The Golden Rule of Rhetorical Reasoning

Matthew 7:1-12

“Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Here we find the possibly most oft quoted verse in the Bible. Luke’s account from the same situation is rarely quoted, which is in the same context and same scene, reads, “And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.” Yes, different words are quoted but the context and meaning are the same. Both Matthew and Luke are reporting on the same scene but from different angles. We are blessed to have both. This is once again a scenario in which one should not lose sleep. One can be curious, but to expect Matthew and Luke to report the exact words Jesus said, in the exact same order, without missing a single letter would be not only redundant but long. As John wrote, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.” We don’t have every word but we have more than enough. We also, at times, may not have exact quotes but paraphrases, which were divinely inspired. As Paul states, “all Scripture is God breathed and useful.” I add humbly, if taken in its proper context.

Matthew 7:1, is perhaps, the greatest example, for it reads, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” It’s a complete sentence and a complete verse (added hundreds of years later). However, it’s not a complete thought. Once again we must notice the conjunction function. “Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” This is actually much worse, towards our sinful selves. Which is easier, to not judge or to judge expecting the same judgement? Jesus is evoking grace, mercy and loving-kindness. Life is full of times when the follower of Christ must judge, but one must consider the words of Christ in this context when doing so. I once had many new teenagers and many others that rarely attended a Bible study, all show up on the same evening. It’s something one prays for and believes they are ready to handle, so that the gospel will be preached to virgin ears. However, the circus that ensued was like releasing two dozen coiled up springs in a room made up of rubber. To say that they were bouncing off the walls would be an understated metaphor–it was chaos. I admit, I had no control over the room. Could I judge or should I give grace? The disrespectful display did disrupt the desires of those truly wishing to study the Bible. And although I was a very disruptive young man myself, many moons ago, eventually I had to start tossing people out. It’s not like I was never tossed out of a Bible study before. But that is not me judging as I had been judged, nor is this the point Jesus makes. The answer is found as we consider the context.

“And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Context really is King isn’t it? (A rhetorical question). Jesus is using rhetoric, the art of public speaking which often contains metaphor and simile and often other figures of speech. But he is not being bombastic or insincere, which many people have assigned to rhetoric, so that rhetoric now has two definitions. Jesus uses the former form of rhetoric in which he seeks to change people’s perspective. Take the log out of your own eyes, is metaphorical, meaning that one is to first figure out who and what they are. If one has a speck in their eye, and I am said to have a log in my eye, what figures of speech do we see here? The log is not only metaphor but also hyperbole. One cannot literally have a log in their eye. If I were teaching teenagers, one would without a doubt, do an internet search for a picture of a person with a log in their eye. And since one can find a picture of anything on the inter-webbing, they would attempt to discredit my statement. How did we get here? I frequently say and write, “unless you are learning for yourselves you only know what you have been taught.” Who taught them to think like this? One cannot literally have a beam, timber or large log in their eye. It’s physically impossible, it’s hyperbole and it’s a metaphor. Literary language has been lost. I taught teenagers more truth in an hour a week than their $60,000 a year, with summer off, public school teachers did. They didn’t come up with this literal extreme thinking on their own. Half of the teenagers I taught were home-schooled and grew up attending church. Why are they not only Biblically illiterate, or understand grammar, but respond negatively to the teaching of the figures of speech Jesus used? They also don’t know history, but that’s a lament for later.

Tonight is a huge night, based on Joel 2:31. It’s the longest lunar eclipse of the century. Tonight the rapture of the church is going to happen! Except that it isn’t. We, as evangelical Americans, have completely distorted the Law, the prophets and especially the words of Christ, by taking them to literal extremes, just as the Pharisees did to the Law. Why can’t we see this? We buy books based on blood-moons and savor sermons saying the rapture is right around the corner. Based on what, the sins of America? A literal interpretation of Revelation, which forbids taking itself literally if one takes it literally? In other words, if soon doesn’t mean soon, how does 100 pound hailstones mean 100 pound hailstones? We’re mining for gold here, if the Bible in its entirety was meant to be taken literally, the Pharisees were right and Jesus was wrong. We’re talking about a savior who spoke primarily in parables and we try to take his words literally? It’s time for the American church to take the log out of its own eye.

I am so far out on an island that no one can hear me. People ponder Jesus using rhetoric and think, no, Jesus wouldn’t use rhetoric, it’s like sarcasm on steroids. Except that it isn’t. We’ve changed the definitions of words based upon time and culture. Things have changed, I am the first to admit that. Nevertheless, Jesus does not change nor do his words pass away. The same rhetoric Jesus used in the first century hasn’t changed meaning. This is precisely why we need herminutical methods such as the CAGED method. We need to consider the context. It is imperative that we understand the author’s aspiration to his audience. Genre must be taken into account because the Bible is replete with many different genres and sub-genres from historical to poetical–prophetic to epistle. Expository exegesis of examples enlightens the reader to understand the context and genre within a particular passage and seeks out other passages to confirm the context. If a New Testament writer quotes the Old Testament, one must also understand the context of the Old Testament passage, remembering that the New Testament trumps the Old. And when the dust settles, one must divide rightly the aforementioned principles. The Bible will not contradict itself, any contradictions are in our minds. Therefore the log in one’s eye is not to be taken literally. I know you know this but it is the most opportune time to illustrate a literary method rather than a literal one. The Bible is not written like an instruction manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla, it is written as literature. Some is instructional for sure, most of it actually. But they way in which it is written varies and we need to understand this before we teach our children to take it to literal extremes.

Case in point: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Instruction? Yes. Literal? No. Would considering the context help? How about the genre or the author’s aspiration to his audience? This passage is obviously a metaphor and yet, I am sure there are sects of believers who literally have in their bylaws to, “not cast jewelry near pigs.” It sounds silly, but I guarantee that in some place, at some time, people were literally told not to mix jewelry and pigs. It reminds me of the Law of Moses. Dairy and meat are not to be taken together because God said, “Don’t boil the calf in its mother’s milk.” It’s a perfect example of taking things to literal extremes.

How then are we to understand the metaphor Jesus uses about casting pearls before swine? CAGED, this passage is. Context, context, context. Aspirations, Genre, Exegesis and Dividing also help. Context is first in the CAGED method because it is superlative and often times it is all one needs, especially if the others are considered. Look at the context; “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” One sees the imagery of holy things and dogs, like pearls are to swine. In the greater context the reader understands that Jesus is speaking to a group of people under the Law of Moses, where swine are detestable, unclean animals and pearls are precious. Considering the author’s aspiration to his audience and using exegesis, which requires some amount of Biblical knowledge or at least the ability to research, one finds that dogs were synonymous with those who are uncircumcised. One also understands that being circumcised is considered a way for them to be set apart or, holy. Therefore Jesus seems to be warning his followers to beware of the unholy people. Ironically, the “holy” people are included in this warning. You know the ones–they take everything literally. More on this later. Much more and much later as well.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

I want a new car. May I have a new car? Please, may I have a new car? Gimme a new car! It’s not working. Have Christ’s words failed or is my extremely literal understanding of his words the failure? “Name it and claim it!” The word of faith movement… I don’t even want to go there. It wouldn’t be Jesus words failed, nor my understanding, but my lack of faith, to this group–or better to say, cult. If you are in, get out! But the Bible says, ask and you will receive. It also says in this very context of the mountainous monologue; “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but 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 cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Jesus also says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” And he promised trouble when he said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The prophets we are compared to really did name it and claim it, didn’t they? Isaiah simply didn’t name and claim a pair of underwear.

Jesus is promoting the father’s love for us in this statement. When taken to literal extremes one ends up with the word of faith movement. But considering the context and genre and certainly the aspirations to the audience, Jesus is demonstrating that the Father knows what we need, better than we do, and is benevolent with his love. God is good and good towards his people. He provides that for which we are to pray; forgiveness, daily bread and his will. Jesus is explaining the reason and method of prayer and it’s relationship to God’s goodness. He compares and contrasts human fathers to the heavenly father, and there really is no comparison. “My father gave me a snake!” A teenager would say, without a doubt. Understand the imagery and don’t take it literally. Please understand the metaphorical meaning as we walk through the mountainous monologue.

And keep the golden rule. Treat others as you want to be treated. What a place this world would be if we only followed these simple words of Jesus. Think about this, really, truly, think about how much sin Jesus exposed with these simple words. If followed, there would be no war, no famine, no pestilence, no Salvation Army…There would be no need.

 

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