Dan Popp
Judge not
By Dan Popp
December 30, 2012

The devil's favorite scripture must be Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (KJV) As it's commonly misinterpreted it means something like, "Don't call my sin what it is." But if "judge not" means that we can't call sin, "sin," then there's no such thing as murder, rape or robbery. The only sin, it turns out, is the sin of condemning sin (which is a sin that of course we condemn). Besides defying logic, this view is contradicted by the line's context, which is the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus had just told the same crowd, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matt. 5:17, 18 NASB) Uh-oh. Sin is still sin.

What the Lord said after "judge not" is even more destructive to the antinomian misinterpretation: "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (7:6) We can't escape the duty of making judgments about potential hearers if we're to obey this instruction. We must — we are commanded to — use "fruits" to judge the quality of the "tree" (7:16-20); that is, we must assess the inward spiritual condition of others by their outward actions.

So the moral law is still in effect, and we're required to make moral judgments about ourselves and other people. With just a little thought and study, the popular misunderstanding of "judge not" is totally obliterated. Then what does this sentence mean? Let's look at it in context. We've never left Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew, Chapters 5, 6 and 7.
    Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at 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,' and behold, the log is 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. (7:1-5) (See also Luke 6:36,37)
What's different about this bad kind of judgment? For one thing, it deals with relationships within the Body of Christ. Jesus isn't talking about "neighbors" here, but brothers. After we've discerned truth from error, holiness from sin, sheep from swine, then within God's family I must apply to myself stricter standards than I apply to others. There will be times of friction and disagreement and offense. We must go overboard to make sure that our flesh isn't getting in the way of God's purposes for the whole group. Among those who are committed to holiness, in your shared walk with Christ, realizing that both of you are works-in-progress, give your brother more than the benefit of the doubt. Assume that you're the problem. Lead by example more than exhortation.

I love Matthew Henry's comments about this passage:
    We must judge ourselves, and judge of our own acts, but not make our word a law to everybody. We must not judge rashly, nor pass judgment upon our brother without any ground. We must not make the worst of people. Here is a just reproof to those who quarrel with their brethren for small faults, while they allow themselves in greater ones. ... Here is a good rule for reprovers; first reform thyself.
Unfortunately, even within the church we will sometimes have to condemn the actions of others. "But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?" (1 Corinthians 5:11,12).

Whatever Jesus meant by "judge not," He did not mean we must condone sin. That would be a sin.

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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