Pastor David B. Curtis


Judge Not!

Matthew 7:1-6

Delivered 03/16/2003

How many of you have said something like, "The Muslims don't know God" or "The Jews are apostates" or "Homosexuality is a sin", and had someone respond, "Judge not, that you be not judged"? This verse is probably quoted more by people who don't know Christ or the Bible than any other passage in all of Scripture:

Matthew 7:1 (NKJV) "Judge not, that you be not judged.

Many people have misunderstood Jesus' admonition concerning judging. When Jesus says that we are not to judge, many people have interpreted that to mean that we are not to engage in any form of analysis or evaluation of others. In other words, this line of thinking says that we cannot conclude that a person's behavior or lifestyle is wrong, and that they are consequently wrong for engaging in it. Those who would like to justify all manner of evil use this verse to chasten anyone who would take a stand for righteousness.

This verse is also misused when referring to other people's religious beliefs. Some people seem to say that we must sacrifice our ability to discriminate in decision making. Such a position would require that we exercise no discernment. There is a sense in which we are not to judge people, but we will see in this study that there is a sense in which we, as believers, are required to judge others.

What do we say to someone who says they believe that they are going to heaven, but they don't believe that Jesus Christ is God? Do we say, "It doesn't matter what god you believe in"? No, the only loving thing to tell them is that they are on their way to hell:

1 John 2:22-23 (NKJV) Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

We live in an age where there is an emphasis on tolerance and acceptance. Now, there is nothing wrong with tolerance and acceptance. They are indeed good qualities. But what many mean by them is that we should accept any belief, any lifestyle, any act, without careful, critical evaluation. We see this type of thinking reach its pinnacle in the idea of politically correct speech. Is this what Jesus is talking about?

I think not! This is a misunderstanding of what Jesus was speaking of. We know this because of what the Scriptures say in so many other places. In fact, in the sixth verse of this chapter, Jesus calls us to evaluate the kind of people with whom we are dealing as we seek to share His truth. Later, in this same chapter, Jesus says:

Matthew 7:15-16 (NKJV) "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?

Obviously, we must engage in a fruit evaluation if we are going to determine who is a true or false prophet. So, we are called upon to make a judgment about individuals and behaviors. Many other passages also indicate this.

Christians have a God-given responsibility to make judgments. You are called to judge whether or not what you hear is truth or heresy:

1 John 4:1-2 (NKJV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,

When Jesus says, "Judge not" - what kind of judging is He talking about? The word which is here rendered "judge" is one that occurs frequently in the New Testament, and it is used in quite a variety of senses. The original word used in this verse does not give us a lot of help, because the Greek word is broad just like the word "judge" in the English language. We use it in a variety of ways, both positively and negatively. If we are faced with a situation in which we don't know what to do, we sometimes say, "Well, you be the judge." We don't mean that negatively. We are simply asking someone else to make the decision.

We also use the word negatively:"Don't judge me for what I am doing," someone may say. This person is asking us not to render a verdict or a decision in the situation. Just as the English word can be used in both ways, so can the Greek word. The context must determine its meaning. Let's look at several ways that this word is used in the New Testament:

1 Corinthians 10:15 (NKJV) I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.

Here "judge" means: "weigh carefully and form an opinion or consideration".

Luke 7:42-43 (NKJV) "And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged."

Here it signifies: "an inferred or drawn conclusion".

Acts 16:15 (NKJV) And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." So she persuaded us.

That is, "If you regard or account me to be faithful."

John 18:31 (NKJV) Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law." Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,"

Here "judge" means: "Put Him on trial before your court."

Romans 14:3 (NKJV) Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

Here "judge" has the force of despise, as is clear from the first member of the antithesis.

John 7:51 (NKJV) "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"

Here "judge" signifies: "condemn" - its commonest signification. Which or how many of these meanings the word "judge" has in our text must be carefully ascertained and not hastily assumed.

The capacity of judging, of forming an opinion, is one of our most valuable faculties, and the right use of it one of our most important duties:

Luke 12:57 (NKJV) "Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?
John 7:24 (NKJV) "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."

Unless we form estimates and come to a decision of what is good and evil in those we meet with, we shall be found rejecting the one and condoning the other.

Ephesians 5:11 (NKJV) And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

In order to obey this, we must exercise a judgment as to what are "works of darkness."

2 Thessalonians 3:6 (NKJV) But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.

This compels us to judge who is "walking disorderly."

Romans 16:17 (NKJV) Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

This requires us to determine who are guilty of such things.

Paul not only identified sin, but he said to purge it out. We must deal with sin; we cannot use the excuse of not being judgmental. We must identify sin and aggressively put that sin out:

1 Corinthians 5:6-7 (NKJV) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

So, it should be abundantly clear that our Lord's words in Matthew 7:1 are by no means to be taken absolutely. But if Jesus was not talking about refraining from any form of judgment, what was He talking about? I think that when Jesus uses the word "judge", He is referring to several things:

1. We Are Not To Have A Self-righteous Judgmental Attitude:

Don't forget that this is a sermon, and there is an interconnectedness here. This is not a bunch of random thoughts. Christ has been calling his disciples to a righteous lifestyle all through this sermon, and now he calls us to be nonjudgmental. This is hard. It is easier to be either unrighteous and nonjudgmental or righteous and condemning. But Jesus desires that we be righteous yet nonjudgmental.

Probably everyone of us in this room have been guilty of despising those less righteous than ourselves. We have all said or thought things like: "The alcoholic is a weak willed spineless individual. The AIDS patient got what he deserved. The poor are lazy."

Charles Spurgeon and some friends saw a drunk falling in an alley. The other men laughed and made cutting jokes of the drunk. Charles Spurgeon had a tear in his eye. Spurgeon said, "But for the grace of God, I am that drunk." The other men were silent. Spurgeon's friends were self-righteous, but Spurgeon was humble.

We sing the song "Amazing Grace". "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." That's right! We were all wretches, and God, in His grace, reached out and saved us. So if you want to have the heart of Christ, which is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount, you will not have a self-righteous condemning heart.

Paul put it this way:

Philippians 2:3 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

So I think that when Jesus said, "Judge not," He was referring to a self-righteous, judgmental attitude. But I think that "judge not" also means:

2. We Are Not to Judge The Motives Of Others:

When the Lord Jesus says, "Judge not," He is saying that we should not attempt to become the judge of another man's thoughts, the motives of his heart, or attempt to enter into the court of his conscience. Let's look at an example: If you and another person have a disagreement, it is very easy to say bitter things against that person, telling him what he intended, thought, etc., and go into his motive and intentions in bringing about this misunderstanding. That is judging another person.

We are not to judge what motivated that person to say or do these things. Why? We could be miles off. It is judging their heart, and we are not to pass judgment upon what is in another person's heart. We may identify their sin, but we may not judge their motives.

We are never to judge the motives of other people. Believers probably slide into this area more than any other area in the matter of judging. If I look at my own life, it is easier for me to fall into the practice of judging other people's motives than any other fault. There may be nothing at all wrong with what the person is doing, yet we criticize his motives.

You don't know why I do what I do, and, ultimately, I don't know why you do what you do. The only thing we can do is evaluate what is done to see if it is consistent with the Word. If it is, then the motive has to be left between the person and God. God has reserved for Himself the right to judge motives:

Jeremiah 17:10 (NKJV) I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

It is He who judges the motives. He is the One who searches the heart. We don't have that ability, so judging motives is always out of line for believers. When you hear another Christian doing that, you ought to step in and rebuke him for it. Ask him how he knows the person is doing that for self glory? How does he know the other person is doing it for more money? Ask for something concrete that is sin which can be dealt with. If there is nothing concrete, then tell the individual that his judgment is not acceptable, because men cannot judge motives:

Romans 14:4 (NKJV) Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

This forbids our judging another's motives. A good example of what is here forbidden is recorded in:

Job 1:8-11 (NKJV) Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" 9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 "Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 "But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!"

Satan is here suggesting that Job only served God for what he got out of it. We could conclude from this passage that to judge the motives of another is satanic!

So I think that when Jesus said, "Judge not," He was referring to a self-righteous judgmental attitude, and a judgement of the motives of others. I also think that "judge not" means:

3. We Are Not To Judge Hypocritically:

When the Lord said, "judge not" one of the things he had in mind was hypocritical judgement. This is evident from the verses which immediately follow. The one who is quick to detect the minor faults of others while blind to, or unconcerned about, his own serious sins is a hypocrite. We'll look at this more in verses 3 and 4.

Matthew 7:2 (NKJV) "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Jesus warns us that those of us who engage in that activity will be judged ourselves. You see, judging others has consequences.

To engage in the reckless judgmental attitudes that Jesus condemns means that we set ourselves up as God. We must remember that God is the ultimate judge of all things. We seldom have all the facts. We seldom can look into any situation and really see it for what it is. We certainly cannot look into someone's heart. Only God can do these things. Therefore, only God is qualified to judge. We can evaluate certain things, and we should. But we must always remember that our evaluation is unreliable. Therefore, we must never engage in the kind of absolute criticism and condemnation that so many people do. When we do, we set ourselves up as God. And Jesus says that you will be judged.

Jesus tells us that the way you judge will become the way you will be judged. In other words, we will get back what we give out. The standard that we hold others to will become the standard by which we are judged. What standard are you holding others to? Can you live up to that standard? Be careful before you answer that. In fact, perhaps you should not be the one to answer that question at all. Ask someone who knows you to be honest with you about whether you can meet the standard. You see, sometimes we tend to be blind to our failures and inconsistencies.

Many commentators see the words "that ye be not judged" signifying: "Lest ye be unlawfully and unfairly judged by men." But the idea that "judge not, that ye be not judged" means we shall reap in this world exactly as we sow; that if we defame others, we also shall be defamed; that if we refrain from rashly condemning others, we shall ourselves be spared the experience - will not stand the test of Scripture. Apply it to the Lord Jesus Christ and the treatment which He received from man: He never unjustly or unmercifully condemned another, yet how frequently were false and cruel charges brought against Him. Apply the principle to the life of the apostle Paul and see how completely it breaks down.

I am persuaded that what Christ here referred to was not the judgments of men, but the judgments of God; not eternally, but temporally. For Christ to declare that such conduct will meet with Divine judgment is a warning which should make us all stop and think. Our Lord declares that the more rigidly or strictly we judge others, the more strictly will God judge us.

Most people who quote Matthew 7:1 have no idea at all what follows this verse. Yet what follows is the explanation of what "judge not" means.

Matthew 7:3-4 (NKJV) "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 "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?

These verses explain our third principle that we are not to hypocritically judge others. Rather than looking to others with a critical eye and judging them, we should look at ourselves and judge ourselves. Jesus calls us to evaluate our own lives before we even attempt to help others evaluate their lives. Only by evaluating ourselves will we be able to resist the temptation to evaluate others.

Jesus gives us an extremely humorous Illustration. It is of a person trying to take a splinter out of someone else's eye when he has a 2X4 sticking out of his own. Picture, if you will, a person with a 2X4 of wood approximately six feet in length protruding from his eye. As he turns his head from side to side, this 2X4 flattens people left and right. How is that sort of person ever going to be able to even see a splinter in someone else's eye? As they tried to approach the other person, the 2X4 sticking out of their own eye would knock the other person over. It is obviously ridiculous that someone in that condition should criticize someone else for having a splinter. This is the picture Jesus paints.

Obviously, what He is saying is that we should first look at ourselves. Evaluate your own life. Look at your own faults. Examine your own sins. Be honest with yourself about your own condition. Deal with yourself first.

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye...?" The majority of the commentators take the view that "brother" here has the idea of neighbor, because they cannot conceive of a believer being called a "hypocrite" by our Lord. To me it seems clear that it is two Christians who are in view. Why would the Lord admonish an unbeliever to get his life straight before pointing out someone else's faults?

Can you think of a biblical example of someone who was guilty of trying to get a splinter out of someone's eye while he had a 2X4 in his? The most obvious example in the Bible is found in 2 Samuel 12:1-7. King David steals another man's wife. Despite his large harem, he lusts after this particular woman, seduces her, and later discovers that she has become pregnant by him. Her husband is absent at the military front (fighting the king's wars) and so David arranges to have him killed. The king is now guilty of both adultery and murder. The prophet Nathan enters the royal court; but instead of confronting his monarch outright, he tells a parable, a short story about a poor farmer whose one little lamb has been stolen by a rich, powerful neighbor with a large flock of his own. David is incensed. In seething indignation, and quite unconscious or any irony, he judges the man saying, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!" Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man."

Somehow, King David, incredibly blind, had been unconscious of the 2X4 in his own eye as he fumed over the speck of sawdust in the rich man's eye. If we are honest, we'll have to admit that it is terribly easy to imitate David's conduct, in one way or another.

As a side bar, another thing that I see in these verses is that there are degrees of sin, as appears from the "speck" and the "2X4", just as when He charged the scribes and Pharisees with straining at a "gnat" and swallowing a "camel" (Matthew 23:34). Not that we may draw the conclusion that any sins are little, for there is no such thing as a little sin against a great God, nevertheless there are degrees of heinousness and guilt in different transgressions, as is clear from:

John 19:11 (NKJV) Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."
Hebrews 10:29 (NKJV) Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

The contrast taught by Christ in this illustration is like someone who is involved in adultery and yet presumes to criticize someone else who turns his head to look at a woman who is passing by.

Matthew 7:5 (NKJV) "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Get the 2X4 out of your own eye, then, and only then, will you be able to help your brother. To attempt to help him remove a "speck" in his eye, while you have a 2X4 in your eye, is downright hypocrisy.

A "hypocrite" is the actor of a part, one pretending to be very zealous as to the requirements of holiness, while himself living in neglect and great sin.

"First remove the plank from your own eye" means: "be faithful in dealing with yourself, unsparingly judging yourself before God, putting away out of your heart and life whatsoever you know to he displeasing unto God". This is a chief requirement if you are to be of any real help in ministering to your erring brethren.

Galatians 6:1 (NKJV) 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.

Only he who is "spiritual" - who is walking in fellowship with God - is fit to approach a fellow believer for this necessary and difficult task. We are to remember that we are so united together in one family and fellowship that the wrongdoing of one concerns all, and that it is in the interests of the whole church to seek the restoration of the erring brother.

Finally, it should be pointed out that if we are to remove the speck from another's eye he must be willing for us to do so - any spirit of resistance makes the operation impossible.

Jesus tells us that unless we are willing to deal with our own situation, we are nothing but a hypocrite. If you really want to help others, the first thing you must do is to take the 2X4 out of your own eye. Only if you do this can you then be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

This is an extremely important principle. By obeying this principle, we will be able to avoid the critical, judgmental attitude that causes us to condemn others. You see, when we truly see ourselves, we are less tempted to desire to judge anyone else. When we truly see ourselves, we become aware that we need mercy, not judgment. If we were judged, even fairly, then we would be condemned. Therefore, we should treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.

Jesus calls us to love one another, to seek the highest good for one another, and to build up one another. Judgmental attitudes tear others down. A critical spirit discourages others. This is why Jesus deals with this kind of attitude. This kind of attitude has no place in the church. It has no place in the life of a Christian.

If you find this attitude in yourself, ask God to give you the ability to take a good long look at yourself. Ask Him to show you your heart and your sins. Ask Him to enable you to pull the 2X4 out of your own eye first.

Matthew 7:6 (NKJV) "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.

This verse gives balance to the first five verses and shows that believers are to be discriminating people. After making statements regarding judging in the first five verses, Jesus says that He wants us to identify some people as dogs, and some people as hogs. Then He tells us not to give to them what is holy. It is impossible to follow that command without rendering a judgment.

If I do not know what a dog is or what a swine is, how am I going to obey this verse? It is obvious from this context, and from other passages of Scripture, that Jesus is talking about people when he refers to dogs and swine. These animals were the scum of creation as far as the Jews were concerned. The dogs of Palestine in Jesus' day were not like the household pets we are familiar with. They were wild dogs in the streets, the common scavengers of the area. The pigs mentioned were wild pigs, vicious and despised by the Jews as a picture of uncleanness. By using such a description, Jesus is talking about people who are unfit to have the truth of God presented to them. If you give the truth of God to some people, they demonstrate that they are unfit for it because they blaspheme it, ridicule it, and trample it underfoot. By giving such people the truth of God, we are holding out the truth for abuse.

The two animals together serve as a model of people who are savage, vicious, held in abomination. In 2 Peter 2, dogs and pigs are brought together in an analogy representing false religious leaders and teachers. In this passage, religious leaders have been exposed to the truth of the Word of God, but they have rejected it and continue to teach their own error and heresy:

2 Peter 2:21-22 (NKJV) For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."

These false teachers are just like dogs and pigs. They feed on vomit and wallow in mire. Peter is saying that you do not continue to pour the truth of God out before those dogs and pigs.

Jesus sketches a picture of a man holding a bag of precious pearls, confronting a pack of wild dogs and wild boars. As the animals move toward him, he takes out his pearls and sprinkles them on the ground. Thinking they are about to gulp some bits of food, the animals pounce on the pearls. Swift disillusionment sets in - the pearls are too hard to chew, quite tasteless, and utterly unappetizing. Enraged, the wild animals spit out the pearls, turn on the man and tear him to pieces.

In metaphorical language, Jesus is commanding his disciples not to share spiritual truth with those who blaspheme it, ridicule it , are persistently vicious. Just as the pearls were unappreciated by the savage animals, but only enraged them and made them dangerous, so also many of the riches of God's revelation are unappreciated by many people. And, painful as it is to see it, these truths may only serve to enrage them.

In the New Testament, there are several examples of this principle in action. Jesus, speaking of certain Pharisees, tells his disciples:

Matthew 15:14 (NKJV) "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch."

Paul abandons his ministry to the Jews in Corinth because they oppose him and become abusive.

Acts 18:5-6 (NKJV) When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. 6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."

Jesus never cast pearls before swine: even when Pilate asked Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37), He did not say, "I am the Truth," nor did He explain to him the way of salvation.

We must be discerning. We have to decide who are the dogs and the pigs. They are not fit to be given the Word of God. Some people say that we don't have the privilege to determine who is unfit to hear God's Word. We don't have that privilege in ourselves, but we have the Word of God. In that Word, God has the right to say, and He has said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs and swine." Since this is God's Word, I must recognize that He has the right to tell me who gets His Word and who does not. He says that the dogs and the pigs don't have the right to get it. Then He tells me how I can recognize who the dogs and the pigs are. What is their attitude toward the Word? Do they blaspheme it? Do they ridicule it? Do they twist it when I share it with them? Is their attitude one of scorn and rejection? If I find that response, I am to take it to someone else. But a decision must be made, and God says I must be the judge. I am to judge in light of the Word and a person's response to the Word. This demands that we be evaluating others continuously in light of the Word.

It is important to see what Christ has not said in Matthew 7. He has not said we should not be discerning. Christians, of all people, are to be discerning. In fact, they are the only ones who can truly be discerning. What Christ is saying in Matthew 7 is that we are not to have a self-righteous, judgmental attitude; we are not to judge the motives of others; and we are not to judge hypocritically.

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