Thursday, January 9, 2014

DO NOT JUDGE? (Matthew Chapter 7)

Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge lest you be judged.”

In this age of tolerance this oft-cited verse has gained much in popularity.  Many who know nothing else of Scripture, know this verse.  It is oftentimes misused to rationalize and excuse all sorts of beliefs and behaviors under the mistaken notion that to do otherwise would be to judge others.

It is helpful to consider the context of this passage.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) Jesus confronted many of the ills of the Pharisaic religious cult that governed that day.  The religion of that day was a religion of self-effort and self-exaltation.  The pursuit of self-righteousness came at the expense of others.  A perfect example of this is found in the parable Jesus once told: “And He also told this parable of certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer’ (Luke 18:9-11).”

The Pharisee pridefully viewed the tax-gatherer “with contempt.”  He exalted himself in his condemnation of others.  That’s exactly the kind of judging that Jesus condemned.  To judge others with a view to their condemnation is always wrong.  Jesus gives a warning to those who practice that kind of judgment: “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  It is never okay to indict, criticize, gossip about, or condemn someone in order to feel better about oneself or to justify one’s own wrong behavior.  To take note of someone’s ‘speck’ while ignoring one’s own ‘log’ is both sinful and hypocritical (Matthew 7:4-5).
Does that mean that we should never practice ‘judgment’?  That is what some are misinterpreting this verse to mean.  But amongst the varied definitions given for this word is this: Judgment = “The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning or comparing; an opinion or estimate so formed.”  That this kind of “judging” is vital and necessary is clear even in the following context of Matthew 7:1.  It is necessary to distinguish through comparison between the broad path that leads to destruction and the narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  Judgment is essential to discerning and avoiding false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23).  Jesus Himself will exercise judgment in condemning the false professors (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Corinthian church was rightly chastised by the Apostle Paul—he himself exercising judgment--inasmuch as they did “not judge” the man caught in gross immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; esp. 5:12).  ‘Judgment’ (i.e. discernment) is necessary if a person is to abide by the warning given in verse 11 to not associate with any “so-called brother if he should be an immoral person” (1 Corinthians 5:11).  Discernment is called for with regards to that which we believe: “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Discernment is to be exercised with regards to behavior: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words (exercise discernment; i.e. judgment), for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:5-6).”
Judgment is exercised by a parent in disciplining a misbehaving child.  Why is this kind of judgment not sinful?  Because it is to be exercised in love for the child’s own good (Cf. Hebrews 12:10).  God does the same with His children (Hebrews 12:9-11).  Believers in Christ are exhorted to “admonish one another”—why does that not violate Jesus’ Matthew 7:1 command?  Because they are to admonish a brother “by the Spirit” (i.e. in love, with truth, and for the purpose of their edification; Cf. Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 3:16).

To share the gospel with an unbeliever or care enough to lovingly confront someone concerning some sinfully destructive behavior in their life, does not constitute judging them in the Matthew 7:1 sense.  It is only that when it is done apart from Spirit-imparted humility, gentleness, and love (Cf. Galatians 6:1).  The kind of judging that finds faults and criticizes merely for the sake of personal gain is always wrong and destructive.

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