Don’t Judge Me, Bro

Whenever social issues come up for discussion, especially issues related to homosexuality, it’s not uncommon to hear the Bible verse “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 ESV) thrown around.

This verse, spoken by Jesus Himself, comes from the Sermon on the Mount, and is part of a six-verse passage of Scripture shown below:

“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.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV)

Because this verse is thrown around so much in our culture war today and because the verse is so very important, I decided to spend some time studying the passage and the topic of judging others.

Context

It’s vitally important when studying any passage of Scripture to understand the context of the passage.  Though that really should go without saying, many of us are guilty of pulling out a verse that we like and using it as a whack-a-mole device on those with a different view.  Also, in many cases, our adversaries will not want to hear the context, but this doesn’t diminish it’s importance.

Understanding the context of a verse or passage of Scripture would mean understanding things like:

  • The writer;
  • The audience;
  • The setting or location;
  • Was anything special happening to the writer or audience or at the location at that particular time?; and
  • The subject matter.

Understanding context would also mean understanding the verse or passage related to other passages in the Bible such as:

  • The surrounding verses;
  • The chapter;
  • The book;
  • Location in the Bible (Old or New Testament); and
  • Scripture as a whole.

As an example for understanding the importance of context, consider the following.  Joe DiMaggio holds the record for the longest hitting streak in major league baseball history.  To fully understand that achievement, I might want to know:

  • How many games was the streak?  (56 for the record)
  • How long is the history of major league baseball?
  • How good was the competition?
  • Were any other notable players playing in DiMaggio’s era?

Understanding these things helps us to see the subject matter more clearly.  In the case of DiMaggio, it helps us to understand how monumental his achievement was.  It’s the same with understanding Scripture.

In the case of Matthew 7:1, we have an easy to read verse with the words coming right out of the mouth of Jesus Christ.  At first glance, the context would seem to be crystal clear:  don’t judge in any case.

But a wider glance at Scripture would tell a different story.  For example, Jesus also refers to “judging” in other places, and other writers of Scripture also address the subject.  Consider these two verses, one from Jesus and one from the Apostle Paul:

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jesus in John 7:24 ESV)

“I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.” (Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:15 ESV)

Depending on our prerogative, if we ignored the Biblical context for judgment, we could use any of the above verses to make our point.

But if our prerogative is to have a full understanding of Biblical judgment, we would have to admit that there must be more to topic of “judgment” than just what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1.

Interpretation

Context is important, but remember, it’s only one part of understanding Scripture.  The setting, audience, time, etc. help us to understand what has been written, but ultimately the meaning of the words written in Scripture are what provide the interpretation.  Furthermore, when the Bible addresses a subject in various places, this not only provides context (as mentioned above), it provides a better understanding (i.e. interpretation) of the subject.

In the case of Matthew 7:1, I do not think this was written (or spoken by Jesus) with the intent of being hard to understand or to be misleading.  But I do think the Scriptures must be appropriately handled so that the correct meaning of a passage is conveyed.  Accordingly, to pull this verse of Scripture out of the Bible and wield it as a sword, is very dangerous without the passage being appropriately interpreted.

Many liberal theologians, and others with no particular relationship to Jesus Christ or the Bible,  do just this with “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Interpreting Matthew 7:1

So what does this passage mean?  Well, let’s first look at the entire six verse passage again:

“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.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV)

As noted above, judging is mentioned in various places throughout Scripture.  Some references speak of judging in the same way as Matthew 7:1 and others don’t.  Therefore, we can determine that Jesus, in this passage, must be talking about a particular type of judging or judgment.

A quick glance at Scripture shows several different concepts of judgment, including:

** God will judge all.

“Before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.” (Psalm 96:13 ESV)

“There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12 ESV)

** God will even judge believers.

“Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15 ESV)

** There is judgment within the framework of society.

“As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison.” (Luke 12:58 ESV)

** There is judgment by believers of other believers (i.e. within the church).

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV)

** There is even judgment that can be applied by believers to those in sin (whether Christian or not).

“These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good. Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.” (Proverbs 24:23-26 ESV)

So to use Matthew 7:1 to say that Jesus is outlawing judging isn’t accurate.  To even say that Jesus is outlawing judgment in close relationships isn’t correct.

So what is Jesus saying?  Let’s look closer at Matthew 7:1-6:

1) (v. 1-2) A Warning – Jesus isn’t saying don’t judge each other and if no one tattles we all get a free pass to sin.  Not at all.  He is saying to be very careful when judgment is exercised.  The “judgment you pronounce” and the “measure you use” will be applied back to you (us)!

2) (v. 3-4) An Example – This is one of the more powerful illustrations used by Jesus (at least to me it is) in all of Scripture.  He give the example of us having a log sticking out of our eye, yet hunting for a speck of something in our brother’s eye.  This is ridiculous, right?  Who on earth would be foolish enough to have something jammed in their eye, but still want to poke around in their neighbor’s first?

3) (v. 5) An Instruction – Jesus has a name for those parading around with logs in their eyes and looking for specks in other people’s – “hypocrites.”  The Greek work for hypocrite meant actor, or someone who was faking or pretending.  It has also been described as being “two-faced.”  If you have a log in your own eye, Jesus says take it out of your eye first.  Deal with your own problems first.

4) (v. 5) About Stuff in our Eyes, part 1 – There are few things worse than having something foreign in your eyes.  Our eyes are sensitive and when something unusual is around them – an eyelash, a small bug, a piece of lint – you get the picture, it hurts.  When something is in our eyes, removing the problem becomes our first priority.  Doesn’t it make sense to do what Jesus says and remove the log – the thing that is hurting us – from our own eye first?  When we have done this – when we have dealt with our own issues, our perspective on our brother’s speck changes (“then you will see clearly”).

5) (v. 5) About Stuff in our Eyes, part 2 – Our brother also has something in his eye (a “speck).  And you know what?  Unless his eye has become numbed because he’s had the speck for so long, he’s hurting, too.  When we have something in our eyes, it’s not unusual to first find a mirror.  The speck hurts so bad that we only trust ourselves to remove something from our own eye.  But if there’s no mirror, what do we do?  We try to find someone to help us.  But we want a person we can trust, because after all, we’re dealing with our eyes.  We want someone who can see clearly and get close to the situation to do a good job.  Sometimes we even like to know they have experience – i.e. they’ve removed specks before.  We certainly don’t want someone with a big log hanging out of their eye trying to get close enough to us to help get something out of ours.  We would be dodging a big log and wouldn’t be still enough for someone to help us!

6) (v. 6) A Word about Discernment – At first glance, v. 6 seems a bit out of place, especially in a passage warning us about judging others.  But this actually fits the passage very well.  Jesus is encouraging us to use discernment.  We may know what the Bible says about a particular subject, but we should be very careful in how this knowledge is shared.  Even though we may have examined ourselves enough to practice judgment on others, they may not be ready to hear your message.

7) A Final Thought – We must remember that God is the ultimate Judge.  We must remember what great mercy He has shown to us sinners.  We must remember how great His grace is.  We must remember how incredible it is that the Gospel has been shared with us and that God has called us to repentance.  If we can’t remember how wretched we are and how God has saved us, we are in no position to – whatsoever – to try to work in someone else’s life.  Consider the message Paul gave in Galatians 6:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)

While we must remember that God is the ultimate Judge, we must also remember we are called by Him to take His great message to a lost and dying world.  This involves telling people they are sinners.  Though we are also wretched sinners, at times we seem to enjoy reminding other people of their horrible condition.  That is what Jesus was speaking against in Matthew 7:1.  The passage above reminds us of what our own heart to be like as we deliver this message.

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