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Avoiding Improper Judgments

Posted On February 21, 2019

 Matthew 7:1-6 ESV, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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? 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? 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. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

A courtroom, a wooden sawmill, and a farm. Those are the images that come to mind as I read Matthew 7:1-6. What do they share in common? They teach brothers and sisters in Christ how to encourage and counsel one another in killing sin. They teach us how to be avoid becoming graceless judges, how to be merciful siblings, and how to dodge vicious dogs and trampling pig.

Graceless Judges

Judge not. You make a comment about a Bible teacher’s lack of sound theology and the old adage, “Judge not,” is spat at you. You try to uncover sin in a friend’s life, and you were told, “You’re not my judge.” You go shopping for a cute Christian t-shirt and see one with the words, “Don’t judge, just love,” embossed across the front. You label sin (that is plainly defined as sin in the Bible) and are told, “Stop judging.” This is a common experience.

When people say that Christians should not judge, they are probably referring to Matthew 7:1-2. When people read, “Judge not,” the first thought that comes to mind is pointing out sin, defining sin, correction, or labeling a theology as heresy. But when we consider the context of the entire book of Matthew, we see the contrary. Jesus calls believers to make right judgments concerning sin in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives (Matthew 7:3-6). Later on, in this same book, he will outline a process for confronting church members who are in sin (Matthew 18). The apostle Paul will call out people in sin in his epistles and call the church to purge the evil from their midst (1 Corinthians 5). In Galatians, we will be given instructions on how to gently correct a brother or sister (Galatians 6:1-5). The church will be commanded to be discerning and cry out against false teachers.

So what does Jesus mean by, “Judge not”? Matthew Henry defines this type of judgment:

“We must not judge rashly, nor pass such a judgment upon our brother as has no ground, but is only the product of our own jealousy and ill nature. We must not make the worst of people, nor infer such invidious things from their words and actions as they will not bear. We must not judge uncharitably, unmercifully, nor with a spirit of revenge, and a desire to do mischief. We must not judge of a man’s state by a single act, nor of what he is in himself by what he is to us, because in our own cause we are apt to be partial. We must not judge the hearts of others, nor their intentions, for it is God’s prerogative to try the heart, and we must not step into his throne; nor must we judge of their eternal state, nor call them hypocrites, reprobates, and castaways; that is stretching beyond our line; what have we to do, thus to judge another man’s servant? Counsel him, and help him, but do not judge him.”[1]

We are not God, and we should not presume his role as judge. We are not perfect, and so we should judge with mercy—remembering we are capable of the same sins as others.

Even more, we should use a much harsher judgment on ourselves; “Our own sins ought to appear greater to us than the same sins in others: that which charity teaches us to call but a splinter in our brother’s eye, true repentance, and godly sorrow will teach us to call a beam in our own; for the sins of others must be extenuated, but our own aggravated.”[2]

This quote from Matthew Henry broke my own heart with conviction. How many times have I passed judgment on another with a standard I could not fill? How often do I judge the sins of others as worse or with more cruelly than I do my own? If others judged me by the same standard—even worse, if God judged me by my own standard—what would be my sentence? As the Pharisees did so often, I placed a load on the shoulders of others I wasn’t willing to carry. I set a standard I am not willing to meet. And in that, I was a hypocrite.

Merciful Brothers and Sisters

Friend, we are not called to this kind of hypocritical, graceless judging. Our role isn’t to stand on a podium before our churches with a gavel in hand shouting out unforgiving sentences. We are called to be brothers and sisters, putting an arm around the shoulders of our siblings, and to walk alongside them into righteousness.

Galatians 6:1-3 is a companion to Jesus’ words: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (ESV).

A spirit of gentleness. We use a gentle, clean touch to remove a splinter—not rash and dirty. In the same way, we approach a Christian sibling with a gentle hand to help them see their own sins. We come with the example of repentance and mortifying sin in our own lives because sin is blinding. With a repentant heart we can humbly come alongside another and counsel.

We approach correction with humility, knowing that we are no better than our brother or sister—we too could be caught in the same sin. We must guard our hearts against pride that leads to graceless gavel-waving. We help carry our siblings, remembering the grace God has shown us in our own sins. In this way, we can model Jesus—not as the perfect judge (because we are far from that) but with a love for righteousness and our sibling in Christ.

Unreceptive Dogs and Pigs

But even as we attempt to be merciful brothers and sisters in this work, there will still be some who turn to attack and trample us for our words. That is why Jesus counsels his listeners to, “not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you,” (Matthew 7:6 ESV).

Matthew Henry writes, “Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels, and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners, to whom it will certainly do no good, but who will be exasperated and enraged at us.”[3]

Pointing out sin takes discernment. If someone is not receptive to our counsel, we shouldn’t waste our breath, but we should earnestly pray for them. We are to be wise with our time—and our words (Ephesians 5:15-16). Jesus compares the counsel of a loving and gracious brother or sister to what is holy and beautiful, which is why we must be careful who we give it to—that is, the truly repentant and those who desire to learn.

Forever Students

“John Calvin says that the one ‘who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.’ No earthly judge is perfect, but we can make judgments without hypocrisy if we live a life of repentance and endeavor to mortify our own sin.”[4]

As with the entire Christian life, we will always be students. We will be the ones receiving counsel and correction. We will be hypocrites. We will judge harshly. We will forget grace. We will throw our pearls before swine and be attacked by dogs. But that’s never an excuse to give up. Christ is still at work in us, he knows our faults, and he extends his grace. And so we, continually submitting ourselves to the Word of God and for the love of righteousness and our church family, strive to counsel one another according to Scripture. And in all this, remembering the grace of the gospel—for both our siblings and s in Christ.

[1] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (pp. 1643–1644). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/avoiding-improper-judgments/

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