Sermon on the Mount

Four Keys To Healthy Relating

Photo of Gary DeLashmutt
Gary DeLashmutt

Matthew 7:1-12


Jesus moves from talking about our relationship with money to our relationships with other people. Human relationships are complex, and Jesus offers four keys to healthy relating. How we view others, treat others, and effect others is impacted by our relationship with Christ.


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Jesus organizes the Sermon on the Mount around key relationships for those who belong to God's kingdom: our relationship to the world, to the Law, to God, to money--now to other people.

Wisdom and skill in this area is critical. Everyone wants to experience the richness of healthy close relationships, and to avoid the damage of destructive relationships. Jesus provides us with the wisdom and insight we need in this area.

The summary principle (7:12 - "therefore") is well known, but it can become trite and by itself is rather nebulous.

7:1-11 unpack this principle into four subsidiary principles, each of which is profoundly helpful--but counter-intuitive.

The first two principles apply especially to close relationships (SPOUSE; TEEN & ADULT CHILDREN; CLOSE FRIENDS; FELLOW-WORKERS) . . . 

Do not judge (7:1,2)

Read 7:1,2. Before we can learn what this passage means, we must first reject the popular misinterpretations of it.

Many use it to justify relativism. But the immediate context (7:5,13), not to mention the rest of the Bible, make it clear that Jesus is not forbidding judgment of someone's behavior or beliefs.

Some use it to threaten God's condemnation if we judge others. But the rest of scripture (cf. Rom. 8:1) is clear that we are permanently exempt from God's condemnation the moment we trust Christ.

What does this passage mean, then?

Jesus is warning us against a critical spirit toward others--focusing on how they have offended me and assuming that their offense gives me the right to reject them or pay them back. This is especially common in close relationships like marriage (CRABB QUOTE).

Why the warning? Because it will usually be reciprocated (7:1b,2b). This is what one author calls "negative reciprocity"--it will erode and eventually destroy a relationship.

The opposite of this is "positive reciprocity," and it is a key factor in all successful close relationships.

This is consistent positive love investment in the other person: encouraging and loving words, expressing gratitude for favors and the relationship, deeds of kindness and service and consideration, recalling past good experiences, etc. (OSWALD SANDERS TO WIFE: "You spoil me and I spoil you").

This is what builds and maintains appreciation of the relationship and a buffer of goodness that helps when negatives and stresses occur.

What characterizes your closest relationships--positive or negative reciprocity? It normally only takes one person to begin to turn this around . . . 

"But what about when offense and conflict arises?" This is inevitable in close relationships, and this is where the next principle comes in . . . 

Log and speck (7:3-5)

Read 7:3-5 and act out with someone in the audience using a LOG. This is a hilarious image, but it also makes a profound and convicting point.

When we are in conflict, our natural response is to focus on the other person's offense, and to make their admission, retribution, and change the condition for reconciliation. Our moral sense is highly developed toward how we've been treated.

2 LISTS FOR DISTRESSED COUPLES: they write feverishly on where the other person needs to change, but are brief and draw a blank on how they need to change. This results in stalemates, bitterness, feeling like a slave or victim, etc.

Jesus' counsel is very counter-intuitive.

"Notice the log that is in your eye" - Focus primarily on your part in 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. Therefore, it should be the primary thing that occupies your field of vision in a conflict. Try putting yourself in the other person's shoes to see how this affects them.

"First take the log out of your own eye" - Acknowledge and sincerely apologize for your offense, independently of how they respond. Beware of objections and rationalizations here.

"HE STARTED IT; HIS WAS BIGGER" - You're forgetting the point.

"SHE'LL USE THIS TO JUSTIFY HERSELF; I'LL LOSE RESPECT" - If this is chronically true, see the next principle. Usually, just the opposite happens.

Why is this so difficult to do? Because we take our identity from being right. We can't afford to adopt this posture, so we instinctively move to a self-righteous, self-justifying posture with other people. 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. This is why the grace of God is so foundational for healthy close relationships.

"Then you will see clearly to take the speck out" - There is still a place for correction, but it is out of humility and for their good, not out of defensiveness and to deflect blame, get even, timed for the best impact, etc. Relationships grounded in grace profit tremendously from each other in this way.

"But you don't know X! He will never practice this, and he consistently takes advantage of me when I do practice this." Unfortunately, there are such people--and Jesus' next principle tells us how to deal with them . . . 

Pearls before swine (7:6)

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

The point is obvious. Some people are so wickedly self-centered that they are not interested in healthy closeness with you. They will consistently and deliberately use your attempts at positive love investment to suck you dry. They will consistently and deliberately use your attempts at humility and reconciliation against you to make you feel more guilty, to manipulate you, to gain control over you, etc.

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. But when someone proves to be a pig, we should realize that the first two principles will not help the relationship, and move to a safer distance.

Especially those of us who tend to be rescuers/bleeding hearts need to heed this principle! We cannot make people change, nor are people doomed unless we help them. Unless they are willing to change, we could wind up reinforcing their selfishness and own God-given resources . . . 

See Jesus in Mark 11 with the Pharisees. See relevant Proverbs ("Reprove a scoffer and he will hate you"). There is a time and a place--not to stop loving such people--but to realize that the best way to love them is to pray for them and set firm boundaries.

How do you discern a pig and get the strength to avoid them? How do you identify your log and get the humility to admit it? How do you identify their speck and get the courage and wisdom to address it? How do you get the power and motivation to avoid negative reciprocity and practice positive reciprocity? This is what Jesus addresses in the final section of this passage . . . 

Ask, seek and knock (7:7-11)

Read 7:7-11. We often apply this passage generally to the important of persistence in prayer, which is valid. But notice that the context (preceding and following) has to do with relating wisely and lovingly to other people.

Jesus' point is that if we want to be effective in doing this with other people (horizontal), we have to have a dependent relationship with the God of the Bible (vertical).

Only God can supply you with the grace and meet your deepest needs to be able to humble yourself, avoid co-dependent idolatry, etc.

Only God can supply you with the discernment and wisdom to love others wisely.

Have you established a relationship with God by receiving Christ? Do you pray more for these things than you do that they will be changed so they don't bug you?