Do Not Judge (Matthew 7.1–6), Part 1


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In Matthew 7.1–2, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Few Bible verses are as well received in our tolerant age as these, but they are usually misunderstood. In order to understand them correctly, therefore, we need to examine what they do not mean.

First, they do not mean that the state cannot pass judgment on criminal behavior. The Pharisees once asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes, and Jesus responded, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22.21). By saying this, Jesus recognized that the state has legitimate functions and that Christians should pay taxes in order to support those functions. Paul said much the same thing in Romans 13.1–7, describing the state as “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Like Jesus, he also urged Christians to pay their taxes.)

Second, Matthew 7.1–2 does not mean that the church cannot pass judgment on unrepentant sinners. In Matthew 18.15–20, Jesus describes a three-step process of church discipline by which a Christian is held accountable for his behavior. If the sinful Christian repents, he is forgiven. If not, he is excommunicated—an extreme result that is rarely necessary.

Third, Jesus’ words about judgment do not mean that individual Christians cannot exercise moral discernment about right and wrong behavior or good and bad people. The Sermon on the Mount itself contains many statements about what is right and wrong, with respect to murder, anger, adultery, lust, divorce, oath taking, vengeance, and love of enemy, among other things (Matthew 5.21–48). And Jesus himself distinguished between true and false disciples (Matthew 7.15–20), true and false disciples (7.21–23), and wise and foolish builders (24–27).

In sum, the church, the state, and the Christian cannot live according to God’s will without judging between good and bad people and behavior.

What, then, do Jesus’ words mean? According to John R. W. Stott, they forbid censoriousness. “Censoriousness is a compound sin consisting of several unpleasant ingredients. It does not mean to assess people critically, but to judge them harshly. The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible constructions on their motives, pours cold water on their schemes and is ungenerous toward their mistakes.”

Why should we avoid censoriousness? Because, as Jesus put it, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” A judgmental, censorious, fault-finding Christian will one day be hoist by his own petard.

So, as we await Christ’s Second Coming, let us use good judgment with regard to people and behavior. But let us flavor our judgment with ample helpings of grace.

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