“Chapter 3: Matthew 5–7,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 3,” New Testament Student Manual
President Thomas S. Monson spoke of the Sermon on the Mount and the Galilean hillside where it took place: “Here it was that the greatest person who ever lived delivered the greatest sermon ever given—the Sermon on the Mount” (“The Way Home,” Ensign, May 1975, 15). As the Savior began His Galilean ministry, He declared that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), and then in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5–7) taught doctrines and principles of righteousness that govern the lives of those who belong to His kingdom and lead to happiness and eventual perfection.
At the conclusion of the sermon, “the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28–29; see similar sermons in Luke 6:17–49 and 3 Nephi 12–14). In other words, the people were astonished by what He said and by how He said it. He did not teach by citing precedent or previous authority, as the scribes and rabbis did. He taught as one having the authority of God Himself.
The Beatitudes is the name commonly used to refer to the Savior’s declarations of blessedness found in Matthew 5:1–12. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) taught:
“In his Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character, which was perfect, … and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives. … In that matchless Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given us eight distinct ways by which we might receive [real] joy. Each of his declarations is begun by the word ‘Blessed.’ … These declarations of the Master are known in the literature of the Christian world as the Beatitudes. … They embody in fact the constitution for a perfect life” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 200).
President Harold B. Lee taught that the poor in spirit are “those who are spiritually needy, who feel so impoverished spiritually that they reach out with great yearning for help” (Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 197). The account of the sermon in 3 Nephi states, “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me” (3 Nephi 12:3; italics added).
President Harold B. Lee explained that “they that mourn” relates to those who mourn over their sins: “‘And again, blessed are all they that mourn’ (3 Nephi 12:4; see also Matthew 5:4). … He is talking about repentance. He is talking about the promise that will come to whom? All who would ‘come down into the depths of humility’ and have been baptized and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost (see 3 Nephi 12:2)” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 112).
Another meaning of this teaching is provided in Mosiah 18:9, which teaches that one requirement of Church membership is being “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”
To be “meek” means to be “Godfearing, righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering. The meek are willing to follow gospel teachings” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Meek, Meekness”; scriptures.lds.org). Meekness does not imply weakness; rather, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, meekness is “kindness and gentleness. It reflects certitude, strength, serenity; it reflects a healthy self-esteem and a genuine self-control” (“Meekly Drenched in Destiny” [Brigham Young University devotional, Sept. 5, 1982], 2; speeches.byu.edu).
While serving as the Presiding Bishop of the Church, Bishop H. David Burton explained the necessity of being meek: “Meekness will allow us to be tutored by the Spirit” (“More Holiness Give Me,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 99).
When Jesus promised that the meek would inherit the earth, He was quoting from Psalm 37:11. To “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) means to inherit the celestial kingdom. This earth will one day be “sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory” (D&C 88:18), and “the meek of the earth shall inherit it” (D&C 88:17).
The Greek word that was translated as “filled” also means “to feed or fatten an animal in a stall” and connotes the idea of eating until completely satisfied. This helps us understand the Lord’s promise to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness—He will feed them spiritually until they are completely satisfied. The account of the sermon in 3 Nephi adds, “They shall be filled with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 12:6; italics added).
This is one of the many times the Savior taught that the way we treat others affects how God will treat us (see Matthew 6:12, 14–15; 7:1–2; 18:23–35; 25:31–46). President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) wrote: “I plead for a stronger spirit of compassion in all of our relationships, a stronger element of mercy, for if we are merciful we shall obtain mercy from the Ultimate Judge. … It is impressive to watch those who with a compelling spirit of kindness reach out to those in distress, to help and assist, to feed and provide for, to nurture and to bless. As these extend mercy, I am confident that the God of Heaven will bless them, and their posterity after them, with His own mercy. … One cannot be merciful to others without receiving a harvest of mercy in return [see Matthew 5:7]” (Standing for Something , 75, 77).
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) placed mercy in the context of forgiving others: “Ever keep in exercise the principle of mercy, and be ready to forgive our brother on the first intimations of repentance, and asking forgiveness; and should we even forgive our brother, or even our enemy, before he repent or ask forgiveness, our heavenly Father would be equally as merciful unto us” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 392–93).
While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Gerald N. Lund explained that a pure heart is free from contamination and open to the Holy Spirit: “In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God’ [Matthew 5:8]. If something is pure, it is not polluted or tainted by things which do not belong to it. Purity of heart is certainly one of the most important qualifications for receiving inspiration from God. While none of our hearts are perfect, the more diligently we strive to eliminate impurity, or push out things which do not belong there, the more we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit” (“Opening Our Hearts,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 33).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed the connection between being pure in heart and being able to see God: “Purity of heart is a figure for purity of soul. They are the ones who received a remission of their sins in the waters of baptism; who, after baptism, have so lived as to retain a remission of sins; who have had their sins burned out of their souls as though by fire by the power of the Holy Ghost. They are God-fearing and righteous souls; and being pure, they qualify to see and associate with other pure beings, the chief of whom is the Lord of Purity” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , 492).
In addition to its uses in flavoring and preserving food, salt was added to sacrificial offerings under the law of Moses. Thus salt was associated with joy, permanence, and covenant making. When Jesus admonished disciples to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), part of the meaning was that their lives should reflect their covenants with the Lord and serve as a preservative for the world in general. Elder Carlos E. Asay (1926–99) of the Presidency of the Seventy explained that salt loses its savor by contamination and that we keep our “savor” by avoiding spiritual contamination. Though directed specifically to priesthood holders, Elder Asay’s words have application to each of us:
“A world-renowned chemist told me that salt will not lose its savor with age. Savor is lost through mixture and contamination. Similarly, priesthood power does not dissipate with age; it, too, is lost through mixture and contamination.
“When a young man or older man mixes his thoughts with pornographic literature, he suffers a loss of savor.
“When a priesthood bearer mixes his speech with lies or profanity, he suffers a loss of savor.
“When one of us follows the crowd and becomes involved in immoral acts and the use of drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and other injurious substances, he loses savor.
“Flavor and quality flee a man when he contaminates his mind with unclean thoughts, desecrates his mouth by speaking less than the truth, and misapplies his strength in performing evil acts. …
“I would offer these simple guidelines, especially to the young men, as the means to preserve one’s savor: If it is not clean, do not think it; if it is not true, do not speak it; if it is not good, do not do it” (“Salt of the Earth: Savor of Men and Saviors of Men,” Ensign, May 1980, 42–43).
Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged us to think about how our lives can lead others to glorify our Father in Heaven:
“Wouldn’t it be pleasing to Jesus if we could let our light so shine that those who followed us would be following the Savior? …
“Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps you are the light sent by Heavenly Father to lead another safely home or to be a beacon from a distance to show the way back to the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life? Your light is a beacon and should never stop burning or mislead those who are looking for a way home” (“That Ye May Be the Children of Light” [Brigham Young University fireside, Nov. 3, 1996], 8–9; speeches.byu.edu).
The word raca comes from an Aramaic word meaning “imbecile, fool, or empty-headed person.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained a broader meaning of the term: “Profane and vulgar expressions vary from nation to nation and age to age, but the intent of this passage is to condemn any language which conveys improper feelings about another” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:222).
Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 5:24 (compare Matthew 5:22, footnote b) does not contain the phrase “without a cause” (see also 3 Nephi 12:22). Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy referred to these verses when teaching the importance of eliminating anger from our lives:
“A cunning part of [Satan’s] strategy is to dissociate anger from agency, making us believe that we are victims of an emotion that we cannot control. … The Lord expects us to make the choice not to become angry. … When the Lord eliminates the phrase ‘without a cause,’ He leaves us without an excuse. …
“Anger is a yielding to Satan’s influence by surrendering our self-control. It is the thought-sin that leads to hostile feelings or behavior. … Understanding the connection between agency and anger is the first step in eliminating it from our lives” (“Agency and Anger,” Ensign, May 1998, 80–81).
President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) reminded us that we can choose not to become angry:
“To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible. …
“ … We are all susceptible to those feelings which, if left unchecked, can lead to anger. We experience displeasure or irritation or antagonism, and if we so choose, we lose our temper and become angry with others. Ironically, those others are often members of our own families—the people we really love the most. …
“May we make a conscious decision, each time such a decision must be made, to refrain from anger” (“School Thy Feelings, O My Brother,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 68–69).
While serving as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder David E. Sorensen explained that agreeing with one’s adversary means working out disagreements before they lead to a worse situation: “The Savior said, ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him’ [Matthew 5:25], thus commanding us to resolve our differences early on, lest the passions of the moment escalate into physical or emotional cruelty, and we fall captive to our anger. Nowhere does this principle apply more than in our families” (“Forgiveness Will Change Bitterness to Love,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 11).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed the seriousness of the sin of lust: “Why is lust such a deadly sin? Well, in addition to the completely Spirit-destroying impact it has upon our souls, I think it is a sin because it defiles the highest and holiest relationship God gives us in mortality—the love that a man and a woman have for each other and the desire that couple has to bring children into a family intended to be forever. … Love makes us instinctively reach out to God and other people. Lust, on the other hand, is anything but godly and celebrates self-indulgence. Love comes with open hands and open heart; lust comes with only an open appetite” (“Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 44–45).
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency spoke about the effects of pornography—a prevalent cause and promoter of lust—on those who view it: “Pornography impairs one’s ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. As conscience is desensitized, patrons of pornography are led to act out what they have witnessed, regardless of its effects on their life and the lives of others” (“Pornography,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 89).
The Joseph Smith Translation makes it clear that the Savior did not encourage His followers to literally cut or disfigure themselves. The Savior said, “And now this I speak, a parable concerning your sins; wherefore, cast them from you, that ye may not be hewn down and cast into the fire” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 5:34 [in Matthew 5:30, footnote b]).
The Savior used startling images to teach followers the importance of casting away their sins and removing themselves from sinful places, people, and situations (see Matthew 5:29–30; 18:8–9; Mark 9:43–48; Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 9:40–48 [in the Bible appendix]).
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught that the terms “right eye” or “right hand” can mean “close friends or relatives who [endeavor] to lead us from the path of rectitude and humble obedience to the divine commandments we receive from the Lord. If any friend or relative endeavors to lead a person away from the commandments, it is better to dispense with his friendship and association than to follow him in evil practices to destruction” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [1957–66], 5:79).
The commandment “Love thy neighbour” is found in Leviticus 19:18, but no scripture in the Old Testament commands us to hate thine enemy. It appears the Savior was referring to a saying common in His day. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946 may reveal that some Jews at the time of Christ did in fact teach that they should love fellow members of their community but hate outsiders (see Dana M. Pike, “Is the Plan of Salvation Attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls?” in Donald W. Parry and Dana M. Pike, eds., LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls , 93, note 19).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency taught about the healing power of forgiveness:
“Our natural response [to injuries inflicted by others] is anger. We may even feel justified in wanting to ‘get even’ with anyone who inflicts injury on us or our family.
“Dr. Sidney Simon, a recognized authority on values realization, has provided an excellent definition of forgiveness as it applies to human relationships:
“‘Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves’ [with Suzanne Simon, Forgiveness: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Get On with Your Life (1990), 19]. …
“… It is not easy to let go and empty our hearts of festering resentment. The Savior has offered to all of us a precious peace through His Atonement, but this can come only as we are willing to cast out negative feelings of anger, spite, or revenge. For all of us who forgive ‘those who trespass against us,’ even those who have committed serious crimes, the Atonement brings a measure of peace and comfort.
“… With all my heart and soul, I believe in the healing power that can come to us as we follow the counsel of the Savior ‘to forgive all men’ [D&C 64:10]” (“The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 68–69).
For more information about the Savior’s teachings on forgiveness, see the commentary for Matthew 18:21–22.
President Russell M. Nelson explained the meaning of the word perfect as used in Matthew 5:48:
“The term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ … The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’ Please note that the word does not imply freedom from error; it implies achieving a distant objective. …
“We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments” (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 86, 88).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 268).
“Alms” can be defined as acts of righteousness or religious devotion, including acts of service or charity. President Dallin H. Oaks helped us understand the Savior’s teaching that our service should be done for the right reasons:
“Some may serve for hope of earthly reward. Such a man or woman might serve in Church positions or in private acts of mercy in an effort to achieve prominence or cultivate contacts that would increase income or aid in acquiring wealth. Others might serve in order to obtain worldly honors, prominence, or power. …
“If our service is to be most efficacious, it must be accomplished for the love of God and the love of his children. …
“I know that God expects us to work to purify our hearts and our thoughts so that we may serve one another for the highest and best reason, the pure love of Christ” (“Why Do We Serve?” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 13–15).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie described some of the prayer practices that the Savior warned against in Matthew 6:5: “Devout Jews, at set times, faced Jerusalem, covered their heads, cast their eyes downward, and ostentatiously went through the ritual of prayer. If the hour of prayer found them in the streets, so much the better, for all men would see their devoutness! To attract attention by saying one’s own prayers aloud in the synagogue was not uncommon. Such were among the practices of the day” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:147).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained what is meant by “vain repetitions” and how we can avoid them in our prayers:
“Our prayers become hollow when we say similar words in similar ways over and over so often that the words become more of a recitation than a communication. This is what the Savior described as ‘vain repetitions’ (see Matthew 6:7). …
“Do your prayers at times sound and feel the same? Have you ever said a prayer mechanically, the words pouring forth as though cut from a machine? Do you sometimes bore yourself as you pray?
“Will prayers that do not demand much of your thought merit much attention from our Heavenly Father? When you find yourself getting into a routine with your prayers, step back and think. Meditate for a while on the things for which you really are grateful. Look for them. They don’t have to be grand or glorious. …
“Think of those things you truly need. Bring your goals and your hopes and your dreams to the Lord and set them before Him. Heavenly Father wants us to approach Him and ask for His divine aid” (“Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 24, 26).
Some people might ask what purpose is served in asking for blessings if Heavenly Father already knows what we need. Through prayer we acknowledge our dependence on the Lord, exercise our faith in His ability to bestow desired blessings, and acknowledge that ultimately all blessings come from Him. Approached properly, prayer helps us evaluate our lives and align with the will of God.
Elder David E. Sorensen taught that one reason we pray is because the process of prayer changes us: “I believe that our Heavenly Father teaches us to pray because the very act of praying will improve us. We worship our Father in Heaven as all-knowing and all-powerful. Surely, as our Creator, He knows our cares, our worries, our joys, our struggles without our informing Him. The reason our Heavenly Father asks us to pray cannot be that we are able to tell Him something He does not already know. Rather, the reason He asks us to pray is that the process of learning to communicate effectively with Him will shape and change our lives” (“Prayer,” Ensign, May 1993, 31).
The Bible Dictionary teaches that we also pray to gain blessings the Lord desires to give but requires us to ask for: “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer”).
President Russell M. Nelson observed: “The Lord prefaced His prayer by first asking His followers to avoid ‘vain repetitions’ [Matthew 6:7] and to pray ‘after this manner’ [Matthew 6:9]. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer serves as a pattern to follow and not as a piece to memorize and recite repetitively” (“Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 46).
President Dallin H. Oaks taught that we should use special prayer language when addressing our Father in Heaven:
“When we go to worship in a temple or a church, we put aside our working clothes and dress ourselves in something better. This change of clothing is a mark of respect. Similarly, when we address our Heavenly Father, we should put aside our working words and clothe our prayers in special language of reverence and respect. In offering prayers in the English language, members of our church do not address our Heavenly Father with the same words we use in speaking to a fellow worker, to an employee or employer, or to a merchant in the marketplace. We use special words that have been sanctified by use in inspired communications, words that have been recommended to us and modeled for us by those we sustain as prophets and inspired teachers.
“The special language of prayer follows different forms in different languages, but the principle is always the same. We should address prayers to our Heavenly Father in words which speakers of that language associate with love and respect and reverence and closeness” (“The Language of Prayer,” Ensign, May 1993, 15–16).
Jesus Christ taught that we should pray for the kingdom of God to come. As President of the Church, President Thomas S. Monson called upon the Saints to petition the Lord in prayer to open those areas of the world where the gospel is not currently allowed to be preached:
“The Church is steadily growing; it has since its organization over 178 years ago. … There remain, however, areas of the world where our influence is limited and where we are not allowed to share the gospel freely. As did President Spencer W. Kimball over 32 years ago, I urge you to pray for the opening of those areas, that we might share with them the joy of the gospel. As we prayed then in response to President Kimball’s pleadings, we saw miracles unfold as country after country, formerly closed to the Church, was opened. Such will transpire again as we pray with faith” (“Welcome to Conference,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 6).
The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies that the Lord does not lead us into temptation: “And suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 6:14; compare Matthew 6:13, footnote a; see also James 1:13).
While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Joe J. Christensen taught: “How do we determine where our treasure is? To do so, we need to evaluate the amount of time, money, and thought we devote to something” (“Greed, Selfishness, and Overindulgence,” Ensign, May 1999, 10).
President Thomas S. Monson declared:
“The Savior of the world spoke of treasure. In His Sermon on the Mount He declared:
“‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth. …
“‘But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. …
“‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ [Matthew 6:19–21].
“The promised reward was not a treasure of ivory, gold, or silver. Neither did it consist of acres of land or a portfolio of stocks and bonds. The Master spoke of riches within the grasp of all—even joy unspeakable here and eternal happiness hereafter” (“In Search of Treasure,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 19).
Single, as used in this verse, comes from a Greek word meaning “sound, healthy, simple, sincere.” Knowing this definition helps us understand the Savior’s instructions concerning the giving of alms, praying, and fasting. These should all be done with a simple and sincere focus on our Father in Heaven or on the recipient. We might consider such questions as: When I give to the poor, do I hope to bring glory to God or to myself? When I serve the Lord, am I doing so to receive approval from the Lord or from men? When I pray in public, am I addressing God or those in the congregation? (See 2 Nephi 2:30; D&C 88:67–68; Moses 4:2; Joseph Smith—History 1:46.)
Mammon comes from an Aramaic term meaning “worldly riches” or “wealth.”
The Greek phrase that translated to “take no thought” in Matthew 6:25, 34 of the King James Version means to not be overly anxious or worried (see also Matthew 6:27–28, 31; compare the same meaning in Luke 10:41 and Philippians 4:6–7). Although the Joseph Smith Translation of these verses and the version in 3 Nephi 13:25–34 indicate that these teachings are directed specifically to the Apostles, they are applicable to each of us (see D&C 84:81). The Lord is teaching all of us that we are not to let worldly concerns cause us to lose trust in our Father in Heaven or become diverted from seeking His kingdom.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) explained why we should place God and His kingdom above all else in our lives:
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.
“We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives. …
“We should give God, the Father of our spirits, an exclusive preeminence in our lives. He has a prior parental claim on our eternal welfare, ahead of all other ties that may bind us here or hereafter” (“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4–5).
President Dallin H. Oaks made a similar observation: “‘Seek … first to build up the kingdom of God’ [Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 6:38 (in Matthew 6:33, footnote a)] means to assign first priority to God and to His work. The work of God is to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39), and all that this entails. … As someone has said, if we do not choose the kingdom of God first, it will make little difference in the long run what we have chosen instead of it” (“Focus and Priorities,” Ensign, May 2001, 83–84). For further information, see the commentary for Matthew 12:30.
Matthew’s counsel from the Savior, “no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34), means “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow—you have enough to deal with today.”
The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies the Savior’s words: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 7:2 [in Matthew 7:1, footnote a]). President Dallin H. Oaks explained these teachings and their application, basing his comments on the principle “that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles”:
“First, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions.
“Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest. …
“Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities. …
“Fourth, we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts. …
“A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations. … We can set and act upon high standards for ourselves or our homes without condemning those who do otherwise. …
“Sixth, forgiveness is a companion principle to [this] commandment. … In modern revelation the Lord has declared, ‘I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men’ (D&C 64:10).
“Seventh, a final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards” (“‘Judge Not’ and Judging,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 7, 9–12).
President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) shared the following story, illustrating the need to refrain from judging others:
“A young couple, Lisa and John, moved into a new neighborhood. One morning while they were eating breakfast, Lisa looked out the window and watched her next-door neighbor hanging out her wash.
“‘That laundry’s not clean!’ Lisa exclaimed. ‘Our neighbor doesn’t know how to get clothes clean!’
“John looked on but remained silent.
“Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, Lisa would make the same comments.
“A few weeks later Lisa was surprised to glance out her window and see a nice, clean wash hanging in her neighbor’s yard. She said to her husband, ‘Look, John—she’s finally learned how to wash correctly! I wonder how she did it.’
“John replied, ‘Well, dear, I have the answer for you. You’ll be interested to know that I got up early this morning and washed our windows!’
“… I’d like to share with you a few thoughts concerning how we view each other. Are we looking through a window which needs cleaning? Are we making judgments when we don’t have all the facts? What do we see when we look at others? What judgments do we make about them? …
“None of us is perfect. I know of no one who would profess to be so. And yet for some reason, despite our own imperfections, we have a tendency to point out those of others. We make judgments concerning their actions or inactions.
“There is really no way we can know the heart, the intentions, or the circumstances of someone who might say or do something we find reason to criticize. Thus the commandment: ‘Judge not’” (“Charity Never Faileth,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 122).
The Greek word translated as mote refers to a tiny speck, chip, or splinter. The Greek word translated as beam refers to a large wooden beam used in constructing houses. The Savior’s reference to the mote and beam is an example of hyperbole, a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to make a point (compare Matthew 5:29; 19:24). The Savior’s teaching in these verses turns our focus from other people’s faults to our own.
Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that the Lord will give us what we need, not necessarily what we ask for: “Our Father in Heaven has invited you to express your needs, hopes, and desires unto Him. That should not be done in a spirit of negotiation, but rather as a willingness to obey His will no matter what direction that takes. His invitation ‘Ask, and ye shall receive’ (3 Ne. 27:29) does not assure that you will get what you want. It does guarantee that, if worthy, you will get what you need, as judged by a Father that loves you perfectly, who wants your eternal happiness even more than do you” (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 17).
Whereas much of the Sermon on the Mount was directed to the multitude (see Matthew 5:1), the Joseph Smith Translation teaches that the Savior’s words recorded in Matthew 7:1–28 were directed to His disciples (see Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 7:1 [in Matthew 7:1, footnote a]).
President Dallin H. Oaks taught that it is not enough for us just to know and profess that the gospel is true: “The conversion [Jesus] required for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 18:3) was far more than just being converted to testify to the truthfulness of the gospel. To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be ‘converted,’ which requires us to do and to become. If any of us relies solely upon our knowledge and testimony of the gospel, we are in the same position as the blessed but still unfinished Apostles whom Jesus challenged to be ‘converted’ [see Luke 22:32]” (“The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 33).
The Joseph Smith Translation changed “I never knew you” to “Ye never knew me” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 7:33 [in Matthew 7:23, footnote a]). Similarly, the Joseph Smith Translation changed “I know you not” to “Ye know me not” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 25:11 [in Matthew 25:12, footnote a]). We might ask ourselves, “Is it possible to be active in Church programs but not have the gospel active in our hearts?”
For insight about how the Savior taught with authority and differently from the scribes, see the commentary for Mark 1:22.