Matthew 7:1–12 is part of the “Manual for Kingdom Living” otherwise called the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7), which actually seems to be a sampling of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom conducted over a period of time (see Matt. 4:17, 23). The kingdom of God or of heaven is the new creation to be consummated at the return of Christ. The first creation or kingdom of the world (Rev. 11:15) is dominated by sin and death for its subjects, while we who trust in Christ receive the gracious gift of citizenship in the new-creation realm, though now we must suffer for a little while until the consummation (Matt. 5:3, 10–12; see 1 Peter 1:6; 5:10).
Jesus’ teaching clarifies that the heirs of life in the kingdom of heaven live on this side of glory in the old creation alongside and thus in view of those who are of the world. We are not of the world, but we are in it and are to act as salt and light emissaries to the earthly kingdom even as we temporarily share in its afflictions (John 15:16–19; 2 Cor. 4:16–5:5, 17; Phil. 3:19–21). For us, afflictions are sanctifying, not acts of divine judgment (Rom. 8:1; James 1:2–4), and we know that our witness to Christ in this era is part of God’s patience as He grants time for the lost to repent (Acts 17:30–31; Rom. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9–10).
Our passage, Matthew 7:1–12, consists of four sections: verses 1–5, 6, 7–11, and 12. One of the main issues that we will face is how these sections relate to one another, which we will do as we look at each in order.
Matthew 7:1–5 (see Luke 6:41–42) is relatively easy to interpret on its own. It is, ironically, both a stern and a humorous warning against hypocritical severity among the people of God. The rigor of the Lord’s statement is underlined by His reproof: “You hypocrite” (Matt. 7:5; see Prov. 3:11 for wisdom and heeding the Lord’s reproof). Elsewhere, Jesus speaks about those outside as hypocrites (e.g., Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; 22:18) on whom He pronounces “woes” (see Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27; 24:51). But here, the censure of the overly critical hypocrite catches our attention and calls for sober reflection of our own lives and attitudes.
The humor in Matthew 7:1–5 consists of the contrast of the hypocrite with a “log” (or roof beam) in his eye versus the “speck” (or particle of sawdust) in his brother’s eye. One scholar has noted the “extravagance” of Jesus’ teaching in places like this for the purpose of catching the attention of His audience and, in this case, of accenting the absurdity of the hypercritical hypocrite. Ultimately, hypocrisy can have no place among the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and it is particularly heinous because it brings dishonor on God (see Rom. 2:23 in context). Instead, our lives must conform to the transformed reality that we are a divine work of new creation through the Spirit (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:10). The corollary ethic of Matthew 7:1–5 is the purity of love and mercy toward others in obedience to a King who Himself displays gentle compassion toward all (e.g., Matt. 11:28–29).