“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you seek 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,’ when there is the log 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
People often throw the phrase, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” all over social media whenever someone dares to contradict or challenge their point of view or lifestyle. They quote verse one (“judge not, that you be not judged“) in defense of the ideology that judging people in any way is morally wrong, ignoring the rest of the passage (which, unfortunately, many Christians ignore the context of which the verse they quote is in). Saying, “Do not judge” is itself a moral judgement against those who make moral judgements. Yes, we shouldn’t judge people based on their appearances and personality types or what-have-you, but this sense of judging is not what Jesus is talking about during this part of the Sermon on the Mount. If it were, it would contradict with the rest of what Jesus says in verses 2-5, which is Him illustrating for us how we are to make proper judgement. It would also contradict with what He said in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” What is righteous judgement? Exactly as He illustrated in Matthew 7:1-5.
In order to understand what type of judgement Jesus is talking about here, we need to look at the original Greek language, and thus I put my Greek exegesis skills to use. The word for “judging” that Jesus used here is the word κρίνω (KREE-no), which means to take the seat of a judge and pass judgement on somebody—literally, “to condemn.” Condemnation to what? To Hell. A judge in court declares somebody guilty and sentences them to imprisonment. This is what Jesus is telling us not to do—to not declare somebody guilty and sentence them to eternal imprisonment in Hell. Why? Because God is the ultimate Judge; He is the one who judges, therefore leave that to Him.
If God is the only one who can judge between eternal life and death, why does Jesus tell us to judge righteously? Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), which is where we draw the term, “witnessing the Gospel”; and in that commission He also says to teach people to observe all that He’s commanded us. If people don’t observe (synonymous to “keep” in the Greek) what He’s commanded us, then they’re obviously judged of falling away from God’s Word. Without that righteous judgement, it would be impossible to know whether you’re truly observing all that Jesus has commanded us. If having your own Bible were enough, then people would never stray from His Word and they would never sin (besides, how many Christians actually read their Bibles?) Obviously, that’s not the case, so God uses us as His instruments of righteous judgement to ensure holy living. After all, the will of God is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8), and therefore, that righteous judgement is part of our witnessing, and when doing so, the application of Law and Gospel is necessary.
If you’re Lutheran like myself, you’ll be familiar with this concept. The Law has three functions: it functions as a curb, as a mirror, and as a guide. As a curb on the side of the road redirects us on the right path to restrain us from getting off the road, the Law curbs our sin. It convicts us, and because it convicts us, it restrains us from continuing in that sin. As a mirror,the Law reveals to us our sinfulness and dirtiness, hence, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The Law reveals to us our hopelessness in our sin, it guides us to the Gospel, and this, after revealing the sin through the Law, is where we witness the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins because of what Christ did for us and what He continues to do for us, and what He will do when He returns. So, as we witness (as God’s Word first witnessed to us), we apply the Law to help people realize their sin (which is judgement), but then we guide them to the Gospel, showing them the salvation and forgiveness that is in Christ alone. God’s Word convicts and judges us in our sin (Law), but it also shows us the path to salvation and forgiveness (Gospel). That is how we are to witness. We cannot receive the Gospel without first acknowledging our brokenness in sin under the Law.
Going back to the Sermon on the Mount, basically what Jesus is saying in 7:2-5 about exercising righteous judgement is this: Do not look at somebody’s sin and condemn them to Hell or try to get them to change their ways before working on your own sin that binds you, especially if it’s the same sin or something similar. For example, if you unrepentantly commit premarital sex, it would be wrong for you to try and reform the actions of an unrepentant adulterer, for you are also guilty of a sexual sin that you have not plucked from your own eye. Especially if they know of your sins, for they’ll use your unrepentant sin as an excuse to not turn from their own.
First, go to Scripture and see what God’s Word has to say about your own sin (Law/judgement), then spend ample time in prayer, fellowship, and application to overcome it, realizing that Christ sets you free from its bondage (remember that this is done through the Holy Spirit, not by your own works). Once that happens, then you’ll be able to see more clearly and will be better equipped to help your brother or sister in Christ who suffers with a particular sin. If they indefatigably refuse to repent, use Matthew 18:15-17 as a guide: confront him or her privately; if they don’t forsake the sin, bring a couple other brothers and sisters; and if they still refuse, bring it to the church and it will be dealt with from there. In essence, this is righteous judgement: not condemning someone to Hell for their sins, but rather recognizing they are in sin and helping them to turn away from it after you have turned away from your own with the help of God.
Garrick Sinclair "Ricky" Beckett first started his Christian writing on a blog titled "The Lutheran Column" where he hires proficient Lutheran writers to convey biblical truth. Along with the blog, he also writes poetry, string quartets in music composition, enjoys doing photography, reading, and playing video games. Ricky is a graduate from Concordia University-Ann Arbor from the Pre-Seminary program with a major in Christian Thought and a minor in Theological Languages. Currently, Ricky is a seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as he works on his Masters of Divinity to become a pastor in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).
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