The Thursday series titled, “Butchered Bible Verses” continues today with a popular verse that is often abused and misused in the life of the church and secular community. I have tried to emphasize the importance of proper interpretation of Scripture through this series, and I pray that God will help us become Bereans as we approach the sacred text of Scripture rather than simply ripping out random Bible verses and using them for Facebook status updates and bumper sticker theology.
As we approach the Bible, we must remember that it is God’s Word in totality. Every book, paragraph, and verse belongs to God and was literally breathed out by God. Therefore, just as we have no right to abuse the intention of anyone who writes a letter to us or a story in the local newspaper, we have no right to twist the words of holy Scripture into an agenda that serves our fleshly motives. We must always seek to interpret the Bible within the immediate context while seeking to discover what the original author intended by writing the words to his original audience. This method will lead you to discover the single and authoritative meaning of the text. That too must be done as we approach Matthew 7:1.
Matthew 7:1 – Judge not, that you be not judged.
Explanation of how the text is misused
No longer are we living in a culture that knows John 3:16 as the most famous verse. We are now living in a culture that recognizes Matthew 7:1 as the most famous verse. Why? Because of religious pluralism and postmodern thinking. We are living in a postmodern world that promotes individualistic rules and subjective commands. Most people in our present culture, especially in America, desire personal space and expect people to “mind their own business.” Our present culture does not like moral and religious absolutes. They are fine with the absolutes of gravity, but they are not fine with absolutes related to sin and salvation. Our culture lives with an attitude that says: Who are you to tell me that I am wrong?
We need an answer, so where do we turn? We turn to Holy Scripture. The Word of God is our absolute standard. It is holy, inspired, inerrant, and without any mixture of error. God has revealed Himself and His standards to us in His book – the Bible. Therefore, after inspiration – God has preserved His book over the years and it stands as our absolute and final guide. We don’t need other source outside of the Word of God to provide additional revelation about our God. The Word is sufficient alone.
Explanation of the text
I still remember being at summer camp as a kid with the church and seeing this guy walk down the aisle with a long beam sticking out of his eye. He was walking up and down the aisle telling people that he could see a speck in their eye and that it was dangerous and should be removed. The beam protruding out of his eye was hitting people in the face as he was trying to point out their small speck. How silly that man looked. Everyone laughed. But it left a burning imprint into my mind about this passage of Scripture. I will never forget that.
There is a right way to judge and a wrong way to judge – but Jesus says, “Judge not…” What should we do? Can we judge? Can we hold one another accountable in the Christian life? Exactly what does Jesus mean by this verse? As we look at the Scripture, we must come face to face with the reality of many other Bible verses that teach us to point out error. The Bible commands us to confront unbelievers with their unbelief and rebellion against God while pointing them to Jesus Christ for salvation. So, judgment must be rendered in some essence through evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20). Furthermore, a certain judgment must take place in pastoral ministry. For instance, the pastor is to preach the Word in order to reprove and rebuke those in his congregation (2 Timothy 4:1-5). The Bible clearly commands church discipline in Matthew 18, and this process begins in a private confrontation before it ever makes it to a public church setting. In all stages of church discipline, it would seem that judgment is taking place on the part of the accuser who confronts his brother or sister regarding sin. So, either the Bible contradicts itself or the meaning of Matthew 7:1 is often misinterpreted. Mark Dever, in his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, writes:
Certainly, in Matthew 7:1, Jesus did forbid judging in one sense… But for now, note that if you read through that same gospel of Matthew, you’ll find that Jesus also clearly called us to rebuke others for sin, even rebuking them publicly if need be (Matt. 18:15-17; cf. Luke 17:3). Whatever Jesus meant by not judging in Matthew 7, He didn’t mean to rule out the kind of judging He mandated in Matthew 18… If you think about it, it is not really surprising that we as a church should be instructed to judge. After all, if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how a Christian should live?”1
The word translated “judge” in Matthew 7:1 is “κρίνω” which literally means to prove someone as guilty before God. While that is what is taking place in church discipline, it is God who has already judged through His Word. The process of church discipline requires us to confront a fellow believer of sin. That involves having discernment on whether or not something is right or wrong. We must be able to choose if something is right or wrong in order to confront someone of sin. Now, the way we do that is through the Word of God. We are not making judgments based on our own ideas, emotions, or standards. We are making judgments upon people and holding one another accountable based on the clear teachings of God’s Word.
The point is clear – false judgment is wrong! The practice of a judgmental attitude is wrong and is judged as a sin by Christ Himself. Jesus promised that those who judged (in a wrong manner) would also be judged. In other words, their judgment would be like a boomerang. Like the old saying, “What goes around, comes around.” Jesus is not forbidding any judging on behalf of the Christian, because in Matthew 18 He clearly gives keys to bind and loose in the area of judging sin within the church. We cannot forbid any attempt of biblical correction in our lives as a violation of Matthew 7:1. Hebrews 13:17 commands us to submit to our elders (pastors) in the church. The attitude that says, “mind your own business” while I live my life “my way” behind my privacy fence is the exact opposite way of life intended by Jesus for His redeemed children. Jesus never intended His children to be private people living private lives. Jesus founded the church, and the church is a visible body of believers who are to be involved in one another’s lives. This process is for the purity of His church until it is presented to Him as a bride prepared for her husband. Alexander Strauch writes, “What Jesus prohibits…is sinful, improper judging. It is the hypocrisy of condemning others but failing to see one’s own glaring sins. Jesus forbids self-righteous criticism, a hypercritical spirit, and a harsh, fault-finding mindset.“2
Judgment is a two edged sword. It can be good, but it can also be something that crosses the line of sin. It is our duty as redeemed children of the King to guard our heart against the tendency of false judgment, a judgmental attitude and speech, and practices that will cause us to receive that same type of judgment from our God. Any confrontation we make in a private setting or in a public act of church discipline must always be based on the Word of God alone rather than our ideas, thoughts, or assumptions. John MacArthur writes, “Whenever we assign people to condemnation without mercy because they do not do something the way we think it ought to be done or because we believe their motives are wrong, we pass judgment that only God is qualified to make (Jas. 4:11-12).“3
As we walk the broken road of life – let us strive to love one another and glorify our God who deserves all praise and honor!
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 155-156.
2. Leading With Love, Lewis and Roth, 2006, p. 158.
3. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Matthew 1-7, Moody, 1985, p. 433.