I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
An Often Misunderstood Verse
Richard J. Mouw, an American theologian and philosopher, has written a book entitled Uncommon Decency. And in this book he said something about being judgmental. He states this:
At a recent gathering of seminary professors, one teacher reported that at his school the most damaging charge one student can lodge against another is that the person is being "judgmental." He found this pattern very upsetting. "You can't get a good argument going in class anymore," he said. "As soon as somebody takes a stand on any important issue, someone else says that the person is being judgmental. And that's it. End of discussion. Everyone is intimidated!"
Many of the other professors nodded knowingly. There seemed to be a consensus that the fear of being judgmental has taken on epidemic proportions.
Is the call for civility just another way of spreading this epidemic? If so, then I'm against civility. But I really don't think that this is what being civil is all about. Christian civility does not commit us to a relativistic perspective. Being civil doesn't mean that we cannot criticize what goes on around us. Civility doesn't require us to approve of what other people believe and do. It is one thing to insist that other people have the right to express their basic convictions; it is another thing to say that they are right in doing so. Civility requires us to live by the first of these principles. But it does not commit us to the second formula. To say that all beliefs and values deserve to be treated as if they were equally true is to endorse relativism -- a perspective that is incompatible with Christian faith and practice. Christian civility does not mean refusing to make judgments about what is good and true. For one thing, it really isn't possible to be completely nonjudgmental. Even telling someone else that she is being judgmental is a rather judgmental thing to do!"
I totally agree with Mouw. Every time a Christian sees evil in the culture and says something about it, inevitably you will hear someone take the quote of Jesus out of context that says:
"Judge not, that you be not judged." (Matthew 7:1).
And they will tell the Christian that they shouldn't be judging others.
Also, it is sad that in our society of "tolerance", many use this verse to attempt to silence believers, so they can be allowed to continue doing their evil practices without someone telling them that it is wrong. If we took their admonition to the extreme, we would never be able to say that murder is evil, or that it is wrong to rape and steal. Someone might say:
"You can't be calling that guy a rapist. Remember, the Bible says not to judge!"
We have to take the time to clear up this twisting of Scripture by Christian and non-Christian alike because there is truly a sense in which the believer is commanded to judge between good and evil in this world. And we cannot allow this manipulation of what our Lord said to keep us from biblically judging others and the evils that they commit against a holy God.
Let us begin by looking at the proper use of judgment and then turn to what our Lord is truly saying about the hypocritical judging of which many are guilty.
I. How the Christian Must Judge
It is a pity that most people don't know that this quote about judging comes from the Sermon on the Mount, or that Jesus is just getting started talking on the subject of judging others. He goes on to say many things after that which clarify this opening statement. Here is the entire context:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement that 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 in in your own eye? Or how can you say
to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', when there
is a 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 what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." Matthew 7:1-6
Some would make the ludicrous claim that Jesus himself never judged people's actions as evil while he was on earth. All you have to do is read the gospels and know that this is not true. Just turn a few more chapters to Matthew 23 and see what he has to say about the Scribes and Pharisees and you'll know that he had some pretty strong condemnations of their actions. And of course he had some strong views concerning divorce and remarriage, and what constitutes adultery as well (Mark 10:11,12).
Also, we see Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 telling us that if we see a brother sinning, that we should respectfully confront them with their sin. This is with the goal of pointing out the truth of their sinful lifestyle, in order to elicit repentance and have them restored to fellowship. Here is what Christ says in these verses:
"If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
James, in his epistle, follows the lead of our Lord when he talks about what to do with one who strays from the truth. He tells his readers:
"My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20).
Also, Paul, in I Corinthians 5 , tells the Corinthian church that they need to do something about the person who claimed to be a brother in Christ and was sleeping with his father's wife. Here is what he says in verse 3:
"For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present."
He then goes on to tell the church that they must throw him out of the fellowship until he repents.
The Apostle Paul further urges us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to speak the truth in love to people. And he says in II Timothy 4:2 that we are to preach the Word and:
"Be prepared in season and out of season: correct, rebuke and encourage- with great patience and careful instruction."
Notice the words correct and rebuke here. We are indeed to point out that sin is sin. But it is always with the goal of leading a person to repentance.
In understanding Jesus' command on judgment we have to realize that the Bible, in many places, also tells us to beware of those who do evil, and of false prophets. Scripture says to us that we are to avoid them. For instance, I John 4:1 says:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
Obviously, this requires some sort of judgement or discernment on our part to be able to do all of this.
All of these things we've just talked about leads us to believe that Jesus was not telling us that all judging of people and their motives is wrong. However, now we need to go further and find out just what type of judgment it is that we must avoid at all costs. In fact it is sinful and destructive for us to participate in it at all.
II. How the Christian Must Not Judge
So what did Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1 when he said not to judge? The context here is hypocrisy, specifically hypocritical judging. It is when we tell someone that they are sinning, while all the while our sinful lifestyle is worse than theirs. That is what he means in verses 3-5 when he tells us:
"Why do you look at 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' and behold, the log is 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."
In other words get the sin out of your own life that you are accusing your brother of doing. And then you have the ability to show him his errors and to lead him out of his sinful lifestyle.
This type of hypocritical judgement includes putting down others for the purpose of exalting yourself. It is the act of finding fault in others when you are totally overwhelmed with fault in our your own life.
You simply can't show him the way out of the dark if you haven't gotten yourself out. Especially if you don't take your own sinful lifestyle seriously and somehow feel that you are justified in doing it. You cannot possibly expect to help your brother get out of the same sin that you yourself embrace.
What Jesus is also saying is that every Christian should go through times of self-examination to see if their life is pure and above reproach. If it is not, then the follower of the Lord must rid themselves of the sin in their lives. So, in other words, judgement begins at home. We must be ever vigilant to keep our lives free from anything that will harm our witness and make us unfit to help others to get out of their sinful lifestyles. The motto: "Physician, heal thyself" comes to mind. We must practice what we preach.
As I noted earlier, Jesus gave some of his strongest rebukes against the Pharisees who were being hypocrites. Matthew 23 is a good example of this. The very first 4 verses tell us:
"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."
Then as He continues in verses 13-36 we have seven woes that our Lord pronounces on the teachers of the law and Pharisees for their hypocritical ways. This is Christ's righteous judgment based upon His knowledge of what these men were sinfully doing. And by these things they were distorting God's righteous law.
If you read this Scripture you will see Jesus' anger at their hypocrisy. One famous woe that is given is Jesus' comparison of these men to whitewashed tombs. He tells them:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For your are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly your are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27,28).
We might rightfully criticize the Pharisees and the way they acted but that should not be the full lesson that we get from these men whom Jesus rebuked. We must go even further and turn the mirror of scrutiny on our own lives, seeing the hypocrisy that is in our heart and seek to rid ourselves of it completely. We should always be testing ourselves to see that inwardly our heart matches our actions on the outside.
III. Jesus' Example of Righteous Judgment (7:6)
It is interesting that the next thing that Jesus says once he finishes talking about the beam in your eye and the speck in your brother's eye is a command that requires a Christian to righteously judge someone. In Matthew 7:6 our Lord states:
"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."
Dogs in Jesus' day were not house pets. They were mangy wild scavengers who ran in packs. The term "dog" is figuratively used to stand for false teachers and those who will be outside of heaven.
The swine or pig is also unfavorably mentioned in the scriptures, being unclean to the Jew (Lev. 11: 7). Swine were associated with filth and were also used by Peter regarding talking about the fallen away ones (Prov. 11: 22, 2 Pet. 2: 22). It was appropriate that the prodigal son ended up "feeding the swine" (Luke 15: 15, 16).
The principle here is that there will be unbelievers who will hear the gospel and despise it, despise the Christ of the gospel and you who are His messenger as well. Their hearts are seared and they will not accept it no matter what you say or do. As a matter of fact they may even try to destroy you if they get angry enough because you are pointing out their sin.
It is interesting that Jesus Himself didn't do many miracles for the unbelievers in Nazareth, his hometown, according to Matthew 13:58 which tells us:
"And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief."
There was clearly a judgment that our Lord made there when He discerned that the people of this area would not accept His message. And we today will have to make similar judgments when we preach the good news for those of this generation.
Before we conclude this message on Jesus' misunderstood words on judging others it might be good to put a further warning into our understanding of this topic. That warning is that when we see a person who is stuck in a particular sin that we may not think that we have personally committed ourselves, we must not go into the situation to help them with a feeling of superiority, thinking that we are any better than they are in any way just because we may not have given in to the temptation to fall into that particular indiscretion. I like the words of F.B Meyer who wrote:
"When we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances."
Unlike the Pharisees, we must not act 'holier than thou' in the way we deal with people. We are all sinners desperately in need of a Savior and we can all say that:
"There but for the grace of God, go I."
None of us is above sin and all of us have fallen short of God's glory. We would all be lost and on our way to Hell if not for God's amazing grace. So we should all have compassion in our judgment for those who may have sinned differently than we do. In judging sinful behavior, we are there to help a person come out of the quicksand and not give them a weight that will help them to sink more quickly.
However, to get back to the real point of Jesus message about judgment in this section, it might be good to mention that He also said in the Sermon on the Mount that a Christian is the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
One main characteristic of light is that it dispels darkness. In this case, darkness is the sinfulness in the world and includes those in it who are stuck in that darkness of sin. The Christian is to be the reflector of the true light of the world, Jesus Christ. But we can't do that if our light is hidden in some way by the way we behave.
This world needs to see Christ's life in us. And we simply cannot live a hypocritical lifestyle and ever hope to be an effective witness for our Lord and Savior. Let us examine ourselves before we criticize those around us. And that is especially true if we are talking about a Christian brother or sister who has given in to temptations that abound all around us.
May we all, today and all the days of our lives, vow that we will righteously judge the darkness that is in this world. And that we will do our best to bring those who are stuck in that darkness into the light of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who alone is the true light of this world. And may God be glorified by our efforts.
© 2011 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on March 14, 2012:
I appreciate that you took the time to read this Hub. May our Lord be praised for any truth that He used me to reveal...May God bless you.
skye2day from Rocky Mountains on March 14, 2012:
godtalk And if any of you lacks wisdom ask and it will be freely given to you. James 1
When we are born again the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. Discernment is a gift and if we lack it we need to ask for it lest we not judge. Amen bro on another Holy Spirit breathed hub of love. Well done good and faithful servant. Sending hugs your sister in Christ.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on March 13, 2012:
Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to read this hub.
dayakthinker on March 12, 2012:
To judge or not to judge can be a very sickening habit. We have to make a choice, and make it our habit. Before we judge, make sure we really know that stuff, and before we judge, make sure that everything that we say will not backfire us in the future.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on September 12, 2011:
You are right Lifegate. Scripture is clear that we need to confront a brother who is sinning in love, with a view toward restoration. Thanks for your comments...God bless
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on September 12, 2011:
I like how you say people take the quote out of context. The last line that you mention, "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', when there is a 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." I certainly need to see clearly before I look a someone else's sin, bu hen once I see clearly I am responsible to be my brother's keeper. Thanks for being true to the Scriptures.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on September 10, 2011:
Thanks. I praise God that He can use me in some way to give insight.
GOODNEX on September 10, 2011:
Great hubs with multiple lessons, I gain insight.
Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on September 10, 2011:
Thanks for stopping by Rob. And I appreciate that you took the time to share your comments. God bless
Rob Lattin from Born in Chicago, now I'm in the Quad Cities on September 10, 2011:
Nice hub and point. How many times have I heard people say that we shouldn't judge others lest we walk in their shoes (or moccasins). Substitute the word 'judge' with condemn and that makes more sense. Only God can condemn/judge a person's soul. We cannot. However, we are told to admonish the sinner. We CAN judge actions and condemn sinful acts. Even civilly, a magistrate judges what a person did and punishes him. he doesn't condemn his soul. Tolerance of sin is being complicent with it, even accepting it. God judges us for our acceptance and tolerance of sin. Great hub!