To Judge or Not to Judge
Welcome to another installment of Clay’s Corner. The title of this post says it all. Thank you again for visiting and I look forward to your feedback.
Matthew 7:1 states, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (NKJV)
Matthew 7:1 is probably the most misused, misunderstood, misapplied and misinterpreted scripture in the history of misuses and misinterpretations! It is a phrase that has been used countless times during contentious conversations or in defensive moments when someone is confronted about their behavior. It is used and abused by both Christians and non-Christians alike!
Those who mishandle this verse often use it as a “shield for sin,” a barrier to keep others at bay, allowing them to justify living as they please without any regard for moral boundaries or accountability. They sound like this: “Aren’t we all sinners? What gives us the right to make moral judgments about someone else? Only God can judge me!”
However, when we take a closer look at the context of Matthew 7 and the teachings of the rest of the Scripture, it is clear that this verse cannot be used to substantiate unrestrained moral freedom, autonomy and independence. This was not Jesus’ intent. He was not advocating a hands-off approach to moral accountability, refusing to allow anyone to make moral judgments in any sense. Actually, quite the opposite. Jesus was explicitly rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were quick to see the sins of others but were blind and unwilling to hold themselves accountable to the same standard they were imposing on everyone else.
Jesus is proclaiming a high moral standard that is consistent with what it means to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God. In other words, those who repent and place their faith and trust in Jesus alone for their salvation become “children of God,” are adopted into God’s family, and become members of the spiritual kingdom He has established on earth. Believers who live in this kingdom are called to live differently and Jesus is explaining what that looks like in a very practical sense. His words are not hard to understand as He sets up a strong moral ethic that reflects what it means to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. It is in this scriptures that Jesus addresses the issue of hypocrisy.
I often wonder if Jesus was looking right at the Pharisees when he said this. The Pharisees were notorious for condemning the shortcomings of others when all the while they were the ones who stood condemned because they were doing the very same things. Jesus said that judgment reciprocates. In other words, the measuring stick they used to measure the lives of others will be the same measuring stick held up against their lives by God himself.
Notice that Jesus says the hypocrite will be the one with the bigger problem. Because their sin was not merely comparable to a speck of dust; it was more like a wooden plank and they refused to take it out.
What this means is that the greater judgment is reserved for the one who has purposefully overlooked his own mammoth sin while pointing out the smaller sins of others. Jesus emphatically says this must change, so He gives two commands: Stop judging others in a hypocritical fashion, and get the sin out of your own life.
But let’s be clear. Jesus is not suggesting that we have no right to make moral judgments about human behavior, and He is certainly not suggesting we have no right to hold others accountable. He doesn’t condemn mutual accountability and moral responsibility and the need to address sin in the church – He addresses hypocrisy.
But it makes little sense to approach a Christian brother or sister about their specific sin if you are committing the very same sin and are unwilling to address it or break free from it. For example, you hear a fellow believer cursing and in humility you gently correct them in private; but then you get on the phone with a friend and share some juicy gossip about someone in church. Or what about a father who rebukes his daughter’s wardrobe and ensures she is dressed modestly; but then when he’s home alone, he surfs the internet for pornography. These are both examples of hypocrisy.
Unfortunately, much damage has been brought to the church by Christians who say one thing and do another. This is not to say we can ever be perfect, but it is of utmost importance that we live lives of consistency and integrity in order to safeguard the name of Christ, whom we represent, as well as the reputation of His church.
We should all be grieved about sin in our lives. And when we see it, we should address it, confessing it and forsaking it out of reverence for God. It is only when we are consistently doing this ourselves that we are qualified and able to address the sins in the lives of others in the church, which we must do as well.
We must take off the old and put on the new. But we can’t do it alone. We need each other.
This is why the apostles called us to help one another in our struggle with sin. For example, James says: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Paul says: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)
Notice that both James and Paul assume two things. First, there will be times when fellow believers will wander off the straight and narrow path. Second, they assume that other Christians, out of love, will seek to come alongside that brother or sister in an effort to bring him or her back from the error of their ways and save them from the destructive power of sin. Jesus’ method for doing this can be found in Matthew 18:15-17.
Since we have been commissioned to proclaim a message of repentance and faith to those outside the church who need to hear the good news, certainly we need to proclaim the same message of repentance and faith to those inside the church.
Therefore, Jesus does not forbid all moral judgment or accountability. Rather, He forbids harsh, prideful, and hypocritical judgment that condemns others outright without first evaluating one’s own spiritual condition and commitment to forsake sin.
We should remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and as such it is written without error and never contradicts itself, because God never contradicts himself. Therefore, it is always wise to interpret a given passage of Scripture by comparing it with the principles and teachings found elsewhere in Scripture. This provides a healthy check and balance and helps us avoid misinterpretations, logical inconsistencies and inappropriate applications.
Keep in mind, I am not saying to go out and start judging one another. I really don’t want a comment on this post saying something along the lines of, “Mike said that you said that he could judge me and rebuke me because I drink kool-aid, which has sugar, and therefore I am not treating my body like the temple of Christ, which is a sin.” However, we are called to keep each other in check, with words of encouragement, when we begin to fall to the wayside.