Sermon on the Mount

Key Principles of Healthy Relating

Matthew 7:1-12

Teaching t12618


The Sermon on the Mount is an example Jesus’ teaching during His early public ministry. It is His counter-cultural manifesto – critiquing the religion of the Jewish leaders, and setting forth the priorities of His kingdom for His followers.

One of these priorities is for us (His followers) to be healthy relaters – to be able to relate with love and wisdom to the people God has put in our lives. In a culture characterized increasingly by relational dysfunction and brokenness, this is a key part of being the light of the world (5:14-16) that exhibits the reality of Jesus and attracts people to Him.

Jesus teaches us on healthy relating in 7:1-12. Let’s start at the end (read 7:12).

The “therefore” notifies us that Jesus is summarizing 7:1-11. A healthy relater is committed to treating other people the way he/she wants to be treated by others. This is the so-called “Golden Rule,” and Jesus says that relating this way fulfills the intent of the Old Testament moral law. Other moral teachers (e.g., Confucius) have stated this principle in the negative, but Jesus states it in the positive. This is a higher standard of relating because while the negative formulation permits passive selfishness, the positive formulation insists on active love (“Don’t cuss” vs. “Build up”). Imagine what a light our church would be if we consistently followed this principle in our relationships with one another, family members, at work, etc.!

But Jesus doesn’t simply give us this summarizing principle. He also gives us four subsidiary principles that help us to live 7:12 out. Each principle is worthy of its own teaching(s), but it is also very helpful to overview them together. The first two apply especially to our close and/or ongoing relationships (EXAMPLES).

Do not judge

Read 7:1,2. The first principle is: “Do not judge.” Before we can learn what this principle means, we must first reject two popular misinterpretations of it.

Secular people often use it to justify relativism: “Don’t make moral judgments about other people’s behavior.” But this cannot be what Jesus means. All through the Sermon on the Mount, He has been making moral judgments (e.g., “Don’t hate or sexually lust;” “Don’t be like the hypocrites;” “Don’t lay up treasure on earth”). In the next several verses, Jesus commands us to remove other people’s “specks” (7:5), urges us not to throw our “pearls” before “swine” (7:6), and warns us to “beware of false prophets” (7:13). Accurate moral judgment of others is necessary!

Others sometimes use it to threaten Christians with God’s condemnation if they condemn others: “Do not judge other people, or God will judge you.” This interpretation makes our acceptance by God conditional to our performance, which contradicts the rest of the Bible. It clearly teaches (cf.Rom.8:1) is that God permanently exempts us from His condemnation the moment we trust Christ.

What does this principle mean, then? I believe Jesus is warning us against a critical spirit toward others. A critical spirit focuses on the negatives in others – their offences against us, their weaknesses, their annoying idiosyncrasies, etc. A critical spirit feels justified in relating to these people with punishing behaviors (e.g., contempt, harshness, cutting remarks, sarcasm, coldness, etc.). A critical spirit is especially common in familial relationships (spouses; parent-child), but it is also common anywhere that people live in close quarters with one another (e.g. room-mates, work-associates, etc.).

Jesus warns us against a critical spirit, not because God will reject us if we have it, but because it will usually be reciprocated (7:1b,2b). This “negative reciprocity” (SLIDE) erodes and eventually destroys relationships unless it is interrupted.

The opposite of a critical spirit is a generous spirit. A generous spirit focuses on the good qualities of the other person. A generous spirit actively blesses through courtesy and consideration, encouraging and loving words, gratitude for favors, expressing appreciation for the relationship, deeds of kindness and service, etc.

A generous spirit usually promotes “positive reciprocity” (SLIDE). Oswald Sanders said that one key to his fulfilling decades-long marriage was that he and his wife committed themselves to this maxim: “I spoil you and you spoil me.” John Gottman (The Relationship Cure) has documented through research that these positive versus negative “bids” are an essential factors in successful relationships.

Do you have “negative reciprocity” with key people? Do you want to end this destructive cycle and make “positive reciprocity” a possibility? If so, don’t wait for the other person to change! Lay down your critical spirit and take up a generous spirit!

“But how do I deal with conflict when it arises?” This is inevitable in ongoing and/or close relationships, which is why Jesus gives the second principle ...

Remove logs & specks properly

Read 7:3,4. This is a hilarious image (SLIDES), but it also makes a profound and convicting point if we want to deal with inter-personal conflict in a healthy way.

Our natural response is to focus on the other person’s contribution to the conflict, and to deny or down-play or be defensive about our own contribution. Part of being fallen, self-centered people is that we tend to be hyper-sensitive to how we have been mistreated, but clueless or under-sensitive to how we have mistreated.

The classic example of this is when a marriage counselor asks each spouse in a conflicted marriage to list their spouse’s contribution and their own contribution. They usually write feverishly on where the other person needs to change, but are brief and/or draw a blank on how they need to change. This results in stalemates, bitterness, fatalism about the relationship, divorce, “moving on,” etc.

Jesus’ counsel is very counter-intuitive. It is three-fold, and the order is important.

First, “Notice the log that is in your eye.” Focus primarily on identifying your contributions to the conflict. It is a “log” – not necessarily because it is relatively more serious morally, or because you did it first – but because it is what you are responsible for and it is what you can correct. This involves deliberately putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to understand how your behavior impacted them (EXAMPLE).

Then, “Take the log out of your own eye.” This doesn’t mean: “Be perfect before you correct others.” It means to humble yourself by acknowledging and sincerely apologizing for your offense. We need to resist rationalizations here:

“HE STARTED IT;” “HER OFFENSE WAS BIGGER” – You’re forgetting the point, which is to humbly take responsibility for your part.

“I’LL LOSE RESPECT IF I APOLOGIZE” – Is this more important than your own character development? Besides, usually just the opposite happens.

"SHE'LL USE THIS TO JUSTIFY HERSELF” – If this is chronically true, see the next principle. Usually, just the opposite happens.

Why is this so difficult to do? The main reason is our fallen commitment to take our identity from being right before others, rather than from being forgiven by God. This is why humbling ourselves feels like a death; it is a death to our pride. This is why receiving and living under God’s grace is so important. When I know that I am secure with God no matter how wrong I have been, I am more able to see and admit my sins to myself, to Him and to others. The grace of God promotes the humility that enables effective log-removal!

“Then you will see clearly to take the speck out.” It may still be appropriate for you to identify the other person’s contribution. But the motive is now different. Before, it was out of pride – to blame them and justify yourself. Now, it is out of humility – which enables you to see their problem more accurately. Now, it is for their good – which communicates in a way that makes it easier for them to receive.

I cannot over-emphasize how important it is to “play by these rules” in inter-personal conflict, rather than avoiding, attacking, stonewalling, etc.! Then conflicts often become occasions that actually improve the relationship.

“But you don't know ___! He is unwilling to practice this, and he consistently takes advantage of me when I do practice this.” Unfortunately, there are such people – which is why Jesus gives us a third principleof healthy relating ...

Don’t cast your pearls before swine

Read 7:6. It wouldn’t be very wise to throw a pearl bracelet to a pig. It will have no appreciation for its value or for your intent. It will probably just tear up your bracelet and then attack you because you threw something at it.

The point is obvious. Some people are “pigs” in the sense that they are so committed to their self-centeredness that they are not interested in healthy closeness with you. They consistently and deliberately use your generous spirit to exploit you. They consistently and deliberately use your humility against you to make you feel more guilty, to manipulate you, etc. The Old Testament book of Proverbs calls such people “scoffers,” and “fools.” Unfortunately, most of us have someone like this in our lives – a parent, a rebellious child, a work-associate, even a spouse.

Of course, we should be careful not to draw this conclusion about someone too quickly. And we need to recognize that such people can and sometimes do change. (Some of us are proof!) But when someone proves to be a fool, we should realize that the first two principles will not help the relationship. We have to adopt different strategies, such as:

Quit trying to persuade them through correction or instruction (Prov.9:7,8; 18:2). This won’t work because they aren’t interested in learning. It only invites unproductive and destructive quarrels. Consider saying: “I am unwilling to discuss this anymore until you are willing to consider my perspective with a humble attitude.”

Set firm boundaries on the relationship (Prov.13:20). EXAMPLES: refuse to discuss certain topics; limit the amount of time spent; don’t give into pressure/guilt tactics; refuse to rescue; etc. This is not primarily for your comfort; it is a discipline to help them see the need for change. Consider saying: “I am willing to re-negotiate these boundaries when you show a willingness to change in these areas.”

Consider ways to expose their folly (Prov.26:4,5). This is not to get even with them, but to hopefully reach their conscience (NAME-CALLING EXAMPLE). Consider asking: “Do you enjoy having such hurtful words said to you?”

See Allender’s Bold Love for excellent advice on loving the fools in your life. It also helps to have Christian friends who can help you. They can be more objective, draw on their own experience and/or knowledge of God’s Word, and encourage you as you pay the price to practice this principle. (PROMOTE HOME GROUPS)

These three principles are true and effective. But there is one huge problem: We lack the resources (e.g., discernment, motivation, security, etc.) within ourselves to consistently implement them. This is why Jesus’ fourth principle is absolutely critical...

Ask, seek & knock for God’s enablement

Read 7:7-11. We often apply this passage generally to the importance of persistence in prayer (present tenses), which is valid. But notice that the immediate context (preceding and following) has to do with relating wisely and lovingly to other people. Jesus’ point is that in order to be effective in relating to other people (horizontal), we must have a vital, dependent relationship with God as our Father (vertical).

Only God can motivate you to consistently relate to others with a generous spirit.

Only God can supply you with the security to humbly admit your “logs” and apologize.

Only God can give you the courage to practice loving discipline with fools.

Only God can supply you with the wisdom to love in complex relational decisions.

Have you established a relationship with God as your Father by receiving Christ (Jn.1:12)? This is the step that enables you to access these resources!

If you have received Christ, are you relatively prayerless about this crucial area of your life (Jas.4:2)? Or do you pray mainly that the other people treat you better or leave you alone (Jas.4:3)? Or are you learning to daily ask your Father for these resources so you can be a healthy relater (Matt.6 PRAYER)? God loves to answer these prayers!


NEXT WEEK: Introduction to Galatians

SUMMARIZE the four principles

Q & A on the four principles