Judge not, that you be not judged.
– Matthew 7:1
Tolerance is the key virtue of our age. You can murder, you can steal, you can engage in sexual immorality, but gosh darn, you’d better not judge someone else. This is the cry of many believers and unbelievers alike, with both often citing Matthew 7:1. “Judge not!” they shout angrily in the face of the man who utters the word ‘sin’, claiming that Jesus does not advocate any form of rebuke, but simply commands us to ‘love people into a deeper relationship with Christ,’ whatever that means. Because indeed these are actually the words of Christ, we should consider them in light of the passage itself to see if the argument of these advocates for tolerance holds any water.
“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
Notice, after saying “judge not,” Jesus doesn’t pack up and go home. He instead explains why he says this. And what reason does he give for not judging? “Because it is bad all the time”? Nope. He instead says it is because with the judgement or measure that we use, we will also be judged or measured. In other words, he is saying, “Don’t judge someone if you would not be able to stand against the same judgement,” or more simply, “Don’t judge hypocritically.” But he doesn’t stop there. He compares hypocritical judgement to having a log in your eye, while being nit-picky about the specks in other people’s eyes. It’s obviously absurd. But what he says next is crucial to understanding the passage. “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.” In other words, first preach to yourself and repent of your own sins, and then you will be able to make right judgements about the other person. So what he is saying is not, “Be tolerant of the sins of those around you because you’re also a sinner!” Instead, he is saying that when we judge, we should make sure we have preached to ourselves first. And if we are free of guilt in that area, we have the ability to help that person get out of the sin they are stuck in.
So if we are to judge, how are we to do so? Well Jesus speaks of judgement also in John 7:24. He says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.” It seems as if when MLK uttered the famous words, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” his dream was not just some unfounded fancy of his. It was rooted in the words of Christ. When we judge others, we are not to do so based on outward appearance. This means that we are not to attribute sins or sinful motives to others simply based on the way that they appear to us. For example, one man commented on a Facebook post of mine saying something along the lines of, “I’ve seen pictures of you on the street, and all you do is judge. No grace at all.” Of course, the things I said during the pictured evangelism could have been lacking grace, and if he were there, I would be open to his judgement. But the fact is that nothing I said could possibly have shown up in the picture. He simply had a presupposition about what I must have been saying and attributed motives to me without proper evidence. Rather than engaging in this arbitrary form of judgement, biblical judgement involves an honest attempt at knowing the facts. And when no evidence can be found to convict the person of sin, the only guilty party is most likely your presumptuous self.
The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is not subject to anyone’s judgment. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
– 1 Corinthians 2:15
Paul contrasts the knowledge of the unbeliever and the believer. An unconverted person can know plenty, even plenty more than the converted person, in regards to natural things. Yet because they are spiritually dead, they cannot see things that pertain to the God to whose glory all those natural things point. In contrast, the believer has the Spirit of God within him, and through the Spirit has the very mind of Christ Himself. He has authority to judge all things, whereas the unbeliever’s judgements bear no weight. Of course, as we have discussed, a believer can judge falsely. So how do we know that our judgements are right judgements and not superficial? We can have assurance that our judgements are of the Spirit as far as they have a basis in the word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Scripture is the word of the God, who is himself truth, and therefore it is the only objective truth we can know. It is the ultimate standard by which all things must be measured. And so, as Christians this must be our standard for judging all things.
An example we have of this sort of utter dependence on the word of God is in Acts 17:11. It says, “Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teachings were true.” The fact that these men received the message with great eagerness shows that the message sounded right. And it was exciting to them. Yet they were not going to trust Paul, nor would they trust their own intuition. Their authority was the word of God, and that alone. They are an example of the complete submission our hearts and minds are to surrender to Scripture. Even if something sounds or looks or feels or tastes right, we must first judge it by the word of God as our ultimate authority. This means that we cannot let the world define things for us. This means we cannot let pastors define things for us. This means we cannot even define things for ourselves. We must allow God to shape our view of the world, by his grace, through his word.
A Berean Worldview
If we are to truly be bereans then we must judge all things against Scripture. This means that everything from how we eat to how we vote must be done to the glory of God. Right before Christ ascended into heaven, He left His disciples with this epic proclamation: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, Scripture is applicable to all areas of life, as Christ is Lord over it all. So, if we are to truly live as if this is true, then we must not leave anything unquestioned. “Should I send my kids to public school?” Look to Scripture. “Should I recycle?” Look to Scripture. “Should I trust that gravity will still work tomorrow?” Look to Scripture. “Should I overthrow this foreign government and install my own democratic leader?” Look to Scripture. If we begin judging all things by the word of God, we will see with a greater clarity, enabling us to truly be the light of the world that we are called to be. So quit making arbitrary assertions and relying on your flimsy emotions to guide your life. Search the Scriptures. Be a berean.