Matthew 7:1 may have overtaken John 3:16 as the most well-known Bible verse in America. It seems that everyone in America, both Christian and non-Christian alike, can quote this verse verbatim. Once I heard a preacher quip that the unchurched must have a secret VBS in which all their children are taught only one Bible verse: “Judge not that you be not judged.”
This verse is quoted whenever someone states that any belief is false or any action is sinful. If you ever say that anything is false or sinful, you immediately hear: “Judge not.” or “You shouldn’t judge.” This verse has become a rallying cry for Postmodernity’s denial of any absolute truth or moral certitude. But is that really what this verse is about? In this morning’s message we will examine this often misinterpreted verse in its context. By doing so we will find that, contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not forbidding His disciples to make moral and truth judgments, but rather is providing guidelines on the proper attitude one must have when addressing an area of weakness in a brother or sister in Christ.
Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (3) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? (5) Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (6) Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Matthew 7:1-6
I. Guideline #1: Be Gracious, vv. 1-2.
Jesus begins in verse one with those famous words, “Judge not.” But He doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes on to say “that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” This is a call for graciousness in our evaluation of others.
As I already alluded to, Jesus is not categorically denying a Christian’s responsibility to be discerning. As we’ll see in a few moments in verse six, Jesus calls upon us to be discerning by not giving what is holy to dogs nor casting pearls before swine. This requires discernment. Who is a dog and who is a pig? Later in this same chapter (vv. 15-20), Jesus calls upon His followers to beware of false teachers. One must be able to judge whether someone is a false teacher for that command to make sense.
“You will know them,” Jesus says, “by their fruits.” In 1 John 4:1 the apostle John writes,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” So when Jesus says in Matthew 7:1 “Judge not.” it obviously doesn’t mean what many interpret it to mean in our day. Namely, that no one should ever question the beliefs or actions of anyone. That is the spirit of our age, but not the teaching of Jesus.
So what is Jesus saying? As I’ve already stated, Jesus is saying that we should be gracious in our evaluation of others. The motivation for this is the fact that we will be judged by the exact same criteria that we judge others. God’s judgment of us will always be appropriate and proportionate to the judgment with which we judge others. The realization that we will one day be judged by God is to be a deterrent to our critical, nit-picking manner of judging our brothers and sisters. Paul put it this way in Romans 14:10 in regard to those things which are not directly forbidden or commanded in Scripture,
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (11) For it is written: “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL CONFESS TO GOD.” (12) So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (13) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
Jesus says in verse two that you will be judged by the judgment with which you judge others. This proportionate judgment is explained further in the second half of verse two: “with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Here Jesus is referencing the wording of a grain contract in His day in which many times it would be specified in that contract that the delivery of the grain and the payment for the grain would be measured with the exact same instrument, a scoop. This was done to guarantee justice in the transaction. Jesus is saying that justice will be served by God upon the one who is constantly critical and needlessly nit-picky. Turning this around, if we want to be judged graciously by God, we should be gracious in our evaluation of others. The brother of Jesus said in James 2:13, ” For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.” and, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Or as Jesus Himself put it in the fifth beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). So the first guideline when evaluating others is to be gracious.
II. Guideline #2: Be Genuine, vv. 3-5.
In verses 3-5 Jesus expresses the need for genuineness for the one who would dare to attempt to correct another. This is illustrated in an absurd way by Jesus. He rebukes the hypocritical attitude of many with humor and hyperbole. Look at verses 3-5. The Gk. word translated “speck” or “mote” is karphos and can refer to any kind of small particle. It is often translated “speck of sawdust” or “splinter” because that would make the connection clearly with the “beam,” “plank,” or “log” which is the Gk. word dokon. This same word was used for the piece of wood which bore the weight of a floor or roof and stretched across the length of a house. We might speak of it today as a floor joist or as a ceiling truss. The contrast is clear: a speck of sawdust and a large piece of timber. This ridiculous contrast is used by Jesus to show the absurdity of the hypocrite attempting to correct the faults of another. Picture this in your mind: a man with a 30′ long 1′ in diameter log protruding from his eye trying to help another man remove a speck of sawdust from his eye. It’s an absurd picture, right? This is a rebuke to the one who is not genuine.
We all have the tendency to see our sins as small and everyone else’s sins as large. We make excuses for ourselves. We have extenuating circumstances. There are reasons for the way we are. But no one else has any excuse good enough. We need to reverse that and see our sins as large and everyone else’s sins as small! We need to quit making excuses for our sins and start recognizing that there may be circumstances in that other person’s life which we know nothing about.
Notice that Jesus does not say, “Don’t remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Instead he says, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This goes against the common misinterpretation of verse 1, doesn’t it? We are to help our brothers and sisters by pointing out areas of sin and weakness, but not until we’ve dealt with the sin in our own lives!
Paul provides further guidelines for restoring a fallen brother or sister in Galatians 6:1-2,
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
When evaluating others, we must be gracious, genuine, and . . .
III. Guideline #3: Be Discerning, v. 6.
There is some debate about whether this verse belongs with verses 1-5, verses 7-11, or whether it stands alone. I obviously believe that it is tied to verses 1-5. It is a warning by Jesus to be discerning when seeking to provide instruction to others. There are many who will not hear it, even if you’re gracious and genuine. They may even respond violently. There is a proverbial wisdom in these words by Jesus. Jesus’ words here correspond with proverbs like:
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 9:8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
We must therefore be discerning about who we seek to exhort and correct. Some will not receive it. The fool will not receive instruction. The scorner will hate you. The dogs will turn and tear you in pieces. The swine will trample your words under feet, not recognizing their value.
The dogs of this verse are the wild, scavenging dogs of the middle east, not their domesticated American counterparts. Both the swine and the dogs were considered unclean to the Jews and were terms of insult to Gentiles.
Jesus is not forbidding the judgment of truth claims or moral issues. Instead Jesus is providing guidelines on how one should evaluate such issues. We must be gracious, genuine, and discerning.