You’re Using It Wrong: Matthew 7:1

judge notVery often the most well-known Scriptures are the most misunderstood. We like to throw verses around, sprinkling a few verses here and a few others there without any regard for their contexts. One of those verses Matthew 7:1. “Judge not…” And those who do are self-righteous hypocrites. This verse is used like the ultimate trump card against any confrontation of sin and accountability. “Don’t judge me!” I think we’ve probably all heard the hostile tone as someone we know tries to turn the table against our rebuke. It comes in many forms, and it’s even a banner cry for many churches today.

When I read the words, “At our church, there are no perfect people allowed,” or, “At our church, we don’t expect anyone to be perfect,” all I hear is a church that minimizes the call to righteous living, stiff-arms accountability, and identifies itself as a church that refuses to enforce church discipline. They see this as an unloving act of intolerance that stimulates hypocrisy in the church. It builds itself against a straw-man, apparently seeking to separate itself from all those judgmental churches out there that demand perfection from their members. Show me that church – because I don’t think it exists. But I’m beginning to digress here… so back to the issue at hand.

The blanket statement that Jesus said, “Don’t judge,” is a distortion of God’s Word.

do not judge, twisting scripture

The truth is, as believers, not only are we commanded to judge in Scripture, but as Christians, we are identified as judges!

Jesus said in John 7:24, “Judge with righteous judgement.”

And who do we judge? The Apostle Paul says we judge those both in and outside the church! In fact, that’s why Christians shouldn’t be suing one another, because as judges, we are competent to handle sin and conflict.

Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’ Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judge by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels?

– 1 Cor. 5:12-6:3

So, if we’re not supposed to sue one another in the church because we’re judges, and we’re supposed to remove those from among us who practice immorality (an act of judgement), and we’re going to judge the unbelievers and angels, what can Jesus possibly be saying when He says, “Do not judge” in Matt. 7:1?

The issue is, the manner of judgement, not the act of judgement. 

What Jesus prohibits in Matt. 7:1 is self-righteous, hypocritical, or unfair judgment. There is certainly great warning to anyone who judges in this passage, and I don’t want to diminish that.

For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you (vs. 2).

In other words, when you impose extra-biblical standards on others, watch out! Because then you will be judged by extra-biblical standards. This is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. They were imposing their own measure of rule, rather than the standard of the Master.

formalist and hypocrisyIn Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian comes across two men named “Formalist,” and “Hypocrisy.” The account is fascinating. Christian is walking on the narrow path when he sees two men hope the fence and proceed on their way. Christian confronts them:

“Why didn’t you enter by the gate that stands at the beginning of the way? Don’t you know that it is written that ‘he who does not come in by the door but climbs up some other way is a thief and a robber’?”

Formalist and Hypocrisy laughed at him, and asked an all too familiar question:

“You came into the way through the narrow gate, and we came tumbling over the wall, and since we are both in, who is to say that your chosen path is better than ours?”

To this Christian wisely replied:

“I walk by the rule of my Master; you walk by the rude working of your own notions. You are condemned as thieves already by the Lord of the way; therefore, I doubt you will be found as true men at the end of the journey. You came in by yourselves, without His direction, and will go out by yourselves, without His mercy.”

Formalist and Hypocrisy had nothing else to say but to tell Christian to mind his own business, and they went on their way.1 In other words, they told Christian, “Don’t judge us, stay out of our business.” But do you see how Christian responded? Christian’s confrontation wasn’t a matter of personal preferences. It wasn’t a matter of his own measure of rule. He confronted them in accordance to God’s Word, and that’s what we are called to do.

But there’s more to consider from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7…

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… (vs. 3-5a).

log in eyeTo be called a hypocrite by Jesus Christ is no small thing, and that’s also what the Pharisees were doing. This is the problem with hypocrites – they consume themselves with correcting the lesser sins in others, while refusing to address their own. It’s a critical spirit that fails to scrutinize his or her own life. It’s indicative of a prideful heart and a lack of humility. It’s a self-promotion tactic that keeps the attention off oneself by constantly pointing the finger at others. That’s the difference. It’s not a matter of confronting sin with the purpose of giving glory to Christ. This kind of hypocrisy confronts sin with the purpose of giving glory to self. It’s a scam.

I used to be a landscaper, and would see this sort of thing all the time among contractors and other landscapers making bids on properties. There are two types of contractors, those who argue for the superiority of their work by pointing to the flaws in the work of others, and those who argue for the superiority of their work by pointing you back to their work. They can say, “This is the work I do. Scrutinize it. You’ll find it’s good work.”

That’s not to say that there isn’t any error, and that we shouldn’t be concerned with the error in others. We would be remiss should we forget that there actually is a speck in our brother’s eye! There is a problem, and it needs to be taken care of! That’s why Jesus goes on to say:

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 (vs. 5b).

So, when we see the splinter, we’re not called to just leave it there. We’re called to live righteously before God so that we can encourage and admonish others to do the same. We’re called to judge, but to judge ourselves first. We’re called to address the sin in our own lives, and then address the sin in our brother’s life.