I think many of us in more reformed circles, have long ago gotten weary of those who quote Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you will not be judged,” as a catch-all phrase for shutting down anyone who would question false doctrine and its’ teachers, or call sinful behavior sin. The phrase has even caught on with people who don’t care anything about the bible, but have chosen this statement as their kind of “life verse.”
But this is not an article about that. If you want to learn what the bible says about these things, perhaps brush up on the topic of church discipline, or take a gander at the book of Jude.
I read through Matthew 7 the other day, and I was struck by how sobering verse 1-5 really is.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log 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.”
In these verses you have a warning about actions (judging) and a warning about consequences (being judged), as well as a warning about hypocrisy. Jesus is warning His disciples on the topic of judging others, and whenever He warns us, we should take it seriously.
In other words, just because some people overreach with and abuse this text, that doesn’t allow us the freedom sweep it under the rug. So here’s a few points and questions I thought about from looking at the text:
1. When you pass judgement on others, God is going to judge your judgement.
Imagine if we prepared out hearts every time we were going to engage in judging others, even in our own thought life. What if we slowed our thoughts, and took them under control, acknowledging that God was weighing them? It would make a big difference wouldn’t it? We would be less hasty and assuming; We would put a knife to our own cruelness.
2. When you judge others, are you laboring to keep the Great Commandment, loving God and loving others as you love yourself? Do you long to believe the best about people? Do you try not to imagine details or motives that you have no way of proving or knowing? Who do you run to with your judgments? Is it only an occasion for gossip, or do you have genuine concern and a goal of restoration in mind?
3. By what standard do you measure others? I think here of the Pharisees, whom Jesus indicted, saying “… they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulder, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger (Matthew 23:3-4).”
Do you expect perfection out of other people, or do you give grace as you have also received grace? I am not talking here about overlooking serious sin, or allowing yourself to be a victim of abuse, but rather for us to question ourselves- are you being reasonable in your judgements and expectations of others?
Or are you being hypocritical in your judgement, holding others to a higher standard than yourself? Could it be that sometimes you even hold people to a standard that goes beyond what is written in scripture, as the Pharisees did?
4. Do you examine yourself before you judge others? Jesus shows us here that we have a proneness to be stupidly blind to our own sin. We can see a speck in our neighbor’s eye, but not the log in our own. Our own sins seem small, while other people’s seem big. Isn’t this a sad truth, that we can all relate to if we are honest? Other people’s sin is an affront to us, but we are often at home and undisturbed by our own.
So if we are going to take Jesus’ warnings seriously, and still come to the conclusion that we need to move forward in making righteous judgments, we need to examine ourselves first. We aren’t “great stuff,” while our sinning friend is a schmuck. And if we come across like that, our friend isn’t too likely to respect us either.
5. Recognize that God alone is our ultimate and perfect judge.
This text makes it clear that God cares about and sees the way we judge others, and that He is going to judge us accordingly. Romans 2:1-3 states this so powerfully:
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?”
There is one all-seeing, all-knowing, perfectly unbiased, righteous Judge of the earth, whom every person will stand before. He alone is able to see inside the heart of man, and discern his thoughts. When dealing with misconceptions about himself within the Corinthian church, Paul admonishes, while also taking comfort in this, that “…it is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness, and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).”
We are imperfect judges, yet God’s word tells us, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment (John 7:24).” In the context of John 7, Jesus is confronting the prejudice some Jews had against Him, which was causing them to judge with unbalanced scales. They did not condemn each other for doing good by circumcising on the Sabbath, but they were angry with Jesus for healing a man on the same day. They had a great big log in their eye, judging hypocritically and unevenly, rather than judging righteously, by evidence and truth.
6. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can make righteous judgments.
By heeding Jesus’ warnings about judging others, and by “first (taking) the log out of your own eye,” it is possible to help a Christian brother or sister remove the speck from their eye. That is great news! But if the comments sections on the internet are any kind of indicator, I don’t think this is something we often do very well. I know I don’t. So it was both convicting and encouraging to think about this, and I hope it has been for you too. May God give us the grace to remember this and the strength to practice it, all for His honor and glory!