1Judge not, that you be not judged.— Matthew 7:1 (ESV)
This is the anti-Christian’s (ACs for the rest of this devotion) favorite verse. Any expression of Christian faith that interferes with what they want to do is met with this rejoinder, meant to accuse us of not being familiar with the Book we claim to follow. As fate would have it, though, it turns out that people who don’t believe the Bible is true are very poor theologians. To begin, let’s take a look at the next 4 verses.
2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or 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? 5You 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.— Matthew 7:2-5 (ESV)
In verse 2, Jesus basically says that we will be judged based on the standards by which we judge others. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that if we never hold others to a standard, we can just live however we want. See Romans 6:1-2 for Christians and Revelation 20:11-15 for the unsaved.) In verses 3-4, Jesus talks about how foolish it would be for a person to have a log (or “beam” or “plank” in other translations) in their eye, yet attempt to diagnose and remove a speck from another person’s eye. (“Ah ha - I see where He’s going!” think the ACs at this point…) He then continues “You hypocrite!” (“PREACH IT,” yell the ACs, “You tell 'em!”)
As an aside - doesn’t that sound just a bit judgmental? We’ll come back to that…
The following words of Christ are often split; people focus on one half or the other, just as they do with His words to the woman caught in adultery.
11…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”— John 8:11b (ESV)
In Matthew 7:5, the phrases are separated by a comma; in John 8:11, they’re separated by a semicolon. In both cases, the ACs like the first part, but folks we’ll call turbo-Christians (TCs hereafter) like to act like the second part is the important one. We’ll explore that a bit more in the final analysis as well. For now, though, what does Jesus say for the hypocrite to do? “Take the log out of your own eye.” In other words, “Get yourself right.” But then, what does He say next - why are we to take the log out of our eyes? “…then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Aren’t we going to have to identify a speck, and call a speck a speck, before we’re actually able to remove it from our brother’s eye?
Jesus then continues…
6Do 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 7:6 (ESV)
Again, here, must we not determine dogs from other animals if we are to avoid giving them “what is holy”? Are we not to distinguish pigs from among all other animals (or plants) if we are to avoid throwing our pearls before them?
Now that we’ve evaluated the context, let’s make some application.
“Judge Not” has nothing to do with what people commonly call “judging”
Calling a sin a sin is not judging, according to this passage. To avoid sin, we must make determinations (AKA “judge”) regarding actions or behaviors as to whether they match up with the guidance contained in the Scriptures. We must be consistently vigilant. The world makes things seem fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable; while none of those attributes are necessarily against God, we must be discerning to make sure that we are not drawn into an alluring sin. The author of Hebrews, when describing Moses in Hebrews 11:24-25, calls it the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (or, as the King James Version translates it, the “pleasures of sin for a season”).
There are several definitions of the word “judge,” not just the one that means “determination.” The same Greek word (krino) translated here as “judge” is the same one translated “sue you” in Matthew 5:40. It is also translated “decided” in Titus 3:12 when Paul is telling Titus where he plans to spend the winter. So what exactly is Jesus trying to tell us to avoid? I believe Paul fleshes this out in the first part of Romans 14.
1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.— Romans 14:1-13 (ESV)
The translation “pass judgment” carries what I believe Matthew 7:1 to be saying. If we pass judgment, we are handing out a sentence - guilty as charged, and condemned to die as an unbeliever. We see believers observing dietary restrictions, or failing to observe the ones we believe are right. Paul is quite clear that dietary restrictions are not a salvation issue, and really are not even a glorifying God issue; he makes allowances for people of different diets, different holiday calendars - but the key is verse 8. It must be done to the Lord. If we are failing to observe a dietary restriction because we like eating that food, that’s not covered here; if we decide to eat the restricted food because we believe that will help us better serve the Lord, that is honoring to God. If we don’t observe the world’s “holidays” because we want them to make sure they know we’re separate, that’s not the point; if we abstain from these days to help solidify our relationship with Christ, now we’re on the right track.
As this point, the astute AC is saying “Yeah, but this is talking about Christian interrelationship; that’s fine for you to believe, but don’t judge us!” This is still a misunderstanding of the Scripture. Encouraging people to repent, to turn from their sin and to Christ, is not the same as judgment; rather, it is an attempt from a fellow human to prevent them from encountering the ultimate judgment that is to come. We’re not judging you (see the third application below, though), we don’t want you to be judged! Calls for repentance are not what’s prohibited here; otherwise, Jesus started His ministry by violating His own rule (Mark 1:14-15).
Hypocrisy is real, and looks really foolish
Jesus’ picture of someone with a log sticking out of their eye trying to help someone get a speck out of their eye is so ridiculous, He thought it just might get His listeners’ attention. We are very quick to spot flaws in other people while conveniently ignoring our own. This is one reason we are encouraged to spend time in fellowship with other Christians. We all have blind spots; if we could see them, they wouldn’t be blind spots. Our friends, though, can usually see them with 20/20 clarity. By spending time a) in the Word, so we know what is right, and b) with fellow believers, who also know what is right, we can help one another as we endeavor to walk in a closer relationship with Christ.
The church is full of recovering hypocrites; it is important that we do our dead-level best to strive to live up to the beliefs we claim to have. We must do it; the world is watching, and they’re not impressed.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
Christians should not be judgmental people
I mentioned that we’d come back to the “judgmental” “You hypocrites!” proclamation. There are two aspects to this we’ll explore as we begin to wrap this up. The first is a non-spiritual observation. Saying something silly to loosen up the listeners, before you hit them with something difficult, did not originate with comedians of the past 40 years. Jesus knew His listeners would be chuckling as He described that silly scene, then He dropped the attention-getting line. He is a great example (the example) of how to be winsome while delievering words the hearer may not want to hear. The second is that Jesus nearly universally used this tone with people who should know better, but were using His name for their own personal gain. Whether it was the moneychangers He drove out of the temple (Matthew 21:14-15) increaing their wallets, or the Pharisees He termed a bunch of snakes (Matthew 12:33-34) who used the temple for their own popularity, He judged them, and did so pretty harshly.
At this point, the TCs are fired up. “Yeah - let’s go braid some whips!” Simmer down… Yes, Jesus said that we could get the speck out of our brother’s eye, and He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.” But we have to take all of Scripture in context; a call to change does not exist without a call to repent, and without the power a relationship with Christ brings, behavioral change cannot happen. In our passage here, Jesus tells us to get the log out of our eye before going to work on the speck in the other guy’s eye. In John 8:11, He precedes the admonition with “Neither to I condemn you.” The Greek word translated “condemn” is katakrino, a stronger form of the one translated “judge” in Matthew 7:1.
Jesus did not come to condemn the world; He came to save it. When we go out and rail against the prevailing sin of the day, and do so in a manner that makes it sound like they are beyond saving and have condemned themselves already, we are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Calling people to repentance is fine; calling sin sin is fine; but we must be sure that we are leaving room for the Holy Spirit to convict them of that sin. If we shut people down, and tell them they’ve gone too far, they might just believe us; and that would be truly sad, because as Peter described the One we serve,
9The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.— 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
We should not be silent, and we should not compromise the truth. However, we should also remember, as Paul wrote in Romans 14, that we are here for God’s glory. Let us be sure that He is glorified as we, in a winsome way, share His good news with the world in which we live.