Read Matthew 7:1-6.
Have you ever said something and what you said or what you wrote in an email was taken completely out of context? When that happens, it’s frustrating. Hey, the other day, I heard you say, fill in the blank… Come on, that’s not what I meant. And you have to explain yourself. It’s frustrating when someone takes a statement you made out of context and uses it in a way that it was never intended.
This type of thing happens all the time in politics. The presidential election is coming up in November. Mark my words. A journalist will take one line, one phrase even, from an hour and a half speech and write an entire article and distort what one of the candidates actually meant. And the writer will either rally support or opposition depending on where the writer stands. It happens all the time.
If you’re the victim, there is nothing more frustrating. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that this happens with the very words of Jesus. Where what he said is distorted and twisted and taken out of context. This passage is perhaps one of the most misquoted, most misunderstood passages in all of Scripture.
1 Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
How is this principle taken out of context? Look at what Jesus says, don’t judge. Society has taken this verse out of context to promote an attitude of tolerance. Esp. in America, we’re supposed to tolerate anything and everything. So if you are tempted to speak out, or question, or criticize, or evaluate, the response you’ll probably get is–hey, wait a minute, remember what Jesus said. Don’t judge. You are not supposed to judge anyone, right?
Is that what Jesus meant, that we are never to judge at all, ever? First of all, it doesn’t make sense practically. Why? Because we use judgment every day of our lives.
When your faucet is leaky and you need to call a plumber, what do you do? You call several plumbers, you get estimates, you read reviews. You interview the companies. Do they have integrity? Are they going to do good, honest work? You compare, you evaluate. What are you doing? You’re judging them.
We make judgments in our families. I have 3 boys, but if I had a girl in high school and boys started coming around my house and they were asking to spend time with my daughter, what’s my role in that scenario? I’m the judge.
If they don’t call me to ask permission, then they don’t pass judgment. If they did call, what would I do? I would say, yeah, come over, and I would gently sit them down between me and my wife and interrogate them for an hour. Nice to meet you, son. So let’s cut to the chase. What’s your intentions with my daughter? What church do you attend? How important is Jesus Christ to you? I’d grill him. For an hour. And what would my daughter be doing while this is going on? She would be upstairs in her room awaiting judgment.
To say that Jesus is saying never to judge, it doesn’t make sense practically. In addition, it doesn’t make sense biblically. There are two basic steps when you take the Bible and try to apply it to your life. The first step is to always interpret Scripture in its immediate context. Every verse of Scripture is located within a paragraph, every paragraph is found in a chapter, a chapter is part of a section, and the section is a subset of a book, and the book is situated within the totality of the Bible. That’s why it’s important to study the Bible, chapter by chapter, book by book.
For example, here in Matthew 7, in order to understand chapter 7, I need to know chapter 6 and chapter 8, where we came from, where we’re going, not to mention the historical context. Jesus is not saying do not judge under any circumstance. How do I know this? It’s because in the very same paragraph – Jesus urges us to first deal with the plank in our own eye. Then, you can deal with the speck in your brother’s eye. How can I do this without judgment?
Also, in the same chapter – verse 6, you have to decide who’s the dog and who’s the pig? The pearl is the gospel. When preaching the gospel or sharing the gospel, we can’t just indiscriminately shove it down people’s throats. You have to discern the Spirit’s activity. Is God moving in that person’s heart? You have to pay attention to your audience. Are they receptive to the gospel? Are they ready to hear it? By speaking persistently to a person who is unwilling to listen will often do more harm than good. When to share and when not to share, that takes judgment.
Jesus gives counsel from the other side of the table a few verses later. Instead of judging the audience, Jesus tells us that we must judge the preacher.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Beware of false prophets. They may appear sheepish on the outside, but on the inside, they are ferocious wolves. How can you tell a true prophet from a false one? You will know them by their fruit. What is Jesus asking us to do? He is asking us to exercise judgment. Examine those who claim to be sent from God. Examine the fruit of their lives and their message. If you find the fruit to be bad, stay clear of them.
Jesus says, don’t judge, yet 3 times in the very same chapter, Jesus teaches us how to use right judgment. When helping our brother with the speck in their eye, when discerning dogs and pigs from genuine truth seekers, and when evaluating prophets to see whether they are legit or phonies.
Furthermore, we have to consider the fact that this verse–do not judge–is found within the Sermon on the Mount. And the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount is judgment. It has been argued by some commentators that the Sermon on the Mount is the most judgmental sermon that’s ever been preached. Jesus is pronouncing judgment against the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. 3 times in chapter 6, Jesus calls them “hypocrites.” For 3 chapters, Jesus is training us to be able to tell the real deal from pretenders, how to evaluate authentic faith from dead religion so that we don’t end up like the Pharisees and settling for a religion that will not save us in the end.