If there’s a Scripture that’s abused, misused, and yet at the same time unavoidable, it’d be Matt 7:1 – ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’ Abused and misused because it’s so often used to silence valid correction and discipline that should be administered. Those who pursue their own sinful nature often use this Scripture to put others on the back foot so that they may not be confronted by their own sins.
At the same time, we find it impossible not to judge as our lives do indeed consist of making decisions and weighing what’s right and wrong, and what’s good and better. How can we go through life not judging? That seems impossible.
In truth, this is not meant to be understood as a stand-alone verse. Instead, it needs to be read nestled in the context of the whole sermon that Jesus was preaching in Matt 5-7. For a better understanding, let’s look closely at verses 1 through 6. There, we see a progression of the message that Jesus wants to bring us.
Let me start by saying that our Lord does not forbid us from judging. For one thing, Jesus Himself judged extensively about what was right or wrong. He made it clear what He approved of and what He did not. Jesus is never One to sit on the fence on issues.
Nonetheless, judgment is a double-edged sword that needs to cut both ways. Even as we judge a matter, we need to extend the same judgment upon our own lives. It’s interesting that we all struggle with different sins – what’s temptation to another person might well be something we’re immune to.
All too often, we’re harshest in our judgment in areas of our own strength and, at the same time, gracious to areas of our own weaknesses. We’ve compassion on those who struggle in the same weaknesses that we struggle in, but where we’re strong, we apply a different standard.
The first clause to grasp when it comes to judging is an awareness that, with the same exacting standards we apply to others, God will apply to areas of weaknesses in our lives. This is not meant to stop us from judging, but to temper our judgment with compassion and mercy. Judgment can be extended with a cold, ruthless efficiency or ministered with love and gentleness.
The second clause to understand is in Matt 7:3-5. Self-examination must precede the cross-examination of others. The great message of the Gospel is that God came to set us free from sin. Absolute perfection may be beyond our reach in this life, but victory over the sinful nature is definitely not.
The Cross is God’s great salvation for us, not just over death and damnation, but over the old nature of sin. Does it mean we need to be perfect before we can help others? Definitely not! But it does mean that we need to be aware of the flaws in our own lives and work at dealing with those things that skew our perception of others. It’s amazing that the saints who have walked with God for long are also the ones who are most aware of their own flaws and shortcomings.
This constant awareness is what helps us see things the way God sees them. Not because He has flaws like us, but simply that, without this awareness, we cannot see through eyes of humility – a quality He inherently possesses, whereby we, on the other hand, are inherently prideful.
Finally, the third clause calls us to an awareness of whom we’re to address the judgment towards. To be judged and corrected is a precious thing. We’re told that discipline is reserved only for true sons, while the wicked are given to go their own way. Rev 22:11 commands that the unjust should be unjust still, while the filthy should continue to be filthy. Correction and judgment is as pearls to the holy. We’re told not to give these things to those who do not appreciate judgment and correction.
May we judge with righteous judgments and compassion. If we be on the receiving end, may we not be as the ‘dogs’ and ‘swine’ that would not appreciate such. Have a blessed weekend.