Matthew 7:1. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
In this chapter, we’re moving away from the last section of the previous chapter, where we saw the heir of the Kingdom in the midst of the world, how he is to trust and depend upon the Father; he is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; his walk is to be undivided.
Now, Jesus directs attention to the conduct of the heirs of the kingdom to their fellow disciples. The primary feature of our behavior toward one another as believers is clearly to be that of love. It is more fully developed in the Book of John as well as in I John, appropriately given to the Beloved Disciple for further expounding and teaching.
So let’s dig right in, looking today at only verse one of this chapter. I want to take some time with it, because it is a verse much quoted and, sadly, much misunderstood by believers and unbelievers alike.
Some have taken this verse to mean that we are never to address obvious sin in the lives of other believers. To take this sort of head-in-the-sand approach is to open the door wide for loose living and loose interpretations of Jesus’ teachings on how we are to conduct ourselves. He warns against such laxity in verse 6 of this chapter.
Jesus does NOT forbid the judging of actions and evil. If He did, His words would contradict other passages in the Epistles. One example would be I Cor. 5: 12-13, as well as Matthew 18:15-18. It is clear in these passages and others that believers are required to deal with sin in their midst.
We are taught repeatedly in scripture that we are to remain separated from the world, from sin. If we never judge, then we could not know from what we are to be separated. We are to stand as “lights in the world, in the midst of a perverse and wicked generation” (Phil. 2:15). To do so requires judgment, wisdom, discernment. We must know, through our walk with God and through His Word, what is good and what is evil.
The problem we all have is that we often take a step across the line of wisely and biblically judging between good and evil to the fault-finding, censorious self-righteousness of Pharisaical judgment, sweeping our robes aside lest we be contaminated by those who are less pure than we are.
As I’ve studied this verse, I’ve come to believe that there are so many layers of meaning here that it would take a book to sort it all out. Everything Jesus said was beautiful in its simplicity, and incredibly deep in its complexity.
So I’m going to pull out just two simple things that spoke especially to my heart. You may do a study of your own and come up with something completely different.
First: From the literal translation and the context, it is clear that we are not to judge motives. I have no right to come down with a judgment on that which I cannot see and do not understand. No one ever really knows what another person is thinking. God does. Leave it to Him.
We are, however, to wisely, carefully, lovingly, mercifully look at behavior, which springs from motives. Micah 6:8 remains one of my favorite verses: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Second: If we do not care to have our motives, thoughts, and emotions judged and found wanting by others, then we must refrain from doing so ourselves. However, when our motives, thoughts, and emotions lead to overtly ungodly behavior, then we put ourselves in the way of correction which should be applied in a loving manner, with the goal of restoration. Correction (judgment) done in a biblical manner is to be done with kindness, mercy, and love; it should end in healing.
Here’s another favorite verse of mine, which seems to me to be appropriate and applicable to this topic:
“Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.”