But, at the same time, we need to realize that there are a few things in the Bible that are somewhat difficult to comprehend. Peter acknowledges this very thing in II Peter 3:16. Essentially, he says that those who are unstable and untaught will twist the Scriptures to their own destruction when they encounter a passage that is difficult to understand! That is, they misuse these difficult passages by teaching error, and they will suffer the loss of their souls as a result.
With that in mind, I ask you now: What should we do when we encounter a passage of Scripture that is difficult for us to understand? We should be very careful--careful to study the verses completely in context and careful to consider all other passages on the same topic. If we do this, we can have some confidence that we are not twisting the Scriptures to our own destruction. We must always remember that if we come to a conclusion that is contrary to clear Biblical teaching elsewhere, then we've made a mistake and our conclusion, whatever it may be, is invalid.
I said all that to help prepare us for analyzing one difficult passage in the New Testament. I don't believe that Jesus intended His words to be difficult to understand in Matthew 7:1-5, but for us today, they are nevertheless difficult. Many incorrectly believe that these verses teach us that it is absolutely wrong to judge others. Friends, this is simply not true; it is not always wrong to judge others.
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus said - "Judge not that you be not judged." Jesus is laying down a general principle here, but He is not limiting all types of judging. How do I know? Well, the Scriptures authorize certain actions that simply cannot be done without humans exercising judgment upon others. Let me give you a few examples to think about.
First, consider our judicial system. God has given authority to civil governments to make judgments (Rom. 13:1ff), and we are to obey our leaders unless they instruct us to go against the Lord's ways (Acts 5:29).
Second, consider the church. The body of Christ has the responsibility to exercise judgment on those who walk disorderly. The judgment to be exercised is that of discipline or withdrawal of fellowship. There are numerous passages that support this truth (e.g., Matt. 18:15-20; II Thess. 3:6ff; I Cor. 5).
Third, look at the immediate context. In Matthew 7:6, Jesus said - "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." We are not to cast our pearls before swine. But, how can one heed this command without making some judgments? Also, in Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns His followers to beware of false teachers. However, if one could never make judgments about individuals, then how could it ever be determined who is a false teacher and who isn't?
Fourth, the title of this lesson proves that judging others is not always wrong. The title comes from John 7:24 and is a direct quote from the Lord Himself! "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." Jesus instructs us in that verse to judge with righteous judgment, and we will consider exactly what that means shortly. But, for now it should be exceedingly clear that God requires us to make certain types of judgments, and thus Matthew 7:1 must not be interpreted as an absolute prohibition against all types of judging.
So, if Matthew 7:1 does not mean that all types of human judging are wrong, then what type of judging is Jesus speaking against here? I believe the Lord is speaking against judging that is unmerciful, hypocritical, or vengeful. Let's consider these three aspects one at a time.
1. WE MUST NOT JUDGE UNMERCIFULLY.
"For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matt. 7:2). If we are not merciful to humans in our dealings with them, then they are not likely to be merciful to us. The way they judge us will be a reflection of the way we have judged them. Remember Haman? He was hanged on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai (Est. 7). What Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 10:8 truly applies to the realm of human judging - "He who digs a pit will fall into it." And, even more importantly, eventually we will all be judged by God Himself, and He will take into consideration the way we have judged others. If we are merciful, He will be merciful to us. If we are cold, unloving, and unforgiving toward others, God will treat us similarly (Matt. 5:7; James 2:13; e.g., Matt. 18:21ff). Jesus has little use for followers with harsh, bitter, and faultfinding spirits.
2. WE MUST NOT JUDGE HYPOCRITICALLY.
This seems to be the fundamental thrust of 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? 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? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Jesus uses the term "hypocrite" for those who judge others and do not examine themselves first. They are in no position to judge others or assist them when they suffer from an even greater problem! Both parties described have a problem with sin, depicted by the speck and plank in their eyes. Common sense tells us that both need to remove the foreign objects (sin) from their eyes (life). Christians must not allow sin to reside in their lives even to a small degree. One who has successfully overcome a problem with a particular sin will then be in a better position to assist someone else with a similar problem. Those who are no longer in sin will be better able to "see clearly" and assist others. Jesus is not condemning this type of judging, but encouraging it. Paul elaborates upon this thought in 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." It is not wrong to realize that a brother or sister has a problem with sin. It is not wrong to confront them and help them overcome it. However, if we are burdened with the same sin ourselves (or perhaps one even more heinous), then we aren't going to be able to do them much good.
Often, humans engage in hypocritical judging without even being aware of it. I'm reminded of the true story I read about two well-known preachers of the past. One of the men admired the other very greatly and had an opportunity to meet him one day. The admired preacher answered the door with a cigar in his mouth. The other preacher was aghast; he couldn't believe it! He bluntly asked: "How can you, a man of God, smoke that?" In response, the other preacher pulled the cigar from his mouth, put his finger on his visitor's rather inflated stomach, smiled and said, "The same way you, a man of God, could be that fat."
Now, what can we learn from these two men? Humans are often blind to their own vices. Both of these men had a problem; namely, they were not taking care of their bodies as they should. Our bodies are not our own; our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit Himself (I Cor. 6:19,20). We must be good stewards of our physical bodies just as we are of our time and other resources. We should take care of our bodies to the best of our ability. Being significantly overweight and smoking are both provably bad for one's health. We should try to help one another overcome problems like these. But, let us be careful not to judge others hypocritically. These men were guilty of it and so are we sometimes. Even great men like David have been guilty of it! Remember II Samuel 12:1-7 as it relates to chapter 11? Let us be exceedingly careful in our efforts to avoid hypocritical judgment.
3. WE MUST NOT JUDGE VENGEFULLY.
Although it is not mentioned explicitly in this passage, Jesus seems to also be condemning judgment that is vengeful. Embedded in the Greek word for "judge" in Matthew 7:1 is the idea of condemning someone and even sentencing them. We don't have the right to do this as individuals, even if we have been wronged by someone. Romans 12:19 teaches - "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." God is the ultimate judge. He has reserved the right of vengeance for Himself.
Thus far, we've seen that there is a wrong kind of judging. When we judge without mercy, when we judge hypocritically, or when we judge vengefully, we are not being pleasing to God. But what about the right kind of judging? John 7:24 instructs us to "judge with righteous judgment." How can we know if our judgment is righteous? I believe the key to judging righteously is found in one's attitude. We must have a good attitude in order to judge righteously, an attitude that manifests several characteristics. Some of these characteristics have already been indirectly mentioned, but now let's examine them more closely.
1. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, ONE MUST HAVE AN ATTITUDE OF LOVE.
Jesus said in John 13:35 - "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Our love should be seen at all times, but especially when we are confronting someone regarding sin in their life.
2. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, ONE MUST HAVE AN ATTITUDE OF CONSIDERATION AND COMPASSION.
Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3,4 - "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." The apostle Peter wrote - "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous" (I Pet. 3:8). To correct someone in sin should not be a joyful privilege but a serious duty (cf. James 5:19,20). We should feel compassion for a brother or sister who is overtaken in sin; we should not rejoice in their shortcomings or think ourselves superior. If we are not humble and spiritually minded (cf. Gal. 6:1), then we are not well equipped to help someone else overcome their sins.
3. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, ONE MUST HAVE AN ATTITUDE OF FORGIVENESS.
May we never forget that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). That would include you and I. When we identify sin in the life of someone else, we cannot do it from the perspective of perfection; none of us are sinless. Instead, as Christians, we should be addressing sin in the life of someone else from the perspective of having been forgiven an exceedingly large debt ourselves (cf. Matt. 18:21ff).
4. TO JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, ONE MUST HAVE AN ATTITUDE OF SELF-EXAMINATION.
This point has already been addressed earlier, though it can be supplemented well with two passages. II Corinthians 13:5 - "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified." Romans 2:21 - "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?"
Dear listeners, if we have these characteristics, then there is only one other item we need in order to judge or discern properly. We need God's word, the ultimate, objective standard! You see, when we are loving, considerate, compassionate, and willing to forgive others and examine ourselves, then we're ready to use the word of God to judge others--not according to appearances, but righteously. We can only do this by examining fruit (Matt. 7:20)! That is, when examining the actions and words of others, we must ask: Are these actions and words in harmony with the Bible? This is how judgments should be made--not according to my personal likes or dislikes, but according to the Scriptures. We should be making judgments like this all the time. Even as I speak, you should be examining my words and judging whether or not I speak the truth. This is a good thing (Acts 17:11)! Let it also be observed on this point that one must be exceedingly careful in judging a person's intentions since we do not know the hearts of men like God does. Caution is always in order in this regard.
If the Bible is the standard we use for judging, and we use it correctly with a proper heart, then we will not go wrong, because in essence we are merely passing down the judgment that God has already given! Psalm 119:172 - "My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness." Righteous judgment can only be based upon the word of God! For example, if I know that a person is engaging in sexually immorality and I come to them humbly and tell them that they are sinning and need to repent, they might respond by saying that I'm judging them and that I have no right to do so. But, they're wrong. I'm merely passing down God's judgment that He has made known via His word. I shouldn't be there addressing this person if I'm not interested in trying to help them. I shouldn't be there if I don't love them and their soul. I shouldn't be there if I myself am not right before God. If I'm a hypocrite or if my motives are improper, the chance of them repenting is very unlikely.
The same could be said for any sin, not just sexual immorality. If I know that a person is teaching false doctrine, if I know that a person is using profanity, if I know that a person is walking disorderly, etc., then I have a responsibility to help them. My own life needs to be right first and then, with God's word and a proper attitude, I can help others. But, I can only judge them by their fruits with the word of God, for this is what we ourselves will be judged by (John 12:48).
Friends, there is a right way to judge and a wrong way. It is only when one has "clear vision," a proper, helpful attitude, all the facts in perspective, and a knowledge of God's word that a just and correct judgment on any issue can be made. Let us abstain from improper judgment and practice righteous judgment as God expects us to, and let us be wise enough to receive it gracefully from others. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.