Summary: Jesus tells us not to judge others, but other places in Scripture talk about judging others. What’s the difference, and how does the disciple of Jesus know when and how to judge others?
In my last post, I talked about how Jesus’s disciples handle worry and anxiety. In this post, we will try to better understand Jesus’s teaching about judging others.
Christians often misunderstand this part of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. What does Jesus mean when He tells us not to judge others? Is it a blanket statement that means we must never judge another person? Are there conditions to judging others?
It often comes as great relief to others when I tell them I’m not the Judge. But as a church leader and pastor, are there times when I need to judge others? I must know if someone is a false teacher, and that requires judging them. If a Christian is living in sin in my congregation, it is my duty as a pastor to discipline them. So, you can see how sticky the situation of Matthew 7:1-6 can be for Christians.
We must understand what Jesus means by judging others and compare it with His teaching in the Gospels. If we don’t understand, we cannot be good disciples of Jesus. We will either over judge others or not judge others when we should. With all that said, it’s time to dig in and get a grip on this powerful teaching. Let’s get started.
Turning the Tables (Matthew 7:1-2)
What’s the problem with judging others? Sometimes we do it without even thinking. Some people just play the part so well. They do unintelligent things. Maybe they are violent, lawbreakers, unwise, unbelieving, unkind, or a host of other characteristics we find reprehensible.
Or worse, we see our faults in them without seeing our faults in ourselves. Perhaps we judge them so harshly because they openly do what we secretly know we struggle with. We try so hard to hide our faults, or maybe don’t realize we have the same faulty characteristics.
Sometimes we place ourselves in God’s place. God is the Judge. Only He has perfect perspective, can see into the heart and soul of every individual, and has the right to judge others. We must not place ourselves on the bench seat of judgment.
If we judge others, we open ourselves to judgment by others and by God. Have you ever openly criticized someone only to find people around you, even your friends, point out your faults? Maybe you’ve needed to say something to someone but didn’t do it because you knew they would throw your faults in your face. We can’t judge others when we are vulnerable with our own faults.
So why do we attack others with judgment? Maybe you’re trying to be helpful, bringing up another person for judgment because they need to hear what you see. Another Christian is misrepresenting Jesus and openly sinning. We see Paul address Christians who are taking liberties in the faith to sin. They call themselves Christian as we do, but they are not doing what Jesus taught.
Jesus turns the tables on people who think they are righteous enough to judge others. He says anyone who judges others will also be under judgment. With the same violent criticisms and judgments we lob at others, we will be judged. We will return to consider this measurement of judgment.
Maybe this is why Christians don’t judge others when it is warranted. We don’t want God to judge our faults if we address the faults of others. We don’t want to put ourselves in God’s place. I know I would not want my sins to be placed in the public square, to be exposed publicly.
Blind to Your Faults (Matthew 7:3-4)
Jesus addresses another reason we should not judge others. We see so clearly their egregious faults but are blind to our own. Jesus uses an effective illustration concerning our blind justice. We set the record straight for someone else, but we don’t see how much like them we are. We called them to a high standard, like the Pharisees, but we don’t see our faults.
We regard others as less than us. We judge them for sins and faults, ignoring that we have no right to judge others. Our criticisms fall on empty ears. Instead of changing and addressing their faults, they hurl insults back at us. We thought we were doing them a service, letting them know what we have noticed about their character and actions. But all we did was open ourselves to friendly fire. It doesn’t feel so friendly.
Perhaps we judge them for a fault we don’t have that we see in them. But they shock us when they point out our faults. It becomes a vicious game of justifying our faults instead of considering the judgment of others. We don’t want to change or ask for forgiveness. To avoid vulnerability and repentance, we return fire. When we are hurt by others pointing out our faults and sins, we just want to hurt them back.
Judging others is not an effective way to deal with sin in the camp. It just slings more dirty laundry at one another. This practice turns to gossip, more judgment of one another, hurt feelings, anger and bitterness, and broken relationships. Instead of seeking God’s cleansing grace for ourselves and giving it to others, we turn to unforgiveness. We assassinate one another’s character, flinging insults and slander at one another. Criticizing and judging others can bring many unchristian behaviors.
Check Yourself (Matthew 7:5)
What’s the solution to judging one another with impunity like this, bringing sinful and unchristian behavior and criticism? Jesus calls us to evaluate ourselves before we address faults and others. We cannot point to the stains on others’ garments when we are wearing unclean garments.
Have you ever criticized a glaring fault or sin in someone else without realizing you had the same fault, or an even larger problem than them? Most of us recognize we can’t criticize others if we have sin ourselves. Jesus tells us we are hypocrites if we point out other peoples’ faults without addressing our own first.
He tells us to first remove the plank from our eye so we can see well enough to help others with the speck of dust in their eye. Before we try to save of other peoples’ reputations, we must deal with our own issues. If we are struggling with and entangling sin (Hebrews 12:1), we must deal with that first. If we wish to judge others, we must first judge ourselves.
Jesus describes our sin compared to other peoples’ sin has a plank instead of a speck of dust. Have you ever gotten sawdust in your eyes? It hurts a lot. Can you imagine if you got a splinter in your eye or a larger piece of wood in your eye?
You can’t see the problems other people have. Jesus isn’t saying we have bigger or more sin in our lives. He is saying we don’t deserve to deal with other people, and cannot help them if we cannot help ourselves. Paul requires we must be spiritually healthy people to help others with their sins (Galatians 6:1).
Spiritual maturity demands we deal with our sin first. We should not counsel those with the same sins and hangups we have. We will drag them down, or they will drag us down. Wisdom dictates we find people who have a sin we don’t struggle with, and help them with that. There are too many pitfalls to judging others. The plank in our eye is the hypocrisy of thinking they must be judged and criticized while we can get away scott free with our sins.
Who Let the Dogs Out (Matthew 7:6)?
Jesus introduces a phrase about giving dogs what is holy and throwing pearls before swine. What does this mean, and what does it have to do with judgment? It means we don’t give valuable counsel to others who will just turn on us. You may know exactly how to deal with another person’s sin, and have godly counsel and wisdom for them.
You could really help this person with their sins and problems. But what use is it to offer such counsel if they will just turn on you? For most of us, personal sin is just that, personal. We don’t want other people meddling in our business. Some people may not realize they are living in sin. Unlike the world, they are quick to judge you if you mention their sin.
You cannot give away precious counsel and help to others for their sins until they are ready to hear from you. And if you’re sin is in the way, they won’t see past it to receive your guidance. They criticize your counsel, stomping on it like dogs and swine. People need to receive your counsel and wisdom with open arms, valuing it as you do.
It may take a while to help them with their sin, and you may never be in a place to do it. Another Christian may need to help them. Be humble enough to let that happen, holding this person’s spiritual welfare as more important than your hurt feelings or your need to solve their problem..
Other New Testament Writers on Judging
I want to point out Peter’s saying about judgment beginning with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17-18). If we must not judge a person, why does Peter say this? Remember that tears grow with the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), and no one can guarantee the spiritual status of those around us. It is not for us to assess their growth.
Statements like Peter’s and the place of the pastoral leader in the church require for us to judge others. But it’s not the kind of judgment Jesus is talking about here. It’s possible for us to judge one another and others. Statements about the wickedness of worldly people are judgments. Yet, we see them throughout the Bible. We must clarify what Jesus means when He prohibits us from judging others.
The Meaning of Judge
What does Jesus mean when He tells us not to judge others. First, Jesus is dealing with hypocrites who criticize others and ignore their own faults. Second, Jesus in this context of the Sermon on the Mount is talking about negative judgment with impunity. The best way understand the concept of judging others here is with a critical eye or intense.
Judgment here is not simple judgment of a person, their fruit, and their integrity. We are not judging a person for condemnation. We judge if their fruit matches their claims. If a person claims to be a Christian, that carries a lot of weight. Claiming to be a Christian has a righteous conduct, disposition, and behavior. We must judge if a person practices Christianity when they claim to be a Christian.
We are not making value judgments of a person’s soul. That belongs to God. When I was in Bible College, a fellow student stole my PDA. They found out who he was, and the Dean required him to address the face-to-face and return the PDA. When he did, he profusely apologized for his actions. I was gracious, saying what I always say, that I was not his Judge. But if I were his pastor, I would have to make a judgment as to how involved he could be in church leadership in ministry. I may have assessed that he needed ministry rather than being in leadership.
Jesus elsewhere teaches that we must judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 12:33-37). We judge the person based on their works and what they say, not on who they are. If we don’t make these judgments, we open ourselves as Christians to the results of their sinful activity. Matthew We make judgments, sometimes without realizing it. Jesus keeps us from condemning a person based on our judgment. It’s always much better for us to judge with the measuring stick of grace rather than punitive judgment. Let us be merciful to one another.
When we judge others, we must do it by biblical standards. It must not be punitive or critical. We can’t think badly about the person. But sometimes you have to judge a person’s integrity and character versus their behavior. Make sure you don’t judge others as Jesus outlines.
We have tried to better understand the nuances of Jesus’s teaching on judging others. Next, Jesus teaches His disciples about how to request things from God.
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