Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 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? 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. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Now this is a fascinating portion of Scripture — a passage that is frequently referred to and oft quoted, and yet sometimes not really understood as the Lord, I believe, intended for it to be.
“Do not judge.” That sounds so simple. And I’ve heard people throw that phrase around a lot. But a lot of the time, I think, there is a misunderstanding behind how people use it.
The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, for example, believed that this was a command against passing legal judgments. That is a gross misunderstanding of the passage. But there are other people who equally misunderstand it, only with another aberration. They say, “We should never criticize. We should never condemn anybody for anything. We should never evaluate anything at all. We don’t want to judge, lest we should be judged.”
And that phrase sort of fits our time, because we live in an age when the wrong use of “judge not” would find a ready audience. Our time hates theology. Our time hates dogma. Our time resists doctrine. Our time doesn’t like convictions. People speak about love, and they speak about compromise. They speak about ecumenism, they speak about unity — anything to get everybody together. And somebody who talks about doctrine or dogma or convictions is generally unpopular in many circles.
There is a resistance to any conviction. Our time dislikes strong men — even though I think we’re waking up to the fact that we could use a few. Our time dislikes men with convictions, who speak up, who confront society, who disturb the status quo, men who know what they believe and why they believe it and are not intimidated about saying it. Such men today are branded as troublemakers. They’re branded as controversial.
But there have been times in the history of the church when men were praised for being men of conviction. They were praised for being men of principle, men of standards, men of dogma. Frankly, there wouldn’t have been a reformation if there hadn’t been men like that. But today such men are considered difficult, noncooperative, self-styled, unloving; the man who is praised is the compromiser. And so some people have taken “judge not” and just fit it into the mentality of the time.
But the Lord is not condemning law courts. Romans 13 affirms the right for a nation to rule its people. And the Bible is not universally condemning all judging and discriminating. The Bible tells us, as believers, that we must discern — we must know truth from falsehood. We’re not to be undiscriminating. We’re not to be blind. We’re not to be flabby sentimentalists. Just look at the very next verse after this instruction:
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. (Matthew 7:6)
To obey this command, you have to find out who the hogs and dogs are so you know not to give pearls to them. Discrimination is necessary. And in the last couple posts we looked at the command to confront sinning brothers and sisters. This, too, is a call to discernment.
So we know that this command, “Judge not,” can’t be a command against discriminating between truth and error. And it can’t be a command against legal judgments. To go around saying, “Well, we should love everybody and never judge anybody,” misunderstands what the Lord is saying. As we saw from Jesus’s instructions about church discipline, to ignore someone’s sin is a failure to love.
Also, consider the fact that Jesus judged. He condemned repeatedly. He evaluated and criticized. He unmasked and stripped naked the Pharisees in Matthew 23. He was not breaking His own command when He did this.
So we have seen that there are at least two dangerous misunderstandings of “Judge not.” On the one hand, some use this command as a way to avoid confronting a sinning brother. And on the other, some use it to avoid having to discern or discriminate at all. Both are wrong applications, because Scripture elsewhere commands us to do both of these things.
What, then, does Jesus mean when He tells us to judge not? We will look at that next time.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1980, titled “Stop Criticizing”
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