Saturday, January 29, 2011

To Judge or not to Judge, Part 1 of 2

Are you a judge with evil thoughts? I have been considering our Lord’s words as recorded in Matthew chapter 7. The chapter opens with the famous verse, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” verse 1. Before we begin examining the passage in question, allow me to explain a part of what really began my interest in better understanding our Lord’s words.

My mother has four children, and while my younger sister and I are believers, both my older brother and my older sister have rejected Christ and embraced the world. This created a substantial rift between my mother and my older siblings, and (in my brother’s case) one that endured for ten years. He moved to Chicago after a long and unfruitful plea from my mother about his lifestyle and choices. Communication was severed, and long silence ensued. Then, about two years ago, he resurfaced due to a death in the family. He came to visit my mother and the rest of us as though ten years hadn’t gone by and there was no explaining to be done, or reconciling for that matter. He made small talk, avoided crucial topics, and went his way. In short, he hadn’t changed.

My mother wrote him a lengthy letter at last, telling him of her hurts and concern for him; I won’t indulge the reader with details, but much has happened between my brother and my mother. He wrote back quickly thereafter, informing her that not only had he not read her letter, knowing there was no point, but that she was a hypocrite and there was a seat in Hell reserved for her. He then proceeded to quote Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged…”

This verse is, in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood in the Bible. Christians seem to get this one thrown in their faces many times by opponents of Christianity, who tend to liken this verse our Lord spoke with the hypocrisy His followers apparently practice by failing to take His advice! But what was Jesus truly saying? I believe there are several topics being addressed: 1) the nature of judgment 2) who is judging 3) the condition of who is judging.

Consider the progression Jesus uses as He structures His argument about judgment. Verse 2-3: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Our Lord tells us that in what manner we judge, this same manner shall be reserved for our judgment. By our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned, Matthew 12:37. The apostle tells us, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things,” Romans 2:1. Jesus’ words are by no means a prohibition against judgment. Later in His ministry He says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment,” John 7:24. Hypocrisy was the evil that our Lord was condemning in this passage. He spoke of the accuser having a beam (log) in their own eye, while their brother had a mere speck. The “speck” might have been genuine, but the one calling this man to account was in no condition to do so; his witness is nullified by his own hypocritical life.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” James 4:11-12. The law here is not the Mosaic Law (which no Christian is under) but the law of love. We are to love the Lord our God foremost, and one’s neighbor as oneself; this is the law and prophets. The concept of the word “judge” in James implies a superior; you have elevated yourself to a position above a brother to that of a lord; which is why James cautions that there is but one lawgiver.

I am fully convinced there are two areas where a Christian should not enter into judgment with another believer: Christian liberty and one’s salvation. Matters that are not forbidden by Scripture to partake in are given to a Christian’s liberty; our conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, will dictate whether or not we may partake without offense. As for the matter of salvation: if someone believes the gospel and confesses to be saved, should we gainsay? We are to demonstrate love toward weak brethren, but if we condemn them for their apparent weakness or vacillation, how is the love of Christ manifest in us? As James wrote, there is one lawgiver: Jesus Christ. He is Jesus Christ the only, not Jesus Christ the greatest. He does not need an army of lesser judges meting out sentences only He has the prerogative to execute. Be wary that in our zeal to teach our brethren, we do not don the mantle of judge. It is our duty to uphold the weak, not castigate them. Granted, those in error ought to be reproved or disciplined, but to pass judgment on the state of one’s soul before God requires a level of spiritual insight no man possesses. Only God sees the heart; and we are not Him, and Amen to that!

Jesus our Lord frequently judged justly, and condemned religious hypocrites, branding them for what they were. Christians in fellowship with the Lord may “judgest all things,” 1st Corinthians 2:15. That is, Christians that are “in the faith,” 2nd Corinthians 13:5; a declaration from Paul to believers that we should examine our lives to ensure that we are walking by faith in Christ. Paul differentiates two categories of Christians: spiritual (1st Corinthians 2:15), and carnal (1st Corinthians 3:1-4): both are different from the natural man, who is unsaved, 1st Corinthians 2:14. Our walk with the Lord determines our ability to rightly judge. Christians out of fellowship with the Hoy Spirit, proving to be barren trees are “blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that [they were] purged from [their] old sins,” 2nd Peter 1:9.

Jesus asks a question in verse 3: why are you staring at the mote in your brother’s eye? The allusion is clear that a fellow believer is in view. According to the authority of the Holy Spirit He clarified that Christians may justly judge those within the church, 1st Corinthians 5:12-13. All of chapter 5 of this epistle demonstrates this concept: a man took his mother in law as a lover; Paul judged him and commanded the Corinthian believers to cast him out of the church; not even to eat with such a man, verse 11.

We find similar use of the word “brother” later in Matthew’s gospel. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone…and if he neglect to hear [witnesses], tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican,” Matthew 18:15, 17. The use of the term “brother” implies equality; the man you are addressing is no better or worse than you—he is a sinner saved by God’s grace. If you are addressing an errant brother for the sake of the church’s purity (doctrinally and morally) then you are judging justly. Christians are not on the same standing as unbelievers; the term “brother” in a spiritual sense certainly cannot apply to anyone besides a fellow Christian, 2nd Corinthians 6:14.

Look at Matthew 7:4-5: “Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine own eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” We find a correlation between our Lord’s words and Paul’s teahing again in Romans. “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preaches a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” 2:21-22. James puts it more succinctly: “My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation,” 3:1.


  1. Ian, I pray that God will convict your bother and sister of their need to repent of their sins and ask God to save them. In Jesus Name Amen!

    "Judge not, that ye be not judged" is the favorite Bible verse of sinners and saints alike who do not what to deal with exposed sin and rebellion in there life. Sad :-(

    Take care and have a great week :-)


  2. Great post, Ian.

    There is an old saying that if a hypocrite is standing between you and God, he's still closer to God than you are.

    This verse is sure misused a lot. I like the way you broke down our responsibility in judging things.

  3. Great Post Bro. Lot of meat in what you wrote. I will pray for your brother's salvation as well. You mentioned two siblings that may not be saved? Did the other come to know the Lord. Just wanting to know how to pray for your family. Again great post. Keep up the good work, We can't grow tired man. Keep pressing.

    william H

  4. William, to answer your question. Unfortunately, no; neither my older brother or sister have been saved. Please pray for Dennis and Jenny, that they may repent and believe on Jesus before it is too late. I know my mother doesn't even know what to pray for any longer, but she persists. Thank you for the concern, everyone. Everyone's prayers for them are greatly appreciated by us.


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