By Brannon Howse
The Scripture: Judge not, that you be not judged.
The Twist: Christians should never speak words of judgment on others.
The quick explanation of Matthew 7:1 is that this scripture does not prohibit making appropriate judgments. It is telling us how we are to judge. Reading on through verse 2 offers the key to this understanding. Here Jesus says: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Jesus is telling us not to judge harshly or unlovingly. We are not to be hypocritical or to judge with wrong motives. The only kind of judging Jesus warns against is unbiblical judging. In these verses, Jesus is actually instructing His followers to make judgments but to judge rightly, with pure motives, and in love. If you are harsh with people, they’re going to turn around and be harsh back to you.
Consider the implications of Matthew 7:3: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” A speck in the eye is not a minor thing. You may think, “Jesus is referring to something small; a speck must be describing some kind of trivial sin.” But that’s not the meaning here. Anything in a person’s eye is a serious problem. One translation even uses the word “splinter.” So let me ask this: If you have a splinter in your eye is it a big deal? How much does it hurt to have a splinter in your eye? Ouch!
So Jesus is simply commanding us to deal with the sin in our own lives before we judge someone else for the speck or splinter—the sin problem—in his or her life. Sin is trouble no matter what, but we are to take care of our own sin issues and then help a brother or sister with theirs. “Don’t be a hypocrite” is Jesus’ concern for us.
Now consider verse 4: “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?” Jesus is not saying “don’t judge.” He’s saying, take care of your own sin issue, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. If we were called not to judge, He would more likely have simply said something such as “don’t go get the speck or the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” Instead, He says that once you have made sure you have handled the sin in your own life—and thus are not being a hypocrite—go deal with the sin problem your brother has.
Christians are called to judge or to discern what is right or wrong according to God’s Word. In fact, if you look at John 7:24, you’ll see that Jesus spells out the need to judge righteously: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Note: Judge with righteous judgment—so again, we are to judge, but we are to do it in the right way.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus addresses the problem of unrighteous judgment in a well-known parable (note that the people Jesus addresses here are haughty and self-righteous.):
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others . . . “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”
And Jesus concludes:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus is speaking to the issue of proper humility, of not being like the Pharisee who believed himself to be more righteous than other people. The Pharisee, in essence, said to God, “I despise people like him. They’re horrible sinners. They’re—well, let’s list off all the sins they’re involved in—but I am above reproach; I’m righteous. Look at the good I do.”
In reality, people like the Pharisee are not righteous at all. In fact, the Pharisee was an unbeliever who counted on his works and legalism to gain entry into heaven for himself. Jesus points this out and says, “Don’t be self-righteous like that and condemn others when you need to look at your own life, humble yourself, and examine your own life to make sure you are in the faith.”
Make no mistake: Christians are called to judge truth from error. In Matthew 7, Jesus goes on to call certain people dogs, pigs, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. We also know we’re called to judge or discern right from wrong, truth from error, because many other verses specifically tell us to do so, like Romans 16:17: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine by which you learned, and avoid them.” See? We are to note those in our midst who do wrong.
The King James translation of this verse says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Notice it says to mark them. You’ve got to identify them. You must know what is truth and what is error, and then mark the ones who cause divisions or offenses contrary to biblical theology, doctrine, and truth, and avoid them.
In order to know who’s in error, you must make a judgment. We don’t pronounce final judgment on their souls—only God can do that—but we can judge and declare whether or not someone is living in accord with God’s Word. We can judge whether or not someone is teaching truth or error as we use the Word of God as our standard. First Corinthians 11:18-19 even says there must be divisions among us to know who is approved of God:
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
We’re called to mark error. We’re called to point out what is wrong. We’re called to distinguish truth from that which is not true. And to do that, we have to judge, to make reasonable judgments or decisions. One last example: when you look at the scriptural qualifications for an elder, for instance, we’re told how to judge what disqualifies someone from being an elder or leader in the church. If a person practices an inappropriate lifestyle or exhibits ungodly fruit, he is not qualified to be an elder. Judgment is necessary.
So in Matthew 7:1, Jesus sets up the parameters for making biblical judgments. It’s an important direction from the Lord to keep straight in your mind and heart.
Copyright 2014 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.