Some few years ago, I started noticing a trend among secular pundits. Now, unfortunately, it seems to have invaded Christian thought as well. This trend is, on its surface, a Christian tenet; however, when you dig deep and look at the motivation, it’s only a thinly-veiled attempt to justify following one’s own will rather than God’s will.
I’m speaking about the trend to take Matthew 7:1 out of context. This verse is likely now the most favorite verse, replacing the beloved John 3:16. Because rather than John’s words about God’s love for us, people now love Matthew’s directive to “Judge not”!
If we take this verse to mean that we should not judge others, we fall into gross error, for that is not the meaning of this verse at all. Were this the case, it would directly contradict other scriptures that speak of the value of being rightfully judged when we are in error. For example:
Proverbs 27:5-6, 17
Open rebuke is better than secret love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
Iron sharpeneth iron;
so a man sharpeneth the countenance (character) of his friend.
He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.
The rod and reproof give wisdom:
but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
1 Timothy 5:20
Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
It’s obvious that we as Christians have a responsibility to stand for truth, rebuke those in error, and to do so in a spirit of humility and love. To claim that we should never judge is to ignore the clear teachings of scripture.
What then is Matthew trying to tell us? Let’s look at the first five verses:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Matthew is not telling us not to judge, but not to judge improperly, and when we judge, to use the proper standard.
We as humans love to hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. Or, we want to hold others to our own ideas of how things should be. Yet, trying to judge another by any standard other than that set for us by Jesus is as ridiculous as trying to measure the noise level of a jet airplane with a measuring cup! We will not be held blameless for trying to impose our own standard of righteousness (which scripture says is as abhorrent as the filthy rags that were used to clean the sores of the lepers) on those around us. Nor will one addicted to cocaine be held blameless for condemning a brother who smokes tobacco!
However, we are expected… no… commanded to rebuke those that sin. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Christians never have a right to look down on another because of their sin; rather, we have a responsibility to reach out to them, to try to help them, all the while being especially mindful of the danger that such an effort poses to our own condition.
And so brothers and sisters, I write this with humility, praying for grace and wisdom not to fall into the error of which I write. Our goal as Christians should be to become more and more like Christ every day. According to scripture, God uses other Christians (and sometimes, even unbelievers) to bring to our attention places where we fall short of that goal. Indeed, iron sharpens iron… but to do so, some of the rough edges of the blade must be removed before it can become a weapon worthy of being wielded by the master. Ultimately, it is He that is molding us day by day to conform to His image.
Not all criticism that one receives is justified. However, it’s time for the Church to set an example for the world by accepting prayerfully, gratefully and joyfully the deserved rebuke of a brother or sister when we fall into error. Let us not be so proud to think that any criticism of us, our means, or our message is unmerited simply because we belong to Christ. Until the day that He removes the final vestiges of our old nature, let us be willing to accept just criticism, and more importantly, willing to correct the sin that justifies it.