Matthew 7:1-6: “Judging” Others

Read: Matthew 7:1-6

“Judge not, lest you be judge” is one of the most quoted (and misquoted!) sayings of Jesus. In modern thought, it the saying is used by some as a defense to keep others from speaking against a particular vice or lifestyle. In Matthew 7 though, Jesus is using the saying in the context of speaking against hypocrisy, a common theme in the Sermon on the Mount. His argument is in essence saying that those who criticize or nitpick others will end up being on the receiving end of such judgments by his own standard, especially when one has a number of faults of his own. And it is almost always the case that those who exhibit such a critical attitude struggle with their own faults such that they attempt to minimize their own shortcomings by magnifying the shortcomings of others. The illustration of a plank in one’s eye compared to a speck in another’s eye speaks in the hyperbole of the situation.

There are a number of ways that people wrongly judge others:

  • Luke 6:27-38 is a parallel text to Matthew here, but puts the same statement concerning judging others in a different light. Luke argues that when shows partiality based on one’s own state that one is judging another. Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-36 where the Samaritan loves the fallen man in spite of not knowing where the fallen man was going or where he was coming from while the priests and Levites did nothing of the sort.
  • Ezekiel 16:52-56 speaks of the attitude of Israel towards Samara and Sodom who were looked down on by the Israelite because of past sins. Ezekiel, however, declares that Israel is more wicked than they are. This haughty attitude is precisely the kind of condition that Jesus is getting at in the the Sermon.
  • James 4:7-12 declares that evil to “speak evil” against one another. The context here has to do bashing people over the head with the law in a tit-for-tat fighting match concerning matters of the law. This is the sort of arguments children have when they are both trying to make the other look to be the the greater of two evils. In doing so, James says, one is calling himself one the others judge rather than letting Christ be the judge.
  • Romans 14 expounds on matters of Christian freedom and how some will make their personal opinions about matters to be matter of right and wrong for everyone, then condemn people according to these opinions. Paul says that one should not do this nor should one be a stumbling block to offend those who do have such opinions. Both extremes are in many ways judging others either in freedom or in weakness.

Jesus is not teaching that one shouldn’t speak against sin here. The difference between judging others in any context and preaching against sin has to do with the standard of judgment. When one “judges” like the hypocrites in the text do, he is subjectively comparing himself to another person. When one is preaching against sin, one is pointing out right and wrong action according to objective standards. This is critical distinction to make because and on a number of occasions the New Testament apostles called out people for sin, but it was done with the intent of calling people to repentance, salvation, and in some cases reconciliation after one has been saved. Interestingly, Jesus follows his teaching concerning the judgment of others with discernment concerning how one should treat that which is holy. Pigs and dogs (which were typically strays) were both unclean animals, and in ancient culture where known to eat just about anything thrown to them. And even when one fed them they would get defensive or even attack the one that fed. Concerning judgment, Jesus is teaching that one shouldn’t waste time with those who won’t repent. There comes a point where one has to move on. Paul calls it “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15-17, Colossians 4:5-6) and cautions against engaging in quarrelsome discussions (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

The call to Christians is clear: speak the truth, but be careful not compare oneself to others. In doing so, one is not judging, rather letting Christ be the judge. It also clear that a Christian should use discernment in knowing when to speak and not to speak the truth. God wants the truth to be made known, but not dragged through the mud!

Lord, help me to speak truth and let you be judge!