Introduction: In the following illustration Kent Hughes relates the “experience of a certain young bachelor”:
Every time he brought a prospective wife home, his mother criticized her unmercifully. The young man was at his wits end when a friend offered this advice: “Find someone like your mother.” So he looked and looked until he found a clone. She looked like his mother, her gait was like his mother’s, she talked like his mother, and she even thought like his mother. It was amazing! So he took her home. The next time he saw the friend who had given the advice and was asked how his mother liked the girl, the bachelor answered, “It went great. My mother loved her, but my father couldn’t stand her.” (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 227)
The plight of this young man illustrates well just how unbecoming a hyper-critical spirit can be. It is really hard to please someone like that and really hard to be around such a person as well. We should all want to avoid becoming like that if we want to have healthy relationships and do not want to constantly alienate and offend those around us. But in the passage before us in this post, we will see an even more important reason not to be so hyper-critical, namely that it is hypocritical, as well as arrogant. Let’s begin by taking a look at the central command not to judge in the first part of verse 1.
NKJ Matthew 7:1a “Judge [κρίνω] not,
Many people misuse this verse in order to avoid being criticized or confronted with sin. In fact, I have heard not only believers, but also unbelievers say things like, “Christians aren’t supposed to judge, are they?” This is usually thought to pretty much end the argument whenever any judgment is made about a person’s views or behavior. In fact, many seem to think that this verse advocates a universal acceptance of any viewpoint or lifestyle. But when Jesus gave this command He never intended us to suspend our critical faculties or to never make value judgments about the views or actions of others. And those who take it it that way are just plain wrong. (There I go judging!)
First, their point makes no sense. For example, when a person says Christians are wrong for judging homosexuality to be sin because we are not supposed to judge, they are themselves making a value judgment about Christians. So they are doing the very thing they are saying shouldn’t be done. This is because it is simply impossible to live in this world without making such judgments.
Second, such an understanding of Jesus’ admonition against judging ignores the context it which He gave it. We can see this in both the preceding and the following context. Consider, for example, the following statements from the preceding context:
NKJ Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
How can we ensure that our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees without making some judgment about their so-called righteousness?
NKJ Matthew 6:8a Therefore do not be like them.
Jesus makes this statement with reference to the praying of the hypocrites (vs.5) and the heathens (vs.7). But how can we endeavor to avoid being like them and to pray better than they do without seeing what is wrong with the way they pray and judging it to be so?
NKJ Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Certainly forgiving others means not having a judgmental attitude toward them. But doesn’t it also mean that we must have judged that they sinned against us? Why else would we need to forgive them?
Consider also these examples from the following context:
NKJ Matthew 7:6 Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
If we are not to cast our pearls before swine, obviously we will have to judge who the swine are, won’t we?
NKJ Matthew 7:15-16 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
Clearly we must make judgments about false teachers. Clearly Jesus wants us to judge false prophets as such based upon their words and actions, which is what He means when he goes on to say that, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (vs. 20).
So, whatever our Lord Jesus means by His commandment not to judge, He simply cannot mean that we give up discernment or making value judgments about the views, words, and actions of others. What Jesus does intend will become clearer as we consider what He goes on to say. He says, “Judge not …
NKJ Matthew 7:1b-2 that you be not judged [κρίνω]. For with what judgment you judge [κρίνω], you will be judged [κρίνω]; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Now, when Jesus says that “the measure” we use to judge “will be measured” back to us, what does He mean? Who will measure it back to us? There are two possible answers to this question.
Possible Answer #1: Perhaps Jesus is warning us that we will be judged by other people in the same way that we judge them.
Some have understood the verse way, and it may be pointed out that Jesus does say later in verse 12 that “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (NKJ). But Jesus doesn’t say there that treating others as we want to be treated will necessarily result in their treating us accordingly. This is, however, what Jesus is saying about judging others. We will be judged in accordance with the way we judge others. So, although it may be true that others will often tend to be judgmental toward us if we are judgmental toward them, I do not think the certainty with which Jesus says that this judging of us will happen really fits within the realm of these relationships. This leads us to the second possible answer.
Possible Answer #2: Perhaps Jesus is warning us that we will be judged by God according to the way we judge others. I think this is the correct interpretation for several reasons.
First, it better fits Jesus’ description of a future judgment that is certain. He says, “with what judgment you judge you will be judged” (italics mine). The only certain future judgment all of us will face is the judgment of God.
Second, it better fits Jesus’ apparent use of the Divine Passive in verse 2, when He says, “with what judgment you judge you will be judged” and “with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (italics mine).
The Divine Passive – also referred to as the Theological Passive – is the use of the passive voice when God is the obvious agent of the action. It is thought by some that this usage developed among the Jews due to their aversion to pronouncing the divine name (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 438). But, whatever the origin of the Divine Passive, it is certainly a common way of speaking by Jesus. In fact, it may be found a number of times earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. Take just a couple of the Beatitudes as an example:
NKJ Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (italics mine)
The implied Comforter here is God.
NKJ Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. (italics mine)
The implied agent who will quench our thirst for righteousness is once again God. In the same way, the implied agent who will judge us as we have judged others is God as well.
Third, and finally, the interpretation that sees Jesus as referring to the judgment of God better fits the context, in which He has previously taught us to pray that we will be forgiven as we forgive others (6:12). He offered this explanation:
NKJ Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
In other words, Jesus has already said that God’s judgment of us will reflect how forgiving we are of others. Now Jesus is asserting essentially the same principle with regard to a judgmental attitude (which is also usually an unforgiving attitude). If we judge others without recognizing first our own sin and our own need for forgiveness, then we judge in arrogance and hypocrisy. And when we are so unforgiving and lacking in proper self-examination, we will be judged accordingly. In fact, Jesus implies in His teaching that, if we habitually judge with an unforgiving heart, we are actually revealing an unregenerate heart.
At any rate, it is clear that Jesus viewed God as the only ultimate Judge, and this means that we should therefore be very careful not to fall into the trap of assuming for ourselves that which is a divine prerogative. And, the fact that Jesus has this kind of high-minded, hypocritical judging in mind becomes even more clear in the following verses.
NKJ Matthew 7:3-5 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 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? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Here Jesus uses uses hyperbole to show how ridiculous it is to assume that we can sit in judgment on others without first having examined ourselves. And He also makes it clear that He expects us to see and “remove the speck” from our brother’s eye. But how do we apply this rather comical little analogy to ourselves? I think there are several points that we may take away from this illustration.
First, we should recognize that we all have a tendency to see even the smallest errors in others before we see much larger ones in ourselves. In fact, this is often one way that we deflect attention from our own sin. A. B. Bruce poignantly described such a tendency as “a Pharisaic vice, that of exalting ourselves by disparaging others, a very cheap way of attaining moral superiority” (as cited by John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 178). Such a tendency is also what often makes us to quick to judge. But we should remember what Jesus taught in another passage as well:
NKJ John 7:24 Do not judge [κρίνω] according to appearance, but judge [κρίνω] with righteous judgment.
There is all the difference in the world between the righteous judgment that Jesus advocates and the self-righteous judgments that He condemns!
Second, we should never think we are ready to confront a brother or sister about some sin of theirs until we have first examined ourselves to discover whether or not we are seeing clearly.
Third, and finally, after having properly examined ourselves, we must fulfill our responsibility to our brother by “removing the speck” we have seen. After all, our Lord Jesus want us to correct our brothers and sisters in this way, and He is telling us how to do it properly. He is telling us how to do it humbly rather than hypocritically. And He expects us to make the value judgments that are necessary in order to do this as we should. Paul again taught this same principle when he wrote in his epistle to the Galatians:
NKJ Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
I would go so far as to argue that, if we see a brother in error and refuse to help him, we are not demonstrating Christian love. But what about the person who will not listen? I think this is the kind of person Jesus has in mind in the next verse … which we will examine in another post next week.
Conclusion: We are all called as Christians to care enough about our brothers and sisters in Christ to humbly confront them with the truth when they are caught in a sin. And we are called to proclaim repentance from sin and faith in Christ to a lost and dying world. This means that we must humbly make Scripture-based judgments about the words and actions of others. May God give us the grace to do this as we should.