It’s episode #2 of the podcast series for Link FM! In this first podcast series, we are looking at the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. Last week we talked about Hermeneutics and how to study the Bible, and today we are going to put some of what we have talked about into practice.
We are going to start looking at some of the most misunderstood verses and talk about how they are commonly understood, and then we are going to look at the scripture and see if that is the right way to interpret and understand those verses.
We are going to start with a verse which is probably the most memorized verse in all of the Bible. Do you want to guess what it is? Let me give you some hints:
- Almost everybody in the world has quoted this verse from memory before (including you)
- Most people can quote it verbatim – word for word
- Even people who are not Christians can quote this verse – even atheists
- Though most people can quote it word for word, most don’t know where it is found in the Bible
Have you guessed it?
Until recent times, I’d say that almost everyone could quote John 3:16 word for word. But nowadays I’d say that it has been knocked off top spot by another verse that everyone can quote. And that verse is Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Every one of us have more than likely either quoted this verse to someone, or we have had someone else quote it to us. Generally we will hear this verse quoted whenever somebody is criticizing someone else’s actions, or someone else’s beliefs.
Let me give some examples:
- When somebody starts to give you grief about being a Bulls supporter, and you tell them “Judge not” – don’t judge me!
- When you don’t like the way the guy next door speaks to his wife and kids, or maybe he is just plain neglecting them, and you try to talk to him about it. What is he likely to say? “Judge not” – who are you to judge?
- Or maybe you are talking to your Hindu friends about religion, and you’re trying to show them that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Even they might say to you, “Judge not” – who are you to judge who is going to get eternal life? (Even some of your professing Christian friends might say it is judgmental to say that people from other religions won’t go to heaven unless they come to Jesus)
- The church can’t even address some issues that the whole world is talking about from a biblical perspective – things like abortion, same sex marriage, or LGBTQ+ issues, without the whole world telling us that we are not supposed to judge.
Actually, none of us like to be criticized or to have someone tell us they think we are wrong about something, and so all of us have this knee jerk reaction when someone even implies that we are wrong about something or doing something wrong, and WE say to that person, “Don’t judge…”
Is that the correct understanding and application of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:1? Are we never supposed to tell anyone, ever, at all, for any reason whatsoever, that what they believe or what they are doing is wrong? If we point out something and call it a sin, are we guilty of breaking Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 7:1?
Are we never supposed to make a judgment call on anything?
If I judge that you are doing something wrong, and you tell me I am wrong to judge, are you wrong for judging me for judging you?
Confusing isn’t it?!
Let’s look at Matthew 7:1 in context, and let’s see what Jesus is teaching us there.
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 “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. (Matthew 7:1–5, ESV)
The first thing you will notice is that Matthew 7:1 is not alone. Everybody who quotes it only quotes verse 1, don’t they? But nobody quotes the other 4 verses that follow.
Now those verses are important, because Jesus said those things too. And what Jesus says next actually helps us to understand what he meant in verse 1. Remember, we must consider the immediate context of the paragraph and the verses around our chosen verse.
Look at verse 2. It begins with the word “For…”. That can also be understood as Jesus saying “Because…”
That means that what Jesus is about to say next is linked to what He has just said in verse 1. He is about to explain what He said and give us the reason He said it. So what Jesus says from verse 2-5 is important for understanding verse 1, because there Jesus tells us why He said “Judge not…” and what He meant by it.
Now if Jesus had just said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” and then changed the subject to talk about something else, then the meaning would be quite clear wouldn’t it? Don’t judge anything or anyone for any reason, ever. But… Jesus didn’t change the topic. He gives us the reason He is telling us not to judge. And that is: “because with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
Jesus is saying 2 things there:
- with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged – that means you will be judged by the same STANDARD with which you judge others. If your standard for others is perfection, then I hope you are achieving perfection yourself. If you expect your colleagues to never make mistakes at work, then I hope you have never made a mistake. You will be judged by the same standard that you set for others.
- with the measure you use, it will be measured to you – that means you will be judged with the same SEVERITY with which you judge others. If you are harsh with others, expect God to be harsh with you. If you have no mercy for others, expect no mercy from God.
So to sum up what verse 1 and 2 are saying so far, Jesus is saying that we will be judged by the same standard and with the same severity with which we judge others.
PRINCIPLE #1: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
So then, we can say that the first principle we are learning from Jesus here is not really that we shouldn’t judge anything, but actually, Jesus is saying that we should treat others the same way that we would like to be treated.
Remember context: Look at the previous chapters and you will see that this is actually consistent with what Jesus has said in chapter 5 and 6. If you look back at chapter 5:7, Jesus said:
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7 ESV)
And in chapter 6:14-15 Jesus said:
 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14–15 ESV)
If you are merciful, you will receive mercy. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. What do we need more from God than mercy and forgiveness, right? Well, treat others as you would like to be treated. If you want God to be merciful and forgiving to you, then you ought to be merciful and forgiving to others.
The same principle is here in Matthew 7:1-2. Treat others as you would like to be treated. If you judge harshly, you will be judged harshly.
But still, Jesus doesn’t end after verse 2. He continues in verses 3 and 4 with an example to illustrate his point, as he so often does… Look at verse 3 and 4:
 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? (Matthew 7:3-4, ESV)
What is Jesus teaching us with this illustration? Well, He has already told us that we will be judged by the same standard and with the same severity that we judge others… now he is using this illustration to show that while we judge others for the speck in their eye, we have a log in ours.
Jesus is using an exaggeration to explain his point. By using the extreme opposites of a speck and a log, Jesus is showing us that we can tend to make a big deal out of some small sin that someone else is committing, while conveniently ignoring the big sins that we ourselves commit.
Borrowing from Jesus’ example, imagine working for a logging company and your manager goes crazy on you and fires you for taking home a match stick from work, while he’s actually been stealing huge bundles of logs from the company every month. We have a word for that, don’t we? We call it hypocrisy. How could he condemn you for the speck you’re taking home, while he’s busy trucking logs out on the weekends? That would be crazy hypocritical, right?
And that is the second principle Jesus is teaching us. Don’t be a hypocrite.
PRINCIPLE #2: Don’t be a hypocrite
In fact that is exactly what Jesus calls the man with the log in his eye in verse 5 – a hypocrite. Don’t make a big deal about what other people are doing wrong in your eyes, when you are doing wrong yourself. Remember, you will be judged by the same standards you’ve set, and with the same severity.
So let’s sum up what we have seen so far: Jesus is saying in verse 1 and 2 that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. If you judge harshly, you will be judged harshly. And in verses 3 and 4, Jesus is saying don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t make a big deal out of the small thing your neighbour is doing while you have bigger problems.
Now lastly, I want you to notice two things with me about the example Jesus has given us, of the one with the speck in his eye, and the other with a log in his eye.
Firstly, notice that both of them have something stuck in their eye. Basically, they both have an issue. Both have a problem that needs to be addressed. I mean, whether it’s a speck or a log, you need to get that thing out of there. Anybody who’s had a speck of dust stuck in their eye for a while will agree, it’s pretty annoying.
Secondly, notice that what is stuck in your eye is bigger. Your brother has a small speck, but you have a log. In terms of severity, you kinda need to address your log before you can even think of addressing your brother’s speck. And that is exactly what Jesus says next. Look at verse 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. (Matthew 7:5, ESV)
The point is, if you have a literal log in your eye, it’s going to be pretty hard to see anything, let alone see clearly. Your vision is going to be blurred or obscured. But if you remove the log, you will be able to see clearly, right? When we are being hypocritical, our judgment is going to be blurred. We are not going to be able to make a good judgment.
However, once we have realised that we ourselves have sin in our lives that needs to be addressed, and that we need the mercy and forgiveness of God to remove that sin, and that it required that Jesus come to this earth to die and be raised again to remove our sin because we couldn’t do it ourselves, we are going to be humbled by that realisation. We will have a much clearer perspective, and our approach to our brother who has a speck in his eye is going to be far more humble and gentle.
And that is Jesus’ third principle:
PRINCIPLE #3: Humble Yourself
Now Notice a third thing with me about what Jesus says about his example in verse 5: He says that once we have removed the log from our eye, we will be able to see clearly enough to take the speck out of our brother’s eye.
Which means Jesus actually is making allowance for us to go and address the speck in our brother’s eye!
So is it actually accurate to understand Matthew 7:1 as saying that no Christian should ever make a judgement or judge anything as being wrong?
Jesus is actually saying that we can, and should judge what is right and wrong, and we should address sin with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that before we do so, we need to check ourselves and understand these 3 principles:
- Treat others as you would like to be treated
- Don’t be a hypocrite
- Humble yourself
And then, my friends, if you humble yourself, first attend to the sin in your own life by confessing it and repenting of it to the Lord, then address your brother in the same way you would like to be treated, you will have a much better, more God-glorifying interaction with him than if you were to storm in like a bull in a china shop.
Finally, there is a way that we can check ourselves to see if our understanding of this passage is correct. We didn’t get to talk about this rule last week, but it is also an important rule of Bible study: Scripture interprets Scripture.
Does the rest of Scripture agree with our conclusion?
Well if you go forward to Matthew 18, Jesus tells us in verse 15:
 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15, ESV)
Well, according to the common understanding of Matthew 7:1, that would be considered judging and sinful, wouldn’t it? Yet Jesus is commanding that we approach each other and address sin with one another.
 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. (Galatians 6:1, ESV)
 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20, ESV)
Are we never supposed to judge?
Understanding Matthew 7:1 in context, and in comparison with other Scriptures, helps us to see that we actually are called to judge right from wrong, and even to address sin and wrong belief when we see it in others, BUT, we are called to do so only after we have confessed our own sin, humbled ourselves and approach the person privately (not on a public Facebook post or via your gossip circle), and treat them the same way you would like to be treated.
In doing so, you will not only be serving your brother or sister, but you will be honouring Christ.
You can listen to the audio recording of this podcast or download it here.