It’s Thursday, we’re past ‘hump-day’, and the weekend is in sight! So I’m going to try, each Thursday (or at least on a Thursday) to write a little column to briefly explain some theology. The range will probably vary quite a bit but it will always attempt to explain something biblical.
Today we’re going to start with the topic of judging. I’ll split this into two parts. Part one will deal with ‘Judging’ and part two will deal with ‘False Teachers and Calling Them Out’.
I recently got accused of being judgemental when I warned that a particular person, on good evidence, was most likely a false teacher. A few parts of scripture were thrown at me, in particular Matthew 7:1, ‘Judge not, that you not be judged.’
When I read that passage thrown at me I honestly shook my head. There’s a saying that a text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text. And here was a perfect example. Here’s how the argument runs:
- Jesus said ‘Do not judge.’ (ie Matthew 7:1)
- What you said amounts to judging another person, which Jesus is clearly against (point 1).
- Therefore you’re being uncharitable/un-Christian in your judgement.
Well, Matthew 7:1 certainly sounds like it’s saying the above when it’s removed from its context. So let’s consider its context to see if it’s being used appropriately. Here’s the relevant wider context:
Matthew 7:1-6 ESV
[7:1] “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see 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. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Let’s exegete this properly.
Verse 1 does state the well-known maxim ‘Do not judge’. The explanation is in the second half of the verse – that you be not judged. That is to say, that the manner in which you judge won’t fall upon you as well.
Verse 2 goes on to affirm the second half of verse 1. There is a give and take when it comes to pronouncing judgement: how you judge will be how others judge you. I think implied in this is also the warning that how you judge others will be the basis for how God judges you as well.
Verses 3-4 illustrate how hypocritical it is to be judgemental. It’s like noticing a speck of dust in the eye of your friend, calling them out for it, but failing to notice the huge log in your own eye. It’s ridiculous. And that’s what being judgemental to another person is like.
Now, stop here and Jesus is clearly teaching that we shouldn’t be making judgements (and perhaps implied that God is the sole one who can judge someone). However the passage doesn’t end here. Instead Jesus goes on to make two additional statements which modify the warning not to judge.
The first is this in the second half of verse 5: 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.
There are two implications from this:
- There is a great need for humility – taking the log out of your own eye is a recognition that you are not perfect or righteous on your own accord, but are also a sinful person. Taking the log out recognises humbly that your sin may be greater in contrast to the fault of your brother (ie the comparison between your log and their speck)
- You can, and should, after being humble enough to admit your own sin, point out the speck in your brother’s eye. There may be a log in your own eye, but there is also the speck in your brother’s eye to deal with.
It is therefore right for us to notice the speck in our brother’s eye. It is right for us to make some form of judgement, provided we humbly acknowledge our own faults and sins.
To add to this Jesus gives a seemingly obscure illustration of not giving to dogs what is holy or throwing pearls before pigs. Many commentators have taken this to be Jesus’ teaching about discerning who to share the gospel with (especially belligerent non-Christians). However I think in context it’s more a call to discerning judgement. So while Jesus affirms humble judgements to be made, in contrast to judgementalism, he also exhorts us to be discerning about making these judgements. Discern whether your holy judgements are going to be placed before dogs, whether your pearls of wisdom/discernment are going to be trampled underfoot by pigs. The encouragement is to be discerning: to make wise judgements. The warning is that if you’re not discerning about who you lay these judgements before they will turn and attack you.
But this isn’t new. What Jesus says here isn’t actually earth shattering. He’s, in some ways, affirming what Proverbs has already laid out for us:
Proverbs 10:17 – Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
Proverbs 12:1 – Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
Proverbs 13:1 – A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
Proverbs 15:5 – A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
Proverbs 15:31 – The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
See that there? To use the language already spoken of, the fool hates discerning judgement and leads others astray in their lack of discernment. But the wise person listens to discerning judgement as life-giving.
So coming back to Matthew 7:1 – is Jesus against making judgements? No. What he is against is a judgemental attitude. What he is for is discerning judgement.
May we grow in our discernment, with all wisdom and knowledge.