*This is an update and edit of a post from 2 years ago*
I’ve come to the conclusion that Matthew 7:1 is the most known and memorized verse in the Bible – perhaps even more known than John 3:16! When I observe Matthew 7:1 being used, it is usually taken in isolation from the verses that follow. Keep reading. Verse 5 actually says we should judge! What? This post will further explain.
Furthermore, when I observe Matthew 7:1 used as a “clobber verse” (by believers and unbelievers alike) the impression the person gives is that we should NEVER judge. Really? Does anyone really believe that there is NEVER a time to judge? C’mon. Of course there is, and we all make judgments. Even the person using Matthew 7:1 as a clobber verse is making a judgment. Society would be a scary place if there can be no judging. But lets delve into this…
There are two different types of “judgment” that come to my mind: moral issues and theological teachings. Someone may speak out against immorality, a perceived wrong behavior. Certain hot button issues come to mind. The cry is “judge not!” in response to any condemnation or concern about it. A Christian may also be concerned about false or inaccurate biblical teaching. Within Christian circles, there are some who think it is never or rarely appropriate for one Christian to critique another Christian’s theological approach or biblical interpretation.
Let us begin with Matthew 7:1-5. It often seems like the only point people draw out of these verses is “don’t judge others.” They read verse one, and stop. They don’t keep reading. Read all the verses. Verse 5 actually says we should judge others – “then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
However, to remove the speck from your brother’s eye means we must first pay attention to our own sin. Note verses 3 and 4. You can’t help others unless you first look thoroughly at your own life and deal with your own sins without excuses, rationalization, or evasion. When we have been humbled by our own sinful condition, only then are we in a position to help others face their sins too. I think perhaps the main point of these verses is this:
“As the Christian grows in grace, he or she should become more severe in their judgment of themselves, and more lenient in their judgment of others.”
This doesn’t mean Christians should not be concerned about society, but too often we overlook our own sin while hypocritically pointing the finger at others. The world would likely take the concerns of Christians more seriously if we were known as humble people who honestly admitted our own struggles with sin.
What about speaking out about false or inaccurate teachings within Christianity? Some think there is almost never a time for this, and we must maintain Christian unity by never offering critique. A “live and let live” attitude can prevail.
While it is true that Christian unity is important, does that mean we can never speak out in concern? I’d actually say that critique is necessary precisely in order to maintain unity.
All kinds of unchecked aberrant teachings will bring chaos and ultimate disunity!
I wonder if such people have actually read the New Testament, as it is filled with critique and concern about false teaching!
We are told to contend for the faith in Jude 1:3. In Ephesians 4:14-15 we are cautioned to not to be blown about by every teaching that comes along, and to speak the truth in love. Jesus spoke out against the inaccurate teachings of the pharisees. Apostles like Paul and John spoke out against false or harmful teachings in the first-century church. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones aptly said:
Indeed it might almost be said that the New Testament came into being in order to warn Christian people to beware of the terrible ever-present danger of being led astray by false teaching concerning our Lord Himself and His great salvation.
However, we do need to cautiously consider our underlying attitudes or motives when we speak out – whether on moral or theological issues. As the Ephesians reference indicates, we are to speak in love. This can be tricky.
What is our motive…really?
Is it genuine concern that Christianity is being misrepresented? Is it loving concern that a teaching or immoral behavior will lead down a wrong path? Or…do we just like to criticize? Do we have a chip on our shoulder for some reason?
Have we taken the plank out of our own eye (Matthew 7)?
Have we considered we might be wrong about some of our theological stances too? (None of us are right about everything.) We need to be humble enough to accept critique from those with different views. Every view point has a weakness and we are often blind to the weakness of our own view. Those with the opposite viewpoint can usually see our weakness like a bright glaring light! We need this critique in order to grow spiritually.
Are we instructively critical or destructively critical? Are we speaking out in hopes of it being improved, or do we just want to see it torn apart?
The Bible has many verses stating that we are to focus on things that are right and virtuous, and encourage each other in the faith. There are times to critique or judge, but there are also times to be positive. Are we balanced? Or are we always on a witch hunt, sniffing out falsehood wherever it may be found?
There is certainly room for differing views on non-essential issues within the faith. We need wisdom, and it is not necessary to speak out on everything we might disagree with. Somethings should be left alone.
We need people with the gift of discernment in the church…people who are able to clearly or easily distinguish between truth and error. Yet, it can be all to easy to confuse the gift of discernment for the gift of ripping people to shreds. Discernment can deteriorate into a critical and proud spirit. And then this gift is no longer a help, but a detriment to the faith.
Perhaps a summary might be this:
There is a time to judge, but not a time to be judgmental.