was an astute observation. Ju...
Read More

The Bible and Personal Revelation

God reveals Himself to us in nature, for Scripture says: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.Their voice goes out in...
Read More

The Inspiration of the Bible

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.—2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV Someone recently asked if I consider the Bible the inspired and inerrant word of God or if I fee...
Read More

Interpreting the Bible

When I work on interpreting Scriptural texts, I work through these layers: The probable meaning of the writer, which has to fit in with the writer’s environment.If it is an Old Testament text, the way the passage has been used and interpreted historically in Judaism.The way the passage has been used...
Read More