Matthew 7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Matthew 7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. These were the words of Jesus. Is it that cut and dried? Are we never to judge? Is Jesus advocating a “Live and let live” mandate? What I’m calling “Hallmark Theology,” which is what reflects the sentiments of culture, says, “Yes, that’s right. You are never to judge. Christians aren’t the judge of anyone.” Is that what Jesus meant? That we would never judge anyone under any circumstances? That we would never exercise discernment? That anything is alright because no one is supposed to judge or declare that anything is wrong?
First of all, let me highlight the content that precedes Matthew 7. Matthew 6:1-4 speaks about giving. Matthew 6:5-15 speaks about prayer. Matthew 6:16-18 highlights fasting. Matthew 6:19-24 brings up materialism and the point of Matthew 6:25-34 is a dissertation on worry which is really about trust and relinquishing control. However, if you look at the entire chapter of Matthew 6, you will see that what is being condemned, what is being exposed, what is being corrected, is hypocrisy in the life of a believer. Jesus is simply using several areas of a person’s life to point out an underlying root of hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
Following this exposition on hypocrisy we are hit with Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Folks outside of Christianity like to pluck this verse from the rest of its context and quite frankly like to pull it out of Scripture altogether. Let me just say I honestly believe it is the work of Satan when people start cherry picking the Word of God. Picking the parts of Scripture that work for you and using them to excuse your behavior or using them to bash the behavior of others isn’t OK. When we read a verse, we need to seek to truly understand what God’s heart is on the matter. What is the principle being established? What is the offense that is being corrected?
Matthew 7’s admonition to not judge is NOT a prohibition against judging, but it is a warning to make sure we are judging appropriately, without hypocrisy. While God is the ultimate Judge of us all, and He alone knows the heart of any person, we do have a responsibility to evaluate, to discern, to decipher and to inspect the fruit of people’s lives in order to know, as a Christ-follower, what our responsibility might be to that person and what our responsibility might be to alter our own lives to line up with the judgments that naturally are rendered from aligning our hearts with Scripture.
Look again at Matthew 7:4-5: 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. And then in verse 6 He says, “6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
Just who are the dogs and the pigs? Won’t you have to make a judgment about who Jesus might be talking about in order to avoid giving them what is sacred? Let’s move on down in Matthew 7 to verses 15-16. 15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Who are the false prophets? Wouldn’t you have to exercise judgment to figure that out? Jesus went on to explain how you know who the false prophets are in verse 16: 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Is Jesus talking out of both sides of His mouth in Matthew 7? Is He telling us in one verse not to judge and telling us in other verses we need to judge and how to do it, like by becoming fruit inspectors, that is, by evaluating the fruit of people’s lives?
Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t ever judge.” He just says if you are going to make a judgment, Start with yourself. Jesus is helping us understand that judging others without first judging ourselves is self-righteous and self-righteous judging or judging without humility is wrong. As we are inspecting the fruit of others, we also need to be inspecting our own fruit.
While many would say it isn’t a Christian’s place to judge, I would say it is actually necessary, but first “We need to be judging ourselves every day.” We need to be realigning our hearts on a daily basis. This is something that concerns me about Christians who relegate attention to their spiritual lives to just the weekly or monthly church service. As your love for Christ wanes, your ability to analyze yourself correctly will be reduced. It is hard to see yourself accurately when you aren’t fixing your eyes on Jesus. Only in a right relationship with Jesus will we have the capacity to see ourselves correctly, and the humility that will be developed in the person who routinely inspects themselves and allows the Holy Spirit to inspect and convict them will enable them to have the right heart and attitude when making a judgment about someone else.
So, when it comes to making judgments, we need to start with ourselves. Second, we need to resist making snap or superficial judgments.
In John’s Gospel, in chapter 7, we read about a time when one of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, when one of the Pharisees had Jesus over for dinner. While they were eating, verse 37 says that a woman kind of barged in on the dinner party. This was a woman who had lived a “sinful life.” She brought with her an alabaster jar of perfume and at some point in the evening she literally began to kiss Jesus’ feet as she wept and poured perfume on them.
Now some of y’all are wigging out at the thought of someone kissing your feet and pouring perfume on your feet at a dinner party, but in that day, it was a real thing. It was customary. It was a practice for those who were guests, and especially for those who were the guests of honor. In that culture, what the woman was doing wasn’t weird. She was being hospitable much the same way we might be if we offered to take someone’s coat upon arrival at our home and if we invited them to sit down and offered them a drink.
I am going out on a limb to say I suppose that because they would be sitting on the floor and in close proximity to each other instead of sitting on benches or chairs with their feet under an elevated table, it was a blessing to think about having your feet cleaned or perfumed so that no one had to smell them during dinner! The problem wasn’t what the woman was doing; the problem for Simon the Pharisee was the kind of person she was in his estimation.
Before we move on, let me encourage you to think through what was happening. The woman didn’t just appear, start crying, drop to the floor and anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume. Sometimes when we read the stories in the Bible, we read them as so cut and dried that we forget how human the characters are. We forget that things didn’t just happen in A, B, C fashion, but they unfolded in time and in response to what was going on in people’s lives and in the circumstances surrounding their encounter with Jesus.
Verse 38 tells us the woman was standing behind Jesus at one point. She hadn’t come to make a scene. She had come because she had heard something about Jesus that had drawn her to want to hear more. What was it that she heard Him say that caused the first tear to fall down her cheek? How long did she stand there with tears flowing before she dropped to the ground to anoint His feet? How long did she restrain herself before she could no longer hold back from demonstrating this pure love for Jesus that came in response to what He was revealing in those moments?
Simon the Pharisee was quick to make some judgments. He started by judging Jesus and his comments included a snap judgment of the woman. Listen to verse 39: 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Right there, he made the judgment that Jesus wasn’t who people thought He was. Simon determined that Jesus didn’t have prophet status, that He wasn’t even spiritually gifted to even recognize a sinner when He saw one. Now remember, the guy was sort of talking to himself. He was just thinking these judgmental thoughts about both Jesus and the sinful woman. Knowing his thoughts, Jesus told him a story.
He told him a parable about two people who owed money to someone. For the sake of our understanding, we’ll say that one guy owed 500 bucks and the other owed 50 bucks. Neither one of them had the money to pay him back, but we would all agree that the one who owed 500 dollars would have a tougher time collecting that amount than the one who owed 50. The lender wound up cancelling both of the men’s debts which is awesome. Jesus then asked Simon a question. He said, “Which of the men would love the money lender more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus said in verse 43, “You have judged correctly.” He hadn’t been correct about Jesus. He hadn’t been correct in his judgment about the woman, but he was able to discern the correct answer from the story.
Jesus moved away from this made up, but plausible story, to a real-life illustration as he turned to the woman and instead of judging her, he judged Simon the Pharisee. He said in verse 44, “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Jesus had rightly judged that what the woman had done for Him came from a heart of love. The things the sinful woman had done for Jesus, at least the bare minimum, should have been prepared for by Simon the Pharisee. Simon hadn’t even offered the minimum hospitality of the culture of the time. What Jesus was saying to Simon was, “You may think you know this woman because you know her reputation, but you don’t know her heart. I see a heart of love. You may think based on what she looks like that she should be disqualified from this meeting or from recognizing or honoring Me in this way, but you haven’t walked in her shoes. You don’t know why she came. You don’t know the desires of her heart. You don’t know the changes she wants to make. You don’t know the hope she has just received from being here to hear what I have to say, and she was willing to do for me what you didn’t even think to do.” Jesus was in the forgiveness business, and He pronounced forgiveness on the very woman that Simon the Pharisee wanted to condemn.
In John 7:24, Jesus warns us to “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” Again, the caution here isn’t that we should never judge, but that we need to judge correctly. There will be moments, based on the leading of the Holy Spirit, based on the fruit in someone’s life, based on the need in the situation, that we will have to make a decision, but we shouldn’t wake up every day looking for situations and people to judge. We shouldn’t live with a judgmental or critical spirit. People who live with a judgmental or critical spirit will be quick to make a determination about people merely from a surface observation level. Jesus reminds us that there is often more going on with people than what we can see. Who the woman had been was far less important to Jesus than who she was longing to become. Jesus freed her to become someone new. Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, exercising judgment may keep people bound when a simple act of mercy could set them free to experience a whole new life. When you can be helpful without being harsh, make that choice every time. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
So, when making judgments, start with yourself and avoid snap and superficial judgments. Third, let’s try to understand what our role is when it comes to making judgments.
Matthew 7:5 says that after we have taken the plank out of our own eye that keeps us from even being able to see someone to judge them correctly, that we are then supposed to help get something out of our brother or sister’s eye that keeps them from seeing what changes they need to make. We are called to come alongside of people from time to time, to show them, to explain to them the dangers of their ways. “Live and let live isn’t the call of God. It is the call of the culture.” If we are truly seeking to follow God, and if we truly want to live in love with others, we need to demonstrate and explain God’s ways.
Ephesians 5:11 commands, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” That is pretty strong language. That sounds pretty judgmental. Remember, Matthew 7:16 gives us permission to inspect the fruit of people’s lives. The fruitless deeds of darkness refers to sin. This is when those outside of Christ take exception to believers who are evaluating the fruit of their lives. This is what rubs them the wrong way. This is what causes them to get defensive and say it isn’t our place to judge. However, God says, when it involves the fruitless deeds of darkness, it is our job to call those things out. When we hold up the Word of God as truth, which it is, and people are condemned because the actions of their lives expose that their hearts aren’t like the heart of the sinful woman who wanted to repent, who wanted to follow Jesus, who wanted to be freed from sin, there are going to be people who have a hard time with that. That’s when we get labeled as judgmental.
But Church, there is a standard to uphold. There are non-negotiables when it comes to morality and righteousness. And often, when we simply lift up God’s standards, we are accused of being unloving, self-righteous, bigoted, intolerant and hateful. All I can say about that is that sometimes maintaining biblical standards won’t be appreciated or understood by those who don’t embrace the life-giving benefits of doing things God’s way.
Notice the command in Ephesians 5:11 doesn’t say, “Have nothing to do with people whose fruit is dark.” I think that is a distinction that needs to be made. It is the lifestyle, the behavior and not the person that needs to be judged. God will do the judging of people when they step into eternity, but we can make judgments about what the Bible says is sin. Sin is sin because God says it is sin. But God loves people. God has a heart for people. The same chapter that contains this message about exposing the fruitless deeds of darkness opens with verse 2 which says, “Walk in the way of love.” Paul says just one chapter earlier, in Ephesians 4:15, “Speak the truth in love.”
Now, some people won’t ever receive a critique, a judgment about their actions regardless of how pure and loving our motives are, but this I know, all people will reject us if we try to pronounce judgment on their actions with a hateful and condemning spirit. Those who would say that the church is judgmental and therefore unloving don’t understand that it is unloving to not tell people about the dangers of sin. Sin is a sickness that does far more damage than a sickness that kills the body. It kills the soul and the consequences last for eternity. Those who refuse to listen, those who turn away because they don’t want to hear the truth, they are the pigs and dogs Matthew 7:6 refers to. There will be nothing you can say or do to convince them, so Jesus says, make a judgment about who is ready to hear the truth and who simply wants to argue with you or slander you for championing the truth and move on from those situations. The Gospel cannot be forced on people. Where there is an unwillingness to listen and a combative response, pray for those people, but move on.
And, as I close, let me just say that judgement ought to begin with the House of God. Perhaps our primary responsibility is to hold each other accountable to the standards to which we say we have subscribed not because we all are seeking to be some Jr. Holy Spirits but because we care enough to make sure we all stay strong and run this Christian race to the very end. I Peter 4:17 says judgment begins with the house of God.
Can we take an honest look? Can we look at the way we have been interacting with our world? Can we assess where we may be creating offense unnecessarily? Can we evaluate if we have a critical or angry spirit? Can we be honest about how we may have compromised and conformed to the sinful patterns of this world? Have we gotten off track somewhere? Are we in danger of our spiritual life being snuffed out because of a love for sin? Is there any fruitless deed of darkness hanging off of us this morning? Can we assess our openness to hear if another brother or sister shared something lovingly and honestly with us? Have we shied away from sharing the Gospel and lifting up the truth of God’s Word just because we know it won’t be popular with some or perhaps even many?
The world says we aren’t the judge. The truth is, Jesus says we have a responsibility to make judgments. We must judge ourselves before we judge anyone else’s lives, and we must agree with Him about the judgments He has already rendered on sin. While we do that, we need to exercise mercy. We need to pray much. We need to love deeply.