“Judge not, lest you be judged”

I’d venture to say that this is the most abused verse in the Bible. The poll over at the Covenant Theology blog seems to bear this out. Non-Christians are especially fond of quoting this verse in debates, seemingly thinking that this is supposed to disarm the Christian’s right to point out fallacies in their belief system. And liberal Christians, pretenders and theologians alike love to use this verse to excuse a litany of behaviors at odds with the way a Christian should live.

The latest, and currently most prominent appeal to the Sermon on the Mount as an indication that we should not tell anyone when they are living in sin, is Senator Barack Hussain Obama’s speech two days ago: “I don’t think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state,” said Obama. “If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.”

While the senator did not directly refer to this verse in Matthew, it has long been a favorite among proponents of same-sex marriage or civil unions (civil unions have the same effect as marriage, it encourages a sinful lifestyle, so it is a useless compromise).

Of course, closer examination of the passage and the verse demonstrate that to use it in such a manner is quite ridiculous. We are all to be judged one day on the basis of our life on earth.

But if we have to believe those who so love to quote this verse and use it as ammunition for whatever heresy they are defending, then it is quite simple:

If we don’t judge, then we won’t be judged, and therefore, if we are not judged, we won’t have to account for our sins. And if we are not called to account for our sins, we have no need for a Savior, and we are assured of our safe entry into the presence of God. And that, dear friend, is heresy of the highest order.

So quite simply, taking the argument to its logical conclusion, not judging people is replacing Christ.

So what does this verse then really mean:

Mat 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
Mat 7:2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
Mat 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Mat 7:4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
Mat 7:5 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.

Firstly, we should not be hypocrites and condemn others for their faults in a way that is breaking them down. Doing so is not our place, and is failure to exercise forgiveness. We must be humble, and first recognize our own faults, often greater, and then we can offer a gentle and loving criticism intended for bringing a brother or sister back to the path that we as Christians walk together.

But there is also a necessary discerning judgment that has as its purpose not to condemn, but to distinguish belief from unbelief. We see that in v6, and the way to discern is given in v16. The purpose of discerning is firstly so that we may ourselves know our own status, and secondly, so that we may know whom we should bring the gospel to.

And just to be clear, while we are admonished here not to be hypocrites, we are to expose false teachers (Matt 7:15-23), exercise church discipline (1 Cor 5:1-2) and trust God to be the final judge, not ourselves (1 Cor 4:3-5).

Christians know the ultimate objective moral basis, the will of God, by which to discern right from wrong. To hide behind an objection that we are not to judge to avoid moral responsibility in both our own lives, and that of others, is simply to avoid the whole purpose of God’s moral teachings in the first place.

So let’s be discerning, loving and kind, but also let us not let others go to eternal damnation because we are “not to judge”.


3 responses to ““Judge not, lest you be judged”

  1. Right on. This passage speaks to individuals concerning the temptation to pronounce a sentence on another person’s soul based on a particular behavior, without calling the sinner to repentance. In other words, if someone has commited an act of adultery, I have no right to condemn their souls to Hell. Such is forbidden elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22). Afterall, David was a man after God’s own heart, and he committed horrible acts.

    However, the realization that Christians can be involved in gross immorality does not justify sin, and we are to judge the behavior of others and warn those who commit such acts. In the same passage, Jesus tells us “”Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16) That requires judgment.

    In a larger sense, the church has been given authority, and even commanded to judge it’s members. (1 Corinthians 5:12).

    So I am not to “judge” others by assigning their souls to Hell. But I am to judge the fruits of those who profess to belong to Christ. In the case above, Obama has some pretty rotten fruit.

  2. Thanks for this post, John. I encounter the misuse of this verse frequently and have written about it myself here. I think I will go back and link to your post from my one. It is good that this teaching is being given more press. Paul Copan, in his essay “Who Are You to Judge Others? – In Defense of Making Moral Judgments” – published in the Areopagus Journal 1/3 (July 2001): 30-35, and to be found on Ravi Zacharias’ website here, writes that “it’s been said that the most frequently quoted Bible verse is no longer John 3:16 but Matthew 7:1” and also gives a good review on this situation.

    I like your new look here as well, John. Very nice. 🙂

  3. Thanks for dropping by, Judah, good to hear from you again. I get so tired of hypocrites telling me not to judge when they fail to recognize the context, and also when they are being painted into a corner for their heretical beliefs.

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