Matthew 7:1 is heard often as a practical mantra from those within and outside the church – “Judge not lest ye be judged.” This is interpreted to mean that no one – ever – under any circumstance – is permitted to ‘judge’ the behavior, character or intent of any other person in the cosmos. Is that the intent of what Jesus meant there – and is this the only verse in the Bible which is applicable to the issue of ‘judging?’ Does this verse and this verse alone have the final say on the matter?
We could spend much time just breaking down this verse – and its place within the greater context of the passage in which it appears. That is not the focus of this post, however. Suffice it to say for our purposes here that if one actually reads on past verse 1 and through the passage, one would see that not only is all ‘judging’ not prohibited, but Christ himself charges his audience with the task of ‘judging.’ Yes, he does.
In verse six, as part of the same discourse, he tells his listeners to ‘not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.’ One cannot obey the command unless one ‘judges’ – ‘judges’ as to what person is a dog and what person is a pig. One can only make said judgment by examining that person’s character or actions – and then ‘judging.’
That is one of many ‘violations’ of the misinterpretation/misapplication of Matthew 7:1 which appear in the Scriptures. We will now cite some further examples of ‘violations’ of Matthew 7:1 – and which ‘violators’ would be rebuked by many today for being ‘judgmental.’
We will not cite the examples of Jesus ‘judging’ people because the objection may well arise that he did not have any planks in his own which needed to be removed, or as God Incarnate, he is perfectly within his rights to make such ‘judgments’ and thus the verse is not applicable to him. Keep in mind we are not saying the verse is not applicable today – but that it is misapplied due to misinterpretation. We will only examine verses that include examples of ‘judging’ by men that have been preserved in Scripture for our benefit.
Acts 5:1-10. At the end of chapter four we see the believers selling their property in order to help those who had need. Chapter five continues the train of thought with a married couple who sell property as well – but keep some of the proceeds for themselves. Peter judges their actions – and them. Peter calls Ananias a liar – and not one who has merely lied to men but who has lied to God and Ananias is immediately struck dead. A few hours later Mrs. Ananias – Sapphira – appears. Peter confronts her about her actions and does not even give her the opportunity to ask for forgiveness or to repent (now that’s fodder for a sermon, eh?) and as Peter’s rebuke exits his mouth she is stricken dead as well. Peter ‘judged’ these two people – and Peter did not give them an opportunity to seek forgiveness or to act in repentance.
Acts 7:51. Stephen is brought up on false charges of blaspheming Moses and God. Stephen then speaks before the high priest, and keep in mind that Stephen was chosen as a deacon earlier in chapter six due to his being filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. Chapter six also tells us that the people who brought him up on these false charges ‘could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.’
At the end of his wonderful treatment of redemptive history to that point, Stephen ‘judges.’ He calls his audience 1) stiff-necked, 2) uncircumcised in heart and ears, 3) resisters of the Holy Spirit, 4) betrayers and 5) murderers. Naturally, Stephen’s audience knew he was ‘judging’ them and their actions and were not amused, and in fact were ‘enraged’ and ‘ground their teeth at him.’ The people to whom Stephen was speaking knew they had been ‘judged.’
Acts 8:20-23. Simon the Magician is reported to have believed and been baptized (v. 13). Shortly thereafter, however, Simon desires to have the ability to distribute the Spirit through the laying on of hands and he offers the apostles money in order to gain this ability (vv. 18-19). In verse twenty, Peter begins to ‘judge’ Simon. Peter tells Simon 1) that his heart is not right with God, 2) what he is doing is wickedness, 3) he is in the gall of bitterness and 4) he is in the bond of iniquity. Simon knew he had been ‘judged,’ requesting that Peter pray for him.
Acts 13:9-11. Saul (Paul) is on Cyprus with Barnabas and Elymas, a magician, opposes them. Paul did not respond with ‘God loves you and sent Jesus to die for you.” What did Paul do? He ‘judged’ Elymas, stating that he was 1) a son of the devil (as Jesus said to some Jews in John 8), 2) an enemy of all righteousness, 3) full of all deceit and villainy, and 4) making crooked the straight paths of the Lord. Paul offers forgiveness? Grace? No, Paul – by the hand of the Lord – strikes Elymas temporarily blind. Paul ‘judged’ Elymas.
Romans 1:18-32. Paul ‘judges’ people at length here, stating concerning the wicked that they are:
- futile in their thinking
- have foolish hearts
- claiming to be wise, but in fact are fools
- dishonoring their bodies
- exhanged the truth of God for a lie
- worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator
- exchanging natural (sexual) relations for those that are contrary to nature
- consumed with passion (sinfully) for one another
- committed shameless acts
- have debased minds
- filled with unrighteousness
- filled with evil
- filled with covetousness
- filled with malice
- full of envy
- full of murder
- full of strife
- full of deciet
- full of maliciousness
- haters of God
- inventors of evil
- disobedient to their parents
- give approval to those who practice things worthy of death
Well, well. Paul certainly doesn’t fit contemporary societal standards for not ‘judging’ or ‘name-calling,’ does he? Perhaps he needs to attend a course on ‘tolerance.’(!)
Romans 3:10-18. Paul reloads from his list in chapter one and continues on, here stating concerning all men, that they:
- are unrighteous
- don’t understand
- don’t seek God
- have all turned aside
- are worthless
- don’t do any good
- have throats which are open graves
- use their tongues to deceive
- have the venom of asps under their lips
- have mouths full of curses and bitterness
- have feet which are swift to shed blood
- have ruin and misery in their paths
- don’t know peace
- have no fear of God before their eyes
Paul certainly is a ‘judgmental’ sort, isn’t he?
1 Cor. 3:1-3. Paul certainly cut the church at Corinth no slack, with numerous ‘violations’ of Matthew 7:1. The first one we will discuss is here where he wishes to call them ‘spiritual people,’ but doesn’t because he must call them ‘people of the flesh,’ due to the fact they are not yet ready for solid food and are in fact ‘still of the flesh.’
1 Cor. 5. The entirety of the chapter is written because this church did not judge a particular person. A member of the church is engaging in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife (v. 1). Paul’s response? ’You are arrogant!’ He doesn’t call the man arrogant, he calls the church arrogant(!). But why? Because they had not removed this man from their fellowship (v. 2). In vv. 6-7 he commands them to do cleansing – because of the leavening factor of sin – open, unrepentant sin – within the church. He then tells them they should not be associating with a brother who is engaging in sexual immorality or greed or idolatry or is a reviler or a drunkard or a swindler – having ‘judged’ those people whom Paul says fit into those categories. Paul then closes this section by pronouncing the responsibility of the church to judge those within itself (vv. 12-13), using an Old Testament image of purging evil from the camp in stating that the evil person is to be purged from amongst them.
Gal. 1:6-10. Paul tells the church in Galatia that they have turned to ‘another gospel,’ which Paul goes on to say is no gospel at all and is in fact worthy of damnation.
Gal. 2:11-14. Here Paul lights up his fellow apostle Cephas (Peter), recounting a confrontation in Antioch where Paul rebuked him for having endorsed the Judaizers’ claims that circumcision would be necessary for a man to be justified. What did Peter do? He changed seats at a meal – moving from sitting with the Gentiles to sitting with the ‘circumcision party.’ Should not Paul have kept to himself – after all, couldn’t they just ‘agree to disagree?’ No. Paul says Peter’s actions endangered the very gospel that had been revealed by Christ himself (1:12). Paul then lumps Peter in with Barnabas and the Jews in acting ‘hypocritically’ and he also calls Peter to account for living like a Gentile but forcing Gentiles to live like Jews.
2 John 10-11. John writes here concerning false teachers, giving the charge to not receive false teachers or give greetings. Why? because the one who does so takes part in the wicked works of the false teachers – one can only obey this by ‘judging’ such people.
3 John 9-10. Writing to his beloved Gaius, John ‘judges’ a man named Diotrophes as being one who ‘likes to put himself first’ and as not acknowledging apostolic authority. John calls what words Diotrophes has been speaking as ‘wicked nonsense.’
Jude 4-16. Jude writes in a different direction than he had originally intended – instead of writing concerning ‘common salvation,’ he writes to contend for the faith against a group of people who have ‘crept in unnoticed’ to the church. He, to be sure, pulls no punches concerning his ‘judgmental’ statements concerning these professing church members. Jude says they:
- are designated for condemnation
- are ungodly – used three times concerning the people themselves and twice concerning their actions
- pervert the grace of God into sensuality
- deny Christ
- rely on their dreams
- defile the flesh
- reject authority
- blaspheme the glorious ones
- blaspheme all that they do not understand
- are destroyed by all that they understand instinctively
- walked in the way of Cain
- abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
- perish in in Korah’s rebellion
- are hidden reefs at love feasts, feasting with them without fear
- are shepherds feeding themselves
- waterless clouds, swept along by winds
- fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted
- wild waves of the sea
- wandering starts
- have the gloom of utter darkness reserved forever
- are grumblers
- are malcontents
- follow their own sinful desires
- are loud-mouthed boasters
- show favoritism to gain advantage
- are scoffers
- cause divisions
- are worldly people
- are devoid of the Spirit
Remember, these are people who claim to be Christians who are being written about here by Jude. Certainly appears as if he has ‘judged’ here.
We are aware that our ‘judging’ must be tempered with love. We are aware that an improper emphasis and manner of judging is indeed unbiblical. Our point here has been this, though – to briefly lay out a biblical case for ‘judging.’ To, as Jesus himself said in John 7:24, to ‘judge with right judgment.’ We are charged with being discerning and making ‘judgments’ based upon our discernment, with such discernment being founded upon the entirety of the Scripture, not upon one isolated verse taken out of context as an island unto itself.
Were Peter, Stephen, Paul, John and Jude sinning by their statements? No, but they would most certainly be rebuked by many today for ‘judging.’
The Bible does not teach that a believer is to never judge under any circumstance. To call upon Matthew 7:1 to try and state such is, itself, unbiblical.