[For a short explanation of “Do not judge…” click here.]
What is the most quoted verse of the Bible today? Any guesses?
Josh McDowell reports that until recently, polls showed that the most well-known verse in the Bible was John 3:16. But now, the verse most widely known and quoted by Christians and non-Christians is Matthew 7:1:
“Do not judge…”
Why? Why would “Do not judge…” become such a popular verse?
I once received an email from a woman (I’ll call her Jane) who described herself as a lesbian. Jane was very angry because someone in our church (I’ll call him Bob) had offended her. So, I—a completely innocent bystander—received an angry email simply because I was Bob’s pastor. I found out later that the offense was simply that Bob chose not to attend Jane’s lesbian “wedding”. Bob felt his presence would communicate an endorsement of Jane’s lesbian lifestyle. Jane’s email included this question: “Is it encouraged in your church to judge others?”
Is that what happened? Did Bob “judge” Jane? Most people in our culture today—I believe—would say yes. They would say that to not affirm someone’s lifestyle—especially homosexuality—is to judge them.
Is this what Jesus meant by “do not judge”? If so, is there any behavior that should be called into question? Is there any lifestyle that can be identified as sinful? Or, is judging the only sin? Is that what Jesus meant?
Let’s go to the source. Let’s look at Matthew 7:1—Jesus’ original statement—and its context (Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount and the New Testament) to gain the guidance we need in order to understand “do not judge.”
Two Basic Meanings
The word “judge” (κρινω) appears 114 times in the New Testament. It has different meanings depending on how the word is used in its context. That’s true in English as well. If I told you I was “judging” someone, you might not know whether I was being overly critical of someone or doing my job as a judge in a court of law or disapproving of their lifestyle. You would need more information.
When we come across κρινω, we have to look at the context to know exactly what is meant. Basically, it can mean two things:
- Bad judgment—which is self-righteously condemning other people without a good reason.
- Good judgment—which is using discernment to make a wise choice.
My premise is this: Jesus was commanding us to stay away from the bad judgment—the bad sense of κρινω. In Matthew 7:1, He is telling us not to self-righteously condemn other people.
We humans don’t make good judges. I’m not saying that we should not have judges in a court of law—that’s a different issue. The kind of judging Jesus was talking about is God’s job.
- We don’t know all the facts. God is the only one who knows everything. We don’t know why people dress the way they do or why they behave the way they do. We don’t know how much they’ve changed or grown in the past year. We don’t know how hard they’re struggling with their sin. God knows.
- We don’t know someone’s motives. Only God knows the motives of a man’s heart. We only see the outside. We may see someone who appears to be unfriendly, but they may have just lost a loved one or been fired from a job. Maybe you got mad at some guy because he didn’t shake your hand. Well, maybe he didn’t shake your hand because he didn’t want to give you that skin rash he’s been trying to get rid of. We can’t discern motives usually.
- We tend to pre-judge people. We see how they dress or the color of their skin or how they smell. I once had a guy admit that he didn’t like me because I reminded him of someone else! I didn’t have a chance!
My point is: We just don’t make good judges. But, God is completely objective and shows no favoritism.
Another time, Jesus taught on this same subject and Luke recorded a somewhat expanded version of this command: Look at Luke 6:36,37:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”
This list supports my interpretation of this command in Matthew 7:1, which is that Jesus is telling us not to have an unmerciful, judgmental, condemning attitude toward people. The question is, does the context support this? Look at v.2:
“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”
This verse tells us that if we “judge” in a wrong manner, it will directly affect the way we are judged. Possibly, this means God will judge us by our own impossible standards. If you are short on mercy and long on condemnation, perhaps God will not show you much mercy. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15:
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
Same principle. But, I think Jesus had something else in mind here. If you and I are unmerciful and judgmental of others, I believe others will pick up on that and treat us the same way. We don’t like unmerciful people—as a general rule. We have trouble extending them mercy. We have trouble giving them the benefit of the doubt that they have good intentions. People tend to be repelled by a judgmental person. We judge him by dismissing him. Ignoring him. Just wanting to get away from him. So, Jesus is telling us that if we are unmerciful and judgmental, we will repel people and our good intentions will never be known.
A few years ago, I had to go to Topeka for an appointment. As I drove through town, I passed by what I believe was a funeral home. I’m not sure because I was greatly distracted by a group of protestors on the sidewalk outside the business. They were young and old—some even children. They all held signs or wore t-shirts that proclaimed, “God hates fags.” Did those people have good intentions? It’s possible. Was anybody going to listen to them? No one will even give them the time of day because their whole approach is so unmerciful and judgmental.
Specks and Logs and Pearls and Hogs
Look now at vs.3-4:
“Why do you look at 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,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”
This is one of Jesus’ greatest illustrations. A “speck” is small. A “log” is big. The word “speck” here refers to any tiny piece of wood, or grass or hay. The word “log” refers to the main beam holding up a building. An enormous piece of lumber! Do you get the picture? Imagine a person standing here with a speck in her eye and I come along with an enormous log in my eye and I say, “Here, let me help you with that speck in your eye.” It’s really quite humorous.
The point is this: The “speck” and the “log” represent sins. Jesus is mocking a person with a big sin making a big deal out of the relatively small sin of someone else. In fact, the humorous part of this picture—which is actually the sad part—is that this person with an enormous beam in his eye does not even seem to be aware of his sin. This tells us that his sin is self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness is a sin of blindness. It is the sin of someone with grossly distorted vision. It looks directly at its own sin and still sees only righteousness.
Don’t think it won’t happen to you, either. Any of us can be completely blinded by our own self-righteousness. King David—a man described by God as “a man after God’s own heart”—took Bathsheba, another man’s wife, got her pregnant, then had her husband killed to try to cover up the sin. Then, in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan came along and told David a story that made him mad. It was about a man with many sheep who stole the one single sheep another man had. David insisted that the man be punished! Nathan said, “You are that man.” David was so blinded by his own self-righteousness, he had no idea Nathan’s story was about him. No doubt, the tears came and washed that big log out of David’s eye.
So, when Jesus said, “Do not judge…” He meant don’t be self-righteously judgmental. It is God’s place to judge. Only He can judge in pure righteousness.
But—and this is really getting at the crux of the matter—did Jesus mean we are unable to “judge” (i.e., discern) what is and is not sin? The answer is found in the verses which follow. Look at Matthew 7:5-6:
“…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. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
First, Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye.” Obviously, Jesus is telling us to begin by taking a good hard look at ourselves. Before we can remove our logs, we must find them and admit that we have them. Before we can do that, we’ve got to quit judging others. Why? If we’re busying ourselves with everyone else’s sins, we can easily ignore our own.
So, the first thing we should do is ask God, “What are my logs?” Then confess your sins.
Ask God, “What sin am I not seeing in my own life?” When He shows you, don’t make excuses. Don’t even start with promises. Just agree with Him that its sin and grieve with Him. Remember earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4) Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He was saying that those who understand how bad sin is will grieve with God over the destructive nature of their sin.
Then confess your sins. 1 John 4:8 tells us:
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
God’s not surprised when there’s logs floating around in our eyes. Don’t you be surprised either. Don’t be surprised when you see one in my eye. If anyone claims to have no specks or logs he is deceiving himself and the truth is not in him. But fortunately, God has no logs. He is faithful and righteous. The next verse, 1 John 1:9, gives us one of the sweetest promises in all the Bible:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Confess it and get rid of it.
James 4:8-10 says:
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
That’s how you get rid of logs. Mourn over and confess your sin, humble yourself before God. Ask Him to cleanse you.
But that’s not all. Following Jesus is not just about me. It’s about us. In the second part of this verse, it becomes clear that Jesus did not say we should never “judge” someone else. There is such a thing as good judgment. In other words, a “speck” represents someone else’s sin. If you’ve had a speck, a grain of sand in your eye—maybe under a contact lens—you know that it’s painful, it’s destructive and it must get out of there. It’s no log, but it’s still sin. In this verse, Jesus encourages us to “take the speck out of your brothers’ eye.” It’s a good thing to help a brother or sister in Christ to remove the sin from their lives.
So, the second thing we should do is ask God, “What specks should I remove?” Then proceed with caution.
Never forget that you must be seeing “clearly” before you do this. You must let God examine your own heart and you must confess your own sins first, but there is a time to address someone else’s sin and help them remove it.
In Colossians 1:28, Paul described what good, healthy ministry should look like:
“We proclaim him, admonishing (warning) and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul added:
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
This is tough stuff and even dangerous territory. Here are some guidelines:
- Make sure it’s an important matter. Romans 14:1 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” Some things are “disputable matters” (yes, my Evangelical brothers and sisters, some things are gray!) and we might not need to deal with those at all. This does not mean something that is “disputable” is not important. It just means that we might need to be patient with a new believer or a weaker brother. Don’t make a big deal out of a disputable matter at the wrong time or in the wrong situation.
- Let the Word of God be the judge. You’re not acting as judge from your own idea of what is sin. If you’re going to help someone remove something from his eye, make sure it’s a speck and not his retina. Make sure it’s really sin. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” When we let the Word of God be our guide, we are not kicking God off the throne. We’re letting Him be judge. When we judge ourselves by the Word of God, we are sufficiently humbled and equipped to “judge” others because we will judge them by that “standard.” It will not be you or me judging them, but God’s Word and thus, God Himself—the true Judge.
- Make sure you have the right goal. Jesus said later in Matthew (18:15), “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Is the point of “removing specks” to make someone feel bad? Is it to demonstrate your superior spiritual maturity? No. If you even suspect that you have prideful motives, back way up. Jesus said the goal was to “win your brother over.” You’re proceeding with caution for the sake of someone else. That’s the right goal.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “We do not judge the people we love.” If he meant, we are not judgmental toward the people we love, he was right. But, if he meant, we never call any behavior sin and just keep quiet no matter how destructive we believe their behavior is, he was wrong.
“Brothers” help each other with their “specks.” A sister who loves her sister in Christ will lovingly and gently help her remove that sin from her life that is blinding her. Brothers in Christ will find a way to help their brothers recognize the presence of sin in their lives and help them remove that sin.
Look again at v.6 (Matthew 7):
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
Jesus indicates here that you have something that is “holy”—spiritual “pearls.” Our “pearls” represent truth and righteousness. The words of Jesus Christ in this great Sermon on the Mount are life-changing and eternally important. We have been given the great privilege of calling people to be disciples of Christ—to live a life of surpassing righteousness, to be light in a dark world and to be salt in a decaying society.
So, the third thing we should do is ask God, “What are my pearls?” Then get ready.
To be a follower of Christ is to be ready, willing and able to offer “holy pearls” of truth and righteousness to the world around us.
“Dogs and swine” in that day were not pets—not valuable livestock. Most were wild scavengers. They foraged through the garbage dump on the edge of town and were potentially dangerous to anyone who came near. So, what did Jesus mean? Jesus isn’t talking about dogs and hogs—He’s talking about people. A type of person who is so angry, so closed-minded, so stubborn, so lethargic, so stuck in their ways that it is a waste of time to try to convince them that there is sin in their lives and they need to change. I believe Jesus is telling us to use another type of good judgment—discernment to know when we should just shut up and pray.
So, the fourth thing we should do is ask God, “Who are my hogs?” Then pray and get out of the way.
We have great treasure to share with people. But there will be many who treat these truths—not as holy and priceless—but as foolish or unimportant. “They will trample (you) under their feet…” if you invite them to trust Christ and identify themselves with Him and His people—the church—and walk in His ways. “They might “turn and tear you to pieces” if you let them know God calls what they’re doing “sin”—even if you do it lovingly and graciously. They might chew you out. They might call you names. They might quit talking to you. They might just completely ignore you. They might leave the church. There comes a time when we just need to pray and get out of God’s way.
Why is “Do not judge…” such a popular verse today? I fear it is because people believe it means something Jesus never intended. I fear it is because people believe it means we should never call anything sin. But this cannot be what Jesus meant. We would have to ignore the rest of the Bible for it to mean that. But God Himself—through the special revelation found in the Bible—has identified many things as sin. It is not judgmental for followers of Christ to lovingly and graciously agree with God and let others know. It is not judgmental to agree with God that all sin is destructive and to lovingly and graciously help others put off those sins.
In fact, it is very unloving and even judgmental to ignore others and “tolerate” sin by hoping it won’t be a big deal to God. It is unloving because all sin is destructive. It is judgmental as well. When we ignore people we know to be in sin, and we don’t do anything to intervene, it is the same as saying, “They’re not worth the trouble. They’re not worth my time.”
So, do not be judgmental. But be discerning. Agree with God about what is sinful and—like God—intervene in the lives of those you love to help them identify and put off that sin for good.