Matthew 7:1-4

Setting and Overview
Matthew 7:1 could rightly claim numerous superlatives. It is one of the most quoted verses, one of the most abused and misunderstood verses, almost definitely the most quoted by non-Christians, and partly because of that, one of the most disregarded by evangelicals. Context is critical, and Matthew 7:1 is a great example of that. If you read it along with Romans 2:1, Romans 14:13, I Corinthians 4:5, and James 4:12, you may be pretty confident that Scripture is instructing you to never judge anything or anyone. However, if you read John 7:24, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15, I Corinthians 6:4-5 and 5:12-13, then you will probably feel that it is imperative to judge. Furthermore, if you continue on in verses 2-4, then 5, then 6 of Matthew 7, then you will likely read verse 1 differently than if you just read it. Our challenge then, is to understand Matthew 7:1-6 in light of all of the teaching of Scripture, both hearing its strong warning, but also not misapplying its message.
One of the biggest sources of confusion in Matthew 7:1 is the word “judge.” The Greek word krinos can mean to judge the rightness of an action or saying, to pass an overall judgment on a person, or to be judgmental. The former is good, the second is only for very limited circumstances, and the third is bad, which is what is meant here. Proper judgment of others is intended to lead to edification and restoration (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15, Hebrews 12:14-15, I Corinthians 5:5.) Judgmentalism has an intent to tear down (Romans 14:13.) That attitude results in hypocritical evaluations (Romans 2:1-2, Matthew 7:2-4), evaluating only to condemn (Luke 6:37, James 4:11-12), evaluating with contempt (Romans 14:10), and evaluating beyond what we have the knowledge or authority to judge (I Corinthians 4:3-5.) All of those give us a feeling of superiority. So, when Jesus commands us not to judge (not to be judgmental), He is commanding us not to evaluate from a motivation of selfishness and pride, hoping to puff ourselves up and tear others down.
Why the strong warning against judgmentalism? Among the reasons are that it harms us by inviting punishment on us (Matthew 7:1b-2) and interfering with our spiritual growth (Matthew 7:3-4), and that it harms others by interfering with discipleship (Romans 14:13-15) and fellowship (Romans 14), distracting us from he judging that we should be doing (I Corinthians 5:12-13) and interfering with evangelism (II Timothy 2:24-26.)

Examination and Application

Two passages which provide an exhortation for us to act without judgmentalism are I Corinthians 8:1-3 and Romans 12:10. In I Corinthians, Paul gives us a choice between puffing ourselves up or building others up. In Romans, he challenges us to love so sincerely that we are eager for others to receive honor. If we are focused on building others up with an eagerness that they would deserve and receive honor, then our judgments are more likely to be fair and effective. A good question for us to ask ourselves is: How is what I am saying or thinking an expression of my love for God and for others? If we fail that question, then we can go to the instruction of Matthew 7:2-4: When we see sin, we recognize our past in their situation. We, who deserved the wrath of God, received grace through Jesus Christ. We should now hope that others will receive the same grace. Further, we should recognize our own, current sin, and recognize the impact that it has on us. Someone who has a speck in their own eye is no shape to even find the speck in someone else’s, much less to remove it. We must recognize that our sin impacts us similarly, and then we will be more prepared to remove our speck, and then to address the speck in our brother’s eye with love and gentleness, to the glory of God.
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