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30. Effectively Performing Spiritual Surgery (Matthew 7:1-6)

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“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:1-6 (NET)

How can we effectively perform spiritual surgery? How can we help someone caught in sin? Just like a medical doctor needs wisdom to perform a surgery, believers also need wisdom to perform spiritual surgery. In fact, it takes more than wisdom—it takes character. In Matthew 7:1-6, Christ describes what’s needed to minister to somebody caught in sin—to take a speck, also translated splinter, from one’s eye (v. 4).1

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Christ has been warning his disciples about the false teaching and self-righteousness of the Pharisees (cf. Matt 5:20). They lessened the demands of the law on lust, divorce, the treatment of enemies, oaths, etc. Their spiritual disciplines such as giving, fasting, and prayer were simply for self-promotion and not to honor and please God. Christ called his disciples to not be like them (cf. Matt 6).

When Matthew 7:1-6 is considered in that background, it is clear that Christ’s command to not judge is another challenge for the disciples to not be like the Pharisees and other hypocrites. Since the religious leaders of Christ’s time desired to exalt themselves in the eyes of others, condemning and judging was another way of lifting themselves up. A great picture of this is seen in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In Luke 18:11-14, the Pharisee prays, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like other people” as he points to a tax collector. Then he says, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I own” (paraphrase). The religious leaders criticized and condemned others as a way of building themselves up.

Sadly, that often happens in the church as people begin to grow in knowledge and discipline. First Corinthians 8:1 says “knowledge puffs up.” After people start to grow in the knowledge of Scripture, they sometimes harshly condemn others who come to different conclusions on secondary issues. They even condemn those light years ahead of them in spiritual maturity. Their little knowledge makes them prideful and judgmental. The same commonly happens when we gain a measure of self-discipline. We often despise those who struggle with the very things we previously struggled with. We forget that we were once immature, that we sometimes missed church, didn’t read our Bibles, and struggled with particular sins. When we’ve forgotten our own propensity to weakness, we become little Pharisees—judging and condemning others. We exalt ourselves by putting others down.

It seems that Christ is warning the disciples of this pharisaical behavior as he tells them to not judge, so that they will not be judged. Ultimately, he is teaching them how to properly help people who are struggling with sin. Though born again, we have sin natures that we will always battle with for the rest of our lives (Gal 5:16-17). We also live in a world that is anti-god, and we have an enemy who constantly tempts us. Therefore, we will always struggle with sin while in this body, and we will always need to help others who struggle. How can we do this effectively? This process is very delicate, which is, in part, why Christ compares it to eye surgery.

In this study, we will consider how to effectively perform spiritual surgery as we help people get free from various sins.

Big Question: What principles can be discerned from Matthew 7:1-6 about helping those caught in some sin?

To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Avoid a Judgmental Disposition

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.

Matthew 7:1-2

Interpretation Question: Does Christ’s command to “not judge” mean that we should never judge anybody?

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged” is probably the most abused text in the Bible. Unbelievers that can’t quote any other Scripture verse, know this one. It is often used to say that we should never judge anyone—even those in unquestioned sin.

However, that is a wrong interpretation of this verse. When interpreting Scripture, we must be sure to consider the context—the context of the surrounding verses, the chapter, that particular book, and the entire Bible. If a person pulls any one verse out of Scripture, apart from recognizing the unity of the Bible, one can make that verse mean almost anything. Without even considering the many texts outside of this chapter that call Christians to discernment, the surrounding verses alone tell us that Christ is not forbidding all judgment.

For example, in Matthew 7:6, he says to not give what is holy to dogs nor pearls to swine. There are some people in the world, and often in the church, who will not only reject but become hostile to the Word of God. They may even try to tear us apart if we present it to them. In that situation, we must discern their character and potentially not share God’s pearls with them. They have the character of a wild animal who can’t appreciate what’s holy or valuable. Soon after that, Christ describes how there are wolves in sheep’s clothing—false prophets—within the church, and we must discern them by their fruits. Again, we must practice righteous judgment to do this (7:15-20). In fact, Christ goes on and says there are many in the church who are not saved at all. Eventually, he will tell them, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23 paraphrase). In response to this, we must judge ourselves to see if we are truly born again. Therefore, Christ is not forbidding all judgment.

Then we must ask, “What type of judging is he forbidding?” Understanding this is important because it will help us better minister to others, unlike the Pharisees, who simply hurt others in the name of ministry.

Interpretation Question: What type of judging is Christ forbidding, which can be a hindrance to ministering to others?

1. Be careful of judging people’s hearts.

A judgmental spirit will often attribute the worst possible intentions to others. In 1 Corinthians 4:4-5, Paul said:

For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

Often when critiquing others, we go beyond the bounds of human judgment. “He shared that because he wants people to think he’s spiritual! She did that because she is so prideful and jealous!” We must leave heart motives to God. Judge nothing before the time, as God is the only one qualified to know and judge the heart motives of others.

2. Be careful of judging people out of an evil attitude.

We must consider our own heart when we point out the sins and failures of others. Are we pointing out their failures because we genuinely love them and want the best for them? Or is it out of anger, pride, or jealousy? When we point to people’s failures out of pride, anger, or jealousy, there will often be joy in their failure or demise. Sometimes, there is even a spirit of retaliation, which desires to spread and broadcast others’ failures. This spirit is often seen in gossips.

On the contrary, when pointing out failures is motivated by love, pain and heart break will accompany it. First Corinthians 13:6 says that love “is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth.” Also, 1 Peter 4:8 says, “love covers a multitude of sins.” It does not spread gossip or speak evil of others behind their backs. All these wrong attitudes and actions shall be judged by God. A whisperer separates friends (Prov 16:28). They harm the work of God.

3. Be careful of judging people without all the information.

Scripture forbids hasty judgments. Proverbs 18:10 says, “The one who gives an answer before he listens—that is his folly and his shame.” It’s interesting to consider that in Scripture, even God, who is omniscient, gathers information before pronouncing final judgment. With Adam, God asked if he had eaten from the forbidden tree—though God, obviously, knew the answer. With Sodom and Gomorrah, God sent angels down to see if the outcry against it was true (Gen 18:21). If God, who is omniscient, gathers all the facts before making a conclusion, how much more should we? This is especially true when hearing only one side of the story from two warring parties. We should not jump to conclusions when only hearing one side. Someone said there is always three sides to the story. What one said, what the other said, and then there is the truth. Sadly, our sin and the sins of others often shade the truth in any situation, which Christ implies through the illustration of the speck and beam, as these affect a person’s view of the facts.

Essentially, the primary reason many of us are ineffective at ministering to others is that we often try to play God. We judge people’s hearts and motivations; we judge with our own evil intentions, and we often lack all the information. We are not God. God knows all things, including hearts’ motives, and his intentions are always good. We must remember that when we judge. God is the final court, and we should not step into his jurisdiction.

Interpretation Question: What did Christ mean by the warning attached to the prohibition of not judging?

Matthew 7:1-2 says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.” It means that if we are critical, unloving, and unwise in how we minister to others, God will treat us harshly as well. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35), when that servant didn’t forgive his fellow servant, God handed him over to the torturers. Likewise, if we are merciful and loving in the administration of justice, God will be the same way with us. Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

It is good to remember that Spirit-filled judgment is constructive, as it builds others up. While pharisaical judgment is destructive, as it hurts others and ultimately hurts us. We must avoid the latter at all cost if we are going to effectively minister to those struggling with sin.

Application Question: How have you seen the phrase “Do not judge, lest you be judged” abused? How can we practice godly judgment instead of pharisaical judgment?

To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Gain Clear Vision through Personal Repentance

Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

When Christ uses the analogy of one person having a speck in his eye and the other a beam of wood, he describes how sin blinds our ability to evaluate and minister to others. The word “speck” is probably better translated “twig” or “splinter.”2 Both of these people have serious sin issues which affect their sight, but the one trying to help the other has the biggest problem—making him unequipped for ministry.

This propensity to focus on other’s sins and diminish our own began at the fall in the Garden of Eden. After Adam’s sin, instead of recognizing his own failure and the gravity of it, he focused on the seeming failures of others. When God asked him if he ate from the forbidden tree, he replied, “The woman ‘YOU’ gave me, gave to me and I did eat” (paraphrase). Essentially, he blamed God and the woman. Since our sin nature is prone to selfishness, we now tend to minimize our sin and magnify the failures of others. This leads to misevaluating others’ failures and being overly harsh to them.

A great picture of this is the story of David and Nathan (2 Sam 12). David committed adultery with Bathsheba, killed her husband, and then married her. In response, Nathan shares with David a story about a servant with one lamb that he loved, and a ruler who had many sheep. When guests came to visit, instead of killing one of his many sheep, the ruler killed his servant’s lamb—the one he loved. When David heard this story, he was outraged. He declared, “That man shall surely die!” Then Nathan replied, “You are that man!”

See David was ready to kill a ruler who unjustly took another man’s lamb, when David had committed a worse sin. He killed a man and took his wife, though David had many wives. David was suffering from spiritual blindness because of the beam in his eye. Sadly, many leaders in the church, like David, have beams in their eyes. They have the beam of pride, anger, greed, or lust, which all hinder their ability to properly evaluate and minister to others. In their ministries, they commonly hurt people because of their spiritual blindness. Many Christians have left the church wounded because of leaders who hurt them, all the while claiming to be ministering to them. But this is not just true of spiritual leaders, it is true of many members in the church. They are not prepared to perform spiritual surgery on others because they haven’t first judged themselves.

Application Question: How can we remove the beams of various sins that blind us so we can properly minister to others?

1. To remove our beams, we must constantly evaluate our sins.

When Christ says “see” the beam in our own eye, the word has the idea of serious and continuous meditation.3 It’s easy to get in the Word or listen to sermons and think primarily about how others need to hear these messages. We need to first focus on what God is speaking to our hearts and how we can become more like him. As we abide in God’s Word and prayer, we must give serious attention to discerning our sins.

2. To remove our beams, we must ask others to help evaluate our sins and short comings.

Because of our propensity to spiritual blindness, we all need Nathans in our lives. They might not get it right all the time, but we should love them for their willingness to challenge us when we seem to be straying from the path. Who is your Nathan? Who have you given permission to speak prophetically into your life?

3. To remove our beams, we must confess and forsake anything that might blind us.

We will not be prophetic when we are holding onto sins or things that are not pleasing to God. We must confess and forsake them. Scripture says, “flee all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22). We must run away from anything that might dull our senses—ungodly entertainment, relationships, practices, etc. When a doctor comes to perform surgery, we don’t want him to have anything in his system that might dull his senses and hinder his effectiveness. It must be the same for us as spiritual nurses and doctors. We must confess and repent of all sin and compromises in order to effectively minister to others.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced how sin causes spiritual blindness—the inability to evaluate your own sin and others’? Who is your accountability—who helps you evaluate your own sin?

To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Gently Care for People

You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:5

In considering the analogy of eye surgery, it reminds us of our need to be gentle with those struggling with sin. Our eyes are very delicate and easy to permanently damage, and therefore, when a doctor is performing surgery, he must be gentle. We must do the same when ministering to others. If we are harsh and judgmental like the Pharisees, we will only hurt others—losing our ability to minister to them and possibly causing them to rebel against God. Instead of being harsh and condemning like the Pharisees, we must be gentle.

In Galatians 6:1, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.” Paul recognizes our tendency to be harsh with those struggling in sin, and therefore calls us to be gentle.

It seems that the immature are especially prone towards harshness, as Paul commands the spiritually mature to this task. Part of the reason harshness is common for the spiritually immature is because they often don’t recognize their vulnerability. They previously struggled with certain sins, but now they feel confident and strong. They forget how vulnerable they are and how easy it is to stumble. Their perceived strength is really a weakness that blinds them and makes them ineffective ministers. They have only replaced one sin with another—the sin of pride—which causes them to judge others. In contrast, the spiritual are not just spiritual because of their ability to conquer sin, but also their humility. They recognize they are always vulnerable to failure, which draws them even closer to God and makes them more gracious with others. No doubt, we see this in Paul who called himself the chief of sinners and least of all God’s people (1 Tim 1:15, Eph 3:8). In his maturity, Paul recognized how weak and vulnerable he really was. It has been said that until a person sees himself as a chief of sinners, he is not yet ready to minister to others. That person will be prideful and harsh.

Application Question: How can we practice gentleness in our ministry to others?

1. As mentioned, gentleness comes from recognizing our own sin and vulnerability to fall back into it.

David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and then murder. Moses fell to anger and was kept out of the promised land. Noah fell into drunkenness before he died. Recognition of our weakness will protect us and help us be humble in our ministry to others. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall.”

We gain this awareness the more we see and experience God. In Isaiah 6, when Isaiah saw God, he saw his own imperfections. He cried out, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips.” The more we experience God’s light, the more we will see our own darkness and vulnerability to it, apart from God.

2. Gentleness comes from ministering through the Spirit.

True ministry doesn’t happen out of our power. If we minister in the flesh, we only get fleshly results. We will find ourselves often frustrated, angry, and impatient. But spiritual ministry comes from abiding in the Spirit (Gal 5:16)—through prayer, time in God’s Word, worship, fellowship with the saints, and obedience. As we abide, the Spirit produces the fruit of gentleness in us so we can better minister to others, especially those who have failed us.

Application Question: Why is gentleness so important when ministering to those caught in sin? In what ways have you experienced the importance of gentleness as you received ministry or offered it?

To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Practice Discernment as We Share Truth

Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:6

Interpretation Question: Who or what was Christ referring to when he referred to dogs, pigs, what is holy, and pearls?

Before a doctor performs surgery, he evaluates the readiness of the patient. On some occasions, though surgery is needed, one postpones or cancels it all together for various reasons. Surgeons must practice great discernment. In the same way, spiritual surgery should not be performed indiscriminately. It must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

Because of this reality, Christ says that we should not give what is holy to dogs or throw pearls to pigs. What is holy and pearls seem to refer to the doctrines of the kingdom. Christ called God’s kingdom the pearl of great price that a person sells everything to purchase (Matt 13:45-46). The dogs and pigs Christ spoke of were not domesticated dogs and pigs. He referred to wild dogs who were scavengers, which people lived in fear of. Sometimes they would attack people to steal their food. Also, since pigs were considered unclean, Jews did not domesticate them as the Gentiles often did. Christ probably referred to wild boars, who, like dogs, were often dangerous.4 Christ essentially says, “As we seek to minister to others, we must practice discernment.” Some who we preach the gospel to or try to deliver from some sin will only become violent towards us. In that case, we should cease to offer it. Dogs and pigs will not recognize the value of God’s truth. They will mock it and us.

We saw this in Christ’s ministry. He was not indiscriminate with God’s Word. He told the disciples when they went into towns and preached the gospel, if people rejected it, they should wipe the dust off their shoes and go somewhere else (Matt 10:14). When Christ was taken before Herod and questioned, Christ did and said nothing. Herod didn’t really care about the gospel, and therefore, Christ didn’t share it. Herod only wanted to see a spectacle (Lk 23:6-10). Even with Israel, who continually rejected God’s Word, Christ eventually stopped sharing it with them clearly. In Matthew 13, after the Pharisees’ rejection of Christ in Matthew 12:24-32, as they said his works came from Satan, Christ began to teach using parables. Why did Christ give parables? It was a form of judgement. Listen to what Christ said when asked by his disciples about his parabolic teaching:

He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.

Matthew 13:11-13

Because Israel continually rejected Christ’s Word, he began to hide the truth from them through parables. After sharing, he would explain the meaning to his disciples alone. Israel had rejected the pearl of great price, and therefore, Christ stopped offering it.

Sometimes, it seems like God has done the same with many of our churches today. Instead of them receiving clear teaching from God’s Word, all that is shared from many pulpits is stories and illustrations with vague references to Scripture. If so, this is a form of judgment. Like Israel, the church has developed the character of wild dogs and pigs who cannot stand the pearl of great price and, therefore, are under judgement (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4). God simply ceases to offer it.

With all this said, certainly we must demonstrate both the diligence and patience of Christ. We must distribute God’s truth far and wide, and with those who are willing to listen or want more, we must continually offer it. With those who reject it, we must wait until they are ready and share it with others in the meantime.

This is important for ministry in general. Sometimes those we hope to help are not yet ready for it. For a season, it may be prudent to withhold or step away from them, as we pray and wait for God to prepare their hearts. Sometimes, he may do this through a trial that softens the ground of their hearts. At other times, he may prepare their hearts as they watch our lives or that of other faithful Christians. God is ultimately the one who prepares the heart for growth. We just sow the seed and water it.

But either way, we must gain discernment if we are going to do ministry—whether that be to unbelievers who need the gospel or believers caught in some sin. Certainly, with believers God gives more instructions on how to minister to them: He says, go to them once to confront the sin. If they reject, go with another believer. If they still reject, take it before the church. If they still reject, treat them like an unbeliever (Matt 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:9-13). They should be separated from until they repent. They have the character of a wild dog and pig.

Application Question: How can we gain discernment so we can better minister to others caught in sin?

1. To develop discernment for ministry, we must pray for it, and at times, ask other believers for their counsel.

James 1:5 says if anyone lacks wisdom, let them ask of God who gives liberally. Also, Proverbs 15:22 talks about how a multitude of counselors brings success. Each person and situation are different—we need God’s wisdom to help us discern the best way to minister to others. In fact, in the next verses, he says we should ask, seek, knock until God answers (Matt 7:7-8). In the context, that may, at the minimum, be talking about how we gain discernment for ministry. We must continually seek the Lord for it.

2. To develop discernment for ministry, we must watch people’s responses to God’s Word.

It is not that we should stop sharing the gospel or challenging those in sin. We shouldn’t. It’s when they persist in rejecting it that their character is revealed. So, in order to discern one’s character, we must faithfully share God’s truth with them. If they become overly critical and even violent, it may be prudent to prayerfully withhold the pearls until the right time.

Application Question: Why is discernment of people’s hearts so important in ministry? How have you witnessed an overzealous and unwise sharing of truth which only led to great anger and antagonism? Have you ever had to stop sharing God’s message because people were so antagonistic towards it? What happened in those situations?


How should we effectively perform spiritual surgery as we help others get free from sin?

  1. To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Avoid a Judgmental Disposition
  2. To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Gain Clear Vision through Personal Repentance
  3. To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Gently Care for People
  4. To Effectively Perform Spiritual Surgery, We Must Practice Discernment as We Share Truth

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 435). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 435). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 436). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 112). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

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