It’s Friday night. It’s Fall. It’s Football season.
You load your family up in the minivan to support the local high-school football team. You scan the bleachers for a space large enough to contain your squirrely children. Up a few rows in the bleachers you find a spot and unpack the house and set up camp with your kiddos.
No more than five minutes into the game you begin regretting your choice of seats. Your children and their virgin ears are being treated to a litany of new words. “F” this and “F” that. And the poor ref has already been called things that even you have to look up on urban dictionary to understand.
You would think that sitting in front of one of your deacons would have been a safer bet.
After the game you lovingly confront this deacon about his language. You admonish him with Ephesians 4:29 and remind him that the referee also has a family—and that calling him some of those names likely wasn’t “building him up”. You tell him that the only thing he “built up” on that night was, unfortunately, your child’s vocabulary.
Mr. Deacon, though, is not to be outdone. He knows his Bible too. And he quickly points you to Matthew 7:1. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”.
Argument over. How dare you cast judgment on this guy and question his word choices?
What does Matthew 7:1 mean?
I’m convinced that Matthew 7:1 has replaced John 3:16 as the most quoted Bible verse. I could have shared any number of scenarios in which this verse is given as a response to rebuke and admonishments. In our culture anytime someone states that a certain behavior is wrong or sinful it is nearly inevitable that someone will pipe in with not judging.
But is it judging to point out the sin of another person? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1 when he tells Christians to not judge?
First, we should note that there is a type of judging that Jesus forbids. If you keep reading in Matthew 7 you’ll see what type of judging Jesus is talking about in verse 1. Verse 2 helps us see that whenever we judge others with a different measuring stick than what we judge ourselves we are being judgmental.
Also, if I believe that your sin is more odious than my own sin, then I’ve fallen into the type of judging that Jesus forbids in Matthew 7:1. Likewise when I am so focused on your sin that I cannot see my own—and I become a terrible hypocrite—then I’m guilty of judging in the way that Jesus forbids.
Matthew 7:1 isn’t a verse that is given to us as a defense against criticism or rebuke. As believers we ought to respond to others admonishing us whether they’ve got a huge plank sticking out of their eye or not.
This verse is given to those that are giving the rebuke to check their own hearts. To use it as a defense is actually to place yourself in the position of the guy with a plank sticking out of his eye. You, being guilty of cursing like a sailor and causing little ones to stumble (that’s your plank), are focusing on the way in which you were rebuked (that’s the speck in his eye).
Can Christians Ever Judge?
It’s clear even in the context of Matthew 7 that there is a way in which Christians ought to judge. In verse 5 the one giving the rebuke is told to take the log out of his eye and then worry about the speck in the eye of your brother. He doesn’t say, “don’t worry about the speck”.
There are other places in Scripture where Jesus actually encourages people to judge. InJohn 7:24 and Luke 12:57 he tells those listening to judge him—and to judge correctly. This implies that there is a fixed standard by which men may judge the truth of something. And it also shows that there are correct ways of making a judgment and incorrect ways of making a judgment.
Paul said much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10:15 and he even said that those who are spiritual make judgments an all sorts of things (1 Corinthians 2:15). Yes, there is a right way to judge and wrong way to judge.
If you view of Matthew 7:1 prevents you from obeying all of the other verses which encourage you to admonish one another, to make truth judgments, etc. then you are likely misreading Matthew 7:1. Likewise, if your view of all those other verses neglects the very real admonishment in Matthew 7:1 then you aren’t reading those other verses correctly.
The believer is to make right judgments using the measuring stick of God’s Word (for his own heart and the life of others).