Is it wrong to judge? Jesus Christ doesn’t say so. Yes, judging can often be sinful, but it’s important to grasp that it can also be biblical.
You’ve landed on the first entry of the debut Millennials for Jesus Christ article series. With the “Millennial Meditation“, my aim is to explain the proper exegesis (interpretation and application) of Scripture verses/passages that I believe tend to be handled incorrectly. Yet I won’t only zero in on instances when this is done maliciously; it can be easy to do [in general] thanks to our cultural and personal biases and presuppositions. I want to provoke conversation by presenting my arguments for a Scripture’s proper take-away. I encourage your participation!
You likely already noticed as well [based on the article title] that I chose to begin this series by analyzing what is perhaps the most widely used and most commonly misused Bible verse in the context of arguments and debates, and of course much more. You’ve probably seen Matthew 7:1 references all over political blogs, heard it used at work…perhaps even at church, and so on.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
There it is, a weapon utilized by many to accuse others of either not having the right to analyze their words, actions, personal life choices, etc, or to call foul over others’ supposed hypocrisy. You’ll often encounter it when individuals lock horns over issues like homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, or whatever other moral quandary the media has managed to hype up for the day. And this especially goes for the online arena, where [Christian] participants often check their Christ-likeness at the door in favor of attempting to intellectually dominate people they’ll never meet.
Altogether, Matthew 7:1 is the classic Bible verse that people use to conveniently duck responsibility for what they do and say, or don’t. Regardless, our understanding of its meaning must be biblically-based. What God actually says, not what we want to conveniently believe for our own selfish and sinful purposes, is what stands supreme in the end. Let’s dive in!
It’s important to emphasize that no verses preceding Matthew 7:1 have bearing on its meaning. In some cases the chapters, verses, and topical divisions included in our English translations break up the author’s flow of thought. You come across that a lot in the book of Acts, for example. And sometimes you must understand a number of prior verses to properly interpret those separated by a new chapter or topical division.
But to have the full meaning of Matthew 7:1, look no further than the four verses that follow. 7:1 is underlined.
“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.
If Jesus Christ only said, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.”, then there might be a reason to be gravely concerned when anyone critiques another person in any way, not just Christians. But not only is that the farthest thing from what Jesus is actually teaching, He further enumerates the proper way to judge, which in the end corrects a spiritually poisonous practice that Israel’s religious leaders (read: Pharisees) lorded over God’s chosen people.
You see, the Pharisees never served God in the way He desired and demanded. Instead, the Jewish [political] group had developed a system of extra-biblical laws and regulations that had to be obeyed on top of the Mosaic law. This may not have been so terrible were it not for their using this system as the ultimate means to be in righteous standing before God. If the Pharisees’ fellow Israelites did not measure up to these traditions, they were regarded as condemned before God. And that’s what the words which follow 7:1 speak to. If you condemn others before God, God will treat you the same way. No human has the right to pronounce the spiritual condition of another. Jesus further called the Pharisees out for this horrific treatment of Israel later on in Matthew 23:13.
Jesus never told us to abstain from judgment, but you wouldn’t know that if you only ever see the way Matthew 7:1 is used online, hear how it’s used in public, etc. Yet the reality is that we judge things every day. We judge others’ driving. We judge people exposed on the news for their criminal acts. We judge what others say to us. This doesn’t mean we’re going around rendering guilty/not guilty verdicts on people, but rather filtering decisions, actions, and words through our God-instilled moral compasses and personal preferences.
How is judging done properly? Jesus’s comments that follow verse 2 are the key. Specifically, verse 5 is Him teaching us to be confident that we’ve worked on mortifying a particular sin in our own lives before we decide to approach another Christian for the purpose of helping them do the same. Does that mean there is some kind of measuring stick of determining that you’ve sufficiently dealt with a personal sin? No, otherwise loving confrontation about sin would never happen. (We must discern all such situations uniquely and carefully, inviting God’s Word to work on us first.) Does that mean you should never approach a believer about their sin because you believe you are holier than they? You bet! The need to see clearly (i.e. be living a pattern of Spirit-led righteousness) before removing the speck from another’s eye (i.e. helping a fellow Christian) entails being humbled by God’s grace over the seriousness of your own sin, having a militant attitude toward killing it, and living a pattern of Spirit-led righteousness in that area. Otherwise, you may very well be a hypocrite.
Jesus never told His followers it was wrong to judge. He did tell His followers it is sin to judge as though they are God. Regarding the sure need to root sin out of our lives, our Lord tells us both what not to do, and also how to properly help a brother understand that what they’re saying or doing isn’t lining up with God’s Word (i.e. is sin). This ought always be done in a spirit of grace (Galatians 6:1), but God surely wants Christians to humbly and gently point out sin in one another, help each other practically, and intercede for the wondrous power of the Spirit to work!
I hope now you understand Matthew 7:1 better, and will now apply it more biblically to your conversations with others. Have any comments to add? Any questions? Please sound off in the comments below!