Judgmentalism vs. Righteous Judgment
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 7:1-5
(Read Text) There may be no verse in the entire Bible that gets abused more than Matthew 7:1. I imagine we’ve all heard it, for example on a T.V. show. A young lady who grew up in a conservative Christian home decides to get an abortion, and her parents are upset. And then the hero of the show smugly looks at the parents and declares “Did you forget the verse that says, ‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged’?” It’s presented as the ultimate trump card with Jesus putting the parents in their place.
And sadly, Christians often abuse this verse as well. The moment someone challenges their position on a particular issue or confronts a sin pattern, they defensively declare, “Do not judge” as if to say, “Stay out of my business.”
Unfortunately, in a society like ours that assumes moral relativism, individual autonomy and complete privacy, this verse becomes a weapon for justifying life without accountability or consequence. However, we’ll see that this is not what Jesus intended, and it’s important that we correct it.
At the same time, Jesus does give a couple of serious warnings in this passage that conservative people like us need to heed. Afterall, a church like ours that is committed to holiness and takes truth and discernment very seriously can easily develop a judgmental spirit. Therefore, we must listen carefully to what Jesus means and not just explain away what he doesn’t mean.
With this in mind, the basic challenge of this text that I want to drive into our hearts today is this. Jesus wants his disciples to judge, but to do so with grace (vv. 1–2) and humility (vv. 3–5). First, vv. 1–2 challenge us to…
I. Judge with the grace you want God to show you (vv. 1–2).
Verse 1 begins with an important command which is the foundation of this paragraph. Jesus commands his disciples, “Do not judge.” This is an important command that we all need to obey. But, as I already said, many people misunderstand and misapply it. So, let’s start with…
What doesn’t Jesus mean? First, Jesus does not mean that…
Truth and morality are relative. Our society wants to believe that there is no ultimate truth and morality; therefore, they want to believe that Jesus is teaching, “Do not judge because there is no ultimate standard. Everyone’s personal truth and personal morality are equally valid. Therefore, imposing your beliefs on others is bigotry and oppression.”
I suppose that if this were the only thing Jesus ever said someone might be able to draw that conclusion. But it’s not. Jesus makes a lot of truth claims and moral declarations in the Sermon, and Matthew 7:29 states that Jesus’ audience was impressed by the “authority” with which he taught. So, Jesus clearly does not mean that truth and morality are relative. 2nd…
Christians should never identify and confront sin. We know this because in the following verses, Jesus commands us to make lots of judgments (v. 6). You can’t obey that verse unless you identify the dogs and the hogs.
As well, v. 15 commands us to “Beware of false prophets.” Again, Jesus assumes that their beliefs are wrong, and it’s up to us identify them. And how will we do that? Verse 16 says, “You will know them by their fruits.” That sounds like judgment to me. We must examine the teaching and testimony of people who claim to speak on God’s behalf, and judge who is right and who is wrong and then separate from false teachers.
Now, many believers would say that’s fair, but within the church, people need to stay out of my business and never challenge me. But 1 Corinthians 5 clearly denies that assumption. In this chapter, Paul calls the church to discipline a professing believer who is living in sin. Notice his conclusion, “For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders (unbelievers)? Do you not judge those who are within the church (believers)? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the evil person from among yourselves” (1 Cor 5:12–13).
God says we are responsible to judge those within the church, and it is our job to submit that judgment. Yes, there is a right and wrong way to do that, and we’ll get to that. But the American church needs to feel the force of those verses. In sum, Matthew 7:1 cannot be forbidding all judgment or confrontation. But if that’s true, what does Jesus condemn?
Self-Righteous Elitism: Like any verse, we need to understand this one in context, and 6:1–18 are especially helpful for doing so. Remember that Jesus condemned the “hypocrites” for giving, praying, and fasting as ways of asserting their superiority over others and of boasting in themselves.
And notice that 7:5 again condemns “hypocrites.” So, we ought to assume that Jesus is again confronting this self-righteous elitist attitude that thinks, “I’m better than everyone else.” Jesus gives us a window into how this spirit displayed itself in his day in Luke 18:9–14.
This Pharisee is the epitome of elitism, right? He thinks he is something special, and he looks down his nose at everyone else. But Jesus is not impressed. Self-righteous elitism is nauseating to Christ. And our text is confronting this same arrogant spirit.
We all need to watch for it in our own hearts because we’re all good at finding something (even if it’s not that important) that makes us feel superior to others and then using it to look down our noses. But Jesus is not impressed. He loves the person who is overwhelmed with is sin, not with his greatness. Second, Jesus condemns…
Cynical Judgmentalism: You see this so clearly in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee does not reasonably evaluate the tax collector from a heart of love and humility. No, he is proud, and he only sees the worst. And, sadly, Christians can do the same to each other.
Romans 14:1–4: The context for these verses is that the Roman church was fighting division. The rub was that Jewish believers struggled to move past OT food laws. They were looking down their noses at the Gentile believers who did eat, and the Gentiles were doing the same toward the Jews for not appreciating their freedom in Christ. As I read, notice what Paul says about judging each other (read).
This text is so helpful for thinking about relationships in the church. Sometimes we are going to arrive at different but not necessarily sinful conclusions. But we cannot allow our differences to spiral into cynical, harsh judgments of each other, where they assume the worst of them. Instead, we must assume the best and to leave judgment to God.
That’s important, because when we differ over nonessentials, it’s easy to prop up my stance by tearing down others. “If Joe really loved Jesus, he would think like me. But the fact that he doesn’t must mean he has an ungodly heart.” You may be right, but Paul and Jesus warn that we must be cautious about drawing harsh conclusions and taking judgment into our own hands as if I am judge and jury. Why is that?
Notice the warning in vv. 1b–2. Two sober truths stand out about this.
God will judge you. And I must add as Paul does in Romans 14, that he will also judge your brother. Judgment is God’s job, not mine.
It’s important to clarify that Jesus is looking forward to the judgment seat of Christ, where he will judge all Christians. I say this because Jesus is not warning the lost; rather, v. 3 talks about judging “your brother.” That’s language for disciples.
So, Jesus warns disciples like us that it’s very easy to see ourselves as superior to others. We think we really have it together, and we think it’s our job to judge everyone else. So, we start looking down our noses at other people with a harsh, cynical, and self-exalting attitude. And it feels good because it props up my pride.
But I must remember that I will also be judged. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive compensation for his deeds donethrough the body, in accordance with what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).
When you begin to see yourself as everyone’s judge, remember that your day is coming Christ will judge you and everyone else. He’s God, not you. And adding to the weight of all this is a second sober truth.
How you judge others will affect God’s judgment of you. We ought to understand v. 2 based on what Jesus has already said in the Sermon about justice and mercy (5:7). Jesus says that God will be merciful to us as we show mercy to others. And 7:2 warns about the opposite. If I am harsh and critical, God will judge me more strictly. Yikes! Another important text is 6:14–15. Once again Jesus says that if I am gracious toward others, God will be gracious toward me, but if I am harsh and unforgiving, God will not show me the same grace.
I want to emphasize that Jesus is not saying that I earn my place in heaven by being merciful and forgiving, or that I can lose my salvation by being judgmental. My only hope of salvation is in Christ. But these verses clearly teach that how I treat others will affect God’s judgment of me, when I stand before him.
If you’re not convinced that God will judge us differently, notice the warning in James 3:1, Every believer will not be held to the same standard.
In this light, 7:2 calls for some serious self-reflection. Are your judgments full of mercy? Do you assume the best, or are you quick to jump to harsh conclusions? Do you consistently make unfounded assumptions about people’s motives? Do you find sick pleasure in slandering others?
BTW, you aren’t safe from this simply because you don’t have strict standards. Lots of people look down their noses at more conservative people and write them off as legalists or hypocritical snobs. Take a look at the NYT or any other liberal media outlet sometime. Sadly, Christians often do the same toward more conservative believers.
If you see judgmentalism in your heart, recognize that it’s a serious problem. If you are judgmental, God will hold you to a higher standard when you stand before him. I don’t know about you, but I want as much mercy as possible in that day. So, confess your judgmentalism as the sin that it is, and by God’s grace drive it out. The 2nd major challenge of this text is…
II. Correct yourself before correcting others (vv. 3–5).
These verses paint a ridiculous mental picture that unfortunately pretty accurately reflects the absurdity of our hypocrisy. Notice first in vv. 4–5…
The Delusion of Self-Righteousness (vv. 4–5): These verses picture two men who both have problems with their eyes. The first individual has a “speck” in his eye. This word can refer to any type of small bothersome speck, whether it be sand, sawdust, chaff, or something like it.
We all know that it’s irritating to have a speck in your eye. It can really hurt. Your eye turns red, and it waters profusely while it tries to wash out the speck. Have you ever had this happen in public? People keep asking if you are okay, and you keep answering, “I’m fine. I just have something in my eye.”
A speck in your eye is a common problem, but the second person’s issue is absurd. He has a “log” in his eye. This word doesn’t typically describe a small stick; rather, it refers to a large beam. Just imagine what it would be like to have a beam sticking out your eye.
I’ll do my best to illustrate for you. It would be pretty obnoxious, right? I’d knock Heidi out every time I tried to kiss her or rolled over in bed.
And imagine if I casually walked into church with a beam in my eye. I would really stand out, and everyone would notice and be concerned. But not the guy in Jesus’ story. Even though he has a serious problem, he believes…
“I’m fine.” It’s hilarious to imagine the picture in v. 3. This guy has a beam in his eye, but Jesus says he doesn’t even notice it. He’s walking around, talking to people as if everything is normal. And everyone around him is like, “Uh, don’t you notice that you have a beam in your eye?”
It’s absurd, but sadly, people do this all the time in the spiritual realm. Everyone around them can see very clearly that something is wrong. Maybe there is a major change in behavior or demeanor, and the people that know this person clearly see that something is off.
But when you ask what’s going on, this person looks at you like you’re an idiot. “What do you mean what’s wrong? I’m fine.” But you’re thinking, “No something is clearly off.”
Sometimes, it’s obvious what’s off. A brother is clearly living in sin or prioritizing the wrong things. A spiritual beam is sticking out his eye, and everyone can see it, except him. He’s adamant that everything is fine even while he is committing adultery, embezzling money, or trapped in substance abuse. Our ability to convince ourselves of lies is truly incredible. What’s even more incredible is that this guy believes…
“I’m fit to correct you.” The absurdity only grows in v. 4. Imagine if I had a beam in my eye, but I walked up to you and said, “I can see that you have a speck of sawdust in your eye. I’d like to help you get it out.”
You’d think two things. First, “There is no way you are touching my eye with that thing stuck in your eye.” Second, “You’ve got bigger problems than I do. Why don’t you get your house in order before you worry about mine?”
It’s absurd, and yet once again I’ve seen this attitude many times. Very often the most harsh and critical people are living in obvious sin. Extreme judgmentalism is often a cover for serious sin.
It’s because everyone wants to feel good about something. If I’m not genuinely righteous or clinging humbly to the cross, then I’m going to come up with my own counterfeit righteousness.
Secularists hold their nose high with how they are saving the planet, saving the whales, or fixing people’s sexual ethics. But oftentimes, their lives are miserable, and they have no room to boast.
And professing believers love to boast in the Bible they carry, the length of their dresses, their Calvinism, or their Arminianism, all the ministry they do, or their political stand. But oftentimes the people who shout the loudest, never go to church, and they aren’t invested in people. Sometimes, they are living in blatant rebellion against God. As v. 5 says, they’re hypocrites.
But even while a beam is sticking out their eye, they boldly claim that they have the right to judge others, and they think they are fit to perform surgery.
Again, our tendency to self-delusion is incredible. It’s one reason why significant relationships in the church are so valuable. We all need deep relationships with godly people who can come along occasionally and say, “Hey buddy, there’s a beam growing in your eye. Let’s work on it.” From there, notice…
The Answer to Self-Righteousness (v. 5): To put it simply, the fundamental answer to self-righteousness and judgmentalism is that I must humbly learn to be more critical of myself than I am of anyone else. I must make sure that I put the magnifying glass on myself far more than I do on other people.
If there is conflict in my relationships, I always examine my faults before I do those of other people. When I read the Bible or listen to preaching, I apply it to my heart before stewing about others. Which means, it would be sort of ironic if you’ve spent the last 40 minutes thinking about how judgmental other people are right? Godliness demands that I am my own worst critic.
But recognizing my faults is only the beginning. I must run to the cross for forgiveness and hope. And then Jesus says, “Take the log out of your own eye.” Don’t despair, and don’t wallow in self-pity; rather, in the grace that God provides, believe that change is possible and take the log out. Strive for greater righteousness.
And as you engage in this process, Jesus says you become equipped to “take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This is an important part of the text that we must not miss. Jesus does not teach that the answer to judgmentalism is no judgment or correction at all.
Believers must look out for each other and correct sin. “If a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each onelooking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1–2).
These verses are a good complement to our text, because they call us to correct each other. But we must do so from a position of humility and self-watch for the good of the one we are correcting, not out of self-righteous elitism. When we do it right, loving correction is the heart of godliness. We must simply need to watch ourselves and our motives.
To sum it all up, this passage challenges us to judge each other, but to do so with the grace we want God to show us and with humility that is very aware of my own sin. This is a vital ingredient to a healthy church culture. Let’s be a people who are marked by humility and self-watch. Let’s maintain a gracious, loving spirit toward each other, and from that position, let’s watch out for each other and care well for each other. We will all benefit as we live this text.