Misusing Scripture: Matthew 7:1

A recent Babylon Bee headline declared, "Christian Passes Judgment On Other Christians For Being Too Judgmental." With typical wit, the internet's most trusted source for Christian satire humorously points out an all-too-common misuse of Scripture: using Matthew 7:1 as a hammer to smack down any unwanted criticism or critique of one's behavior.  

If there is one verse that Christians and non-Christians alike break out, it’s this one, Matthew 7:1. Raise a concern about the poor decisions of a close friend, and BOOM, out comes Matthew 7:1 like a hammer to smack down any criticism: “Hey! Stay in your lane. If you don’t personally like what I’m doing, don’t judge other people’s lifestyle choices. Judge not that ye be not judged.” 

It’s ironic that the same people who indignantly cry “judgmentalism” when their sin is in view, angrily denounce other sins, such as the sin of being being judgmental. As Greg Gilbert puts it, “We all want God to judge sin, just not my sin.” Ouch. 

So what is Matthew 7:1 all about? Did Jesus intend for this verse to be the trump card in all confrontations, a defensive weapon to be whipped out in a moment’s notice?  

1. Don’t judge by standards you don’t follow yourself. 

When Jesus uttered Matthew 7:1, He was doubtless thinking about the scribes, Pharisees and other religious professionals that made up the Jewish elite. After all, contrasting true righteousness with their phony righteousness is the point of the sermon (see Matthew 5:20).  

They famously multiplied man-made rules, and were pros at applying the rules to other people…but not to themselves. Jesus said of them, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4). 

Thus, when Jesus says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged,” He means this: “You’ll be held to the standard you require of other people.” The same scales used by the seller is used by the buyer (7:2).

The word “judge” is krino, meaning “to separate, distinguish, determine.” It can refer to the positive act of “distinguishing” between right and wrong, or the negative attitude of criticizing and fault-finding.  

It is the latter that Jesus forbids: the critical spirit that excels at pointing out everyone else’s sin, but ignoring our own. We need to remember that we will one day stand before God and answer to Him. We’re not the final court; God is. 

2. Don’t judge based on mere appearances. 

In John 7:24, Jesus blasted the Pharisees for “judging according to appearances.”  They judged based on purely external, extra-biblical criteria. It’s not hard to think of modern-day examples of this behavior: judging the condition of someone’s heart based on the presence of a tattoo, a choice of Bible translation, or a preference in music style. We could proliferate examples, no doubt. 

Now, this does not mean we should never evaluate someone’s lifestyle. Just verses later, in Matthew 7:15, Jesus Himself calls for us to examine fruit as we evaluate false teachers and false converts. Here, fruit refers to Biblically-definable actions and attitudes—not personal preferences and external appearances.  The standard for distinguishing between truth and error, right and wrong is God’s Word.  

To judge someone’s heart based on mere appearances is to be guilty of the sinful judging Jesus here condemns. 

3. DO judge with a right heart (7:3-5). 

What many people fail to recognize about this passage is that it goes on to describe the right way to about confronting a sin issue in someone’s life. Far from forbidding that we confront sin, this passage actually requires us to do so—just with the right heart. 

So what is the right way to go about responding to sin in someone else’s life? 

First, deal with your own sin first (7:3-4). When we approach someone else without dealing with the sin in our heart first, we’re like someone trying to pick an eyelash out of someone’s eye while we’ve got a log in our own. It’s ludicrous to be worried about your neighbor’s paper cut while your own arm is caught in a wood chipper.  

Jesus’ point is not “Don’t ever judge” but rather “Judge your own sin first.” For one thing, you won’t be able to help someone else unless you’re right with God. 

Since we’re so blind to our own sin, we need a thorough heart check before we try to help others. 

Second, aim at repentance and restoration (7:5). Once you’ve examined your own heart and dealt with any known sin, you’re now in a place to help your brother or sister.  The goal here is to help them get the speck out of their eye, not to ignore it. Matthew 7:1 does not silence Matthew 7:5. 

Galatians 6:1-2 makes a similar point: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” The goal of confrontation is restoration. Humility is the attitude. Pleasing Christ is the aim. 

If, like me, you tend to be very critical of others, this passage smacks us on the head like the low doorway into the basement. It demands that we repent of our judgmental attitude, critical spirit, and fault-finding eye. It calls us to humble self-examination and confession. After that, it calls us to humbly help brothers and sisters deal with sin in their own lives, so that, together, we can grow to be more like Christ. 

Matthew 7:1 is not a club to use whenever someone calls out your sin or steps on your toes. Instead, it is a mirror to reveal my own sin. Before I’m concerned about someone else’s sin, I should be concerned about my own. Before I’m concerned about someone else’e judgmental heart, I should be concerned about my own.


Popular Posts