Out of Context: Matthew 7:1 - Judge Not

In our next installment of Out of Context, we are going to examine what some have deemed to be the trump card to any rebuke, Matthew 7:1.

"Judge not, that you be not judged."

Plank-in-eyeMany people use this verse as a blanket to protect themselves from any moral correction. I've even had it quoted to me multiple times to make me stop talking about sin. "Ah but Jesus says, 'Don't judge.' You're sounding really judgy right now."

This interpretation gives the impression that no sin can be pointed out—that we're above or outside moral accountability. We've even created a title for someone who does not follow this verse very well—they are "judgmental," like the angry adults from Footloose who wouldn't let Kevin Bacon just dance.

Is this true? Are Christians not allowed to call out someone else's sins?

THE CONTEXT

Here's the context to Matthew 7:1.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment 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 is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the 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.

We find this passage in the middle of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Jesus used this famous sermon to overturn the traditional ideas of the Law—that it's all about external behavior—and to show the people that it's really all about the heart. God cares more about the heart than the outward appearance of righteousness. Those who focus only on appearing righteous, they're deemed hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16; 7:5).

Which brings us to Matthew 7:1, "Judge not." Normally we just stop there and wave it in the faces of our accusers. But Jesus doesn't stop at the first two words. He continues to explain His point, "That you be not judged." He shows the reason we shouldn't judgenot because it's bad but because we will be judged too.

So judgement is reciprocated with judgement. How is this boomerang judgment done? "With the measure you use" (7:2). If we judge someone else's sins, we'll be judged by the same standard.

Who will judge the judger? He doesn't indicate that it will be another person. The implication is that the judger will be judged by God. If you've been judging others by a different standard than you judge yourself, then you're in big trouble.

Jesus then uses a fairly humorous illustration to drive His point home. He says the person who judges with different standards is like a person with a log in their eye who's trying to take a speck out of someone else's. Kind of ridiculous right? If you have a 2x4 sticking out of your cornea, you're probably not in the best place to help get a small piece of dust out of your neighbor's eye. You should probably go to a hospital.

Jesus ends, indicating who He's talking to, "You hypocrite"—the person who says one thing and does another, the person only focused on appearing righteous. He commands that the hypocrite first remove the log out of their eye. This will enable them to take the speck out of their brother's eye. It's important to notice that He doesn't forbid them from removing the speck. He just wants it done in the correct order.

THE IMPLICATIONS

So what does this all come down to? It shows that Jesus is less focused on "judging" and more focused on the heart.

A hypocrite calls out someone's sin when they haven't dealt with their own. The hypocrite thinks they're more holy and above everyone else. They look down on others because of their sin. They think they're always right and everyone else is always wrong. They commit the same sins they're condemning in others. They may even celebrate the downfall and sin of others. They don't realize that the same Bible is judging them too.

Does this passage forbid judging sin? No. He still wants the speck out of the person's eye. Also, if you look at the following verse, 7:6, it says, "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs." Jesus is speaking metaphorically here of those who do not value or treasure the truth. How are we to determine who are dogs and pigs if we aren't allowed to make a judgment call?

Instead, Jesus is giving the proper procedure to judge sin. Be humble. Deal with your junk first. Admit your sinfulness and your need for a savior. Repent. Know that you are no better than anyone else. If you do that, then you will be able to clearly see and help someone out of their sin with a heart of compassion, love, and grace.

The church should be a place where people are accountable for their sins. This is why Proverbs talks so much about how to give a rebuke and how to receive a rebuke. But we don't do it with our own standards. We do it with the standard of God's Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Sin is cancerous. If we truly love people, we will help keep them away from what will kill them.

A couple final caveats for judging.

1. We do not judge non-Christians. Paul writes, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside." (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). It's not our place to call out the sins of the world. If someone doesn't believe in Jesus, how can we expect them to live like Him? The point is not to have a society full of moral people. The point is to get everyone saved. You get saved through faith in the Gospel, not morality. Living like Christ comes after being saved by Him. Instead, we're to make sure that those who've been redeemed are living like redeemed people, starting with ourselves.

2. Our desire should always be restoration. Whenever sin is confronted, there should be the hope of repentance. This idea is echoed throughout Scripture, like Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." We don't gloat over someone else's sins. We don't celebrate anyone's downfall. We don't point out someone's sin just to make ourselves feel better. If that's your attitude, then you still have a log in your eye. Your desire should always be restoration with a gentle spirit.

3. Recognize your own sinfulness. You aren't any more immune to sin than the person you're helping restore. It could've easily been you who was caught in the affair, passed out drunk on the couch, addicted to pornography, filled with bitterness, or caught gossiping. Constantly check the mirror, look for logs, and pray that God would give you the grace to remove them.

Previous Out of Context posts: Matthew 18:20 - Where two or more are gathered Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Him who strengthens me How to take a verse out of context