Has this ever happened to you? You share a few words with a friend, neighbour, family member, co-worker or fellow Christian out of concern for their soul, and in return, you are accused of being judgmental, and from those who are mildly familiar with the Bible, you’re told that Jesus condemns judging another.
Check it out. Open up to Matthew 7:1 and read the words of Jesus. See, Jesus told us not to judge! Now, close your Bible. … I’m serious—close your Bible. Ok, is it closed now? Good. Do you know why I asked you to close your Bible? It’s simple; that is what I’ve seen people do after quoting this verse to me. You read the verse, and then you close your Bible—that’s how this verse works.
As we mentioned in last week’s article, context is important. It is not necessary to cite the context of a verse every time we use it, but we need to make sure our understanding of a verse is consistent with its context. Generally I suggest that folks read 7 verses before and after the verse being considered. In most cases, a 15 verse span should be sufficient to be sure our use of a verse is in harmony with the context. That said, there are times we may need to read more—perhaps even a chapter or more. Plus, we need to be sure that our use of a verse is consistent not just with it’s local context, but with the rest of the Scripture as well.
Those using Matthew 7:1 to condemn others for pointing out sin that must be repented of or areas needing improvement in our service to God have demonstrated either ignorance or dishonesty, for they have pulled the verse away from its context.
Looking back 7 verses from Matthew 7:1, we find ourselves reading the last bit of chapter 6 about the need for us to seek the things of God and not worry. In this case, there is a change of topic from chapter 6 to chapter 7, but that is not always so. Keep in mind, the chapter divisions are put there by men, not God. Therefore, when considering the context of a verse, ignore chapter divisions.
Going ahead 7 verses from Matthew 7:1 we find the context of this statement. It becomes evident that verse 1 is not intended to be a stand alone verse. In fact, those who cite verse 1 alone have grossly misrepresented what Jesus said. Notice with me:
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (v 2-5)
Jesus didn’t exclude all judging; He gave parameters so we can judge righteously (cf. John 5:30; 7:24).
The proverbial adage in verse 2 is basically, “you will get what you give.” This concept is this same context of our works (6:1-6), forgiveness (6:14-15), & actions toward others (7:12). What measure should we measure by? God’s word is the standard—to judge by anything else is not the kind of judgment the Lord condones.
Verses 3-5 then illustrate the difference between righteous and unrighteous judgment.
Some are glad to point out the sins of others while ignoring or hiding their own. It is not that one must be perfect in order to judge another (Paul hadn’t attained, but did not hesitate to judge the fornicator in Corinth, Philippians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 5:3). However, it is hypocritical to judge someone regarding a sin while being guilty of the same thing ourselves (cf. Romans 2:1; John 8:1-11).
In Matthew 7:15-16, the Lord warns about false prophets. How do you know a false prophet? It requires a judgment to be made. We compare the word of the teacher to the word of God. If it’s the same, great; if not, then he discovered is teaching falsehood.
Judge not, that you be not judged. Void of it’s context, this verse is a shelter for sin. In context, it is a guard against sin. May we use it rightly.