Thoughts on Matthew 7:1-6
“Don’t judge me!” is a phrase most of us have heard, said, or both at some point in our lives. Those with just enough Biblical savvy to be dangerous usually tack on that Jesus said not to judge each other in order to add some oomph to their contention. There’s no doubt Jesus, and other New Testament authors, warned against judging each other wrongly, but what are they really getting at? The rest of the entire Bible is rife with passages about coming judgment, so Jesus is by no means contradicting that reality here.
As with most difficult passages in the Bible, we have to do two things: balance what’s said in one verse or body of verses with what’s said in other verses that seems to be in contradiction; and, as part of the first action, look at the whole of the Bible. There are other places where we are told explicitly and implicitly to judge others. In fact, we are told in 1 Corinthians we are to judge “those inside the church” (5:12), that we should judge between each other and not go rely on the secular legal system (6:2), that we should judge matters of propriety in the church (11:13), that we will judge the world (6:2) we will judge the angels (6:3). We are also told we will know God’s people versus the people of the world based on the “fruit” they bear (Matthew 12:33, Luke 6:44), and how are we to make that determination if we do not make judgments?
Now, let’s put “judge not” back into it’s immediate context. We have already seen quite clearly that Jesus is cutting to the heart of both issues and men, and that Jesus has addressed a number of counterarguments thus far in His sermon. Jesus is doing both of these things yet again here. This is not an imperative command never to make any kind of judgment or distinction or decision regarding someone else. In fact, the example Jesus uses in this passage about removing the “log” or “plank” from our own eyes concludes with “and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus isn’t telling us not to confront a brother or sister who is in sin. James 5:19-20 encourages us to do just that, and Paul talks about how he made a judgment and confronted Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. Rather, He’s warning us to look at ourselves and where we fall short before we set out on a crusade to fix others.
At this point in Jesus’ sermon, there were surely those listening who thought, “Oh, I wish so-and-so were here so they could hear this!” or who were elbowing the person next to them in the ribs or casting glances at those they judged as guilty of the things Jesus was condemning. Rather than being honest with themselves and examining their own hearts, they were judging and condemning others while denying or justifying their own sins. I believe Jesus, who knows the hearts of men, knew there were those in his audience who needed to hear (from the parallel passage in Luke 6): “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” These words cannot be detached from the context of this sermon and what Jesus was addressing in the hearts and minds of those who were listening that day, sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus ends this section with a final warning aimed at those who were tempted to equivocate or contend with Jesus’ hard words. “Dogs” was a colloquial term for Gentiles in that time, and “pigs” or “swine” were, of course, unclean animals to the Jews. If the “Sons of Abraham” who were there that day felt an urge to “trample” Jesus’ words and “attack” him, then they were no different than unclean Gentiles, which, to the Jews, was an abhorrent thought. If we hear the words of Christ and immediately dismiss them as relevant to us and rather turn them to pronounce judgment on others, we are acting like dogs and swine who defile and destroy holy things and, worse, attack the one who delivered the message.
I will conclude this blog with a dire warning from Paul that parallels Jesus’ warning in the Sermon on the Mount. Pay attention though to the concluding sentence in the passage below. This message is not all doom and gloom. All of the Sermon on the Mount and all of Jesus’ proofs that we are unable to live how we ought don’t simply culminate in the terror of impending and just condemnation, but rather a call to repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”