The Judgment We Are to Avoid
In Matthew 7, Jesus condemns a certain kind of judgment. In the last post I demonstrated that He isn’t talking about responding to sin or discerning truth from error. But that leaves the question: What sort of judgment is He talking about?
The judgment condemned in Matthew 7 is, in context, the critical, judgmental, condemning, self-righteous egotism of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees weren’t criticizing people because of sin; they were criticizing them because of their personality, their character, their weaknesses, their frailties — perhaps the way they looked, or the way they dressed, or the fact that they didn’t do things the way they did them.
If you want an easy translation of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, it would be this: “Stop criticizing.” Who are you to criticize other people? That’s the issue.
You see, the word “judge” here is the word krinō, and it can be translated at least 15 different ways, because it has such a broad meaning. To understand what it means in any particular place, we must look at the context. And as we look at the context of where this command appears, in the Sermon on the Mount, we see that Jesus is framing His teaching in contrast to that of the Pharisees. So when He says, “Judge not,” we can hear, “Judge not like the Pharisees.”
We’re not to judge people’s motives. We’re not to condemn them because they don’t look, act, or talk like we think they should. We have no business doing that. That is forbidden. Romans 14:13 puts it this way: “Let us not judge one another anymore.” Stop doing that. Stop criticizing.
The Bible is very clear about the kinds of judging we’re not to do. In the first place, the Bible forbids hasty judgments. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him,” says Proverbs 18:13. The Bible forbids us from making weighty judgments without all of the facts.
Secondly, we’re not to make unwarranted judgments, such as in Colossians when they were judging believers for not keeping a new moon or a feast or a Sabbath day, even though those things had already been abolished (Colossians 2:16). We’re not to set up human standards and use them to judge other people.
Thirdly, we’re not to make unjust judgments swayed by prejudice or bribes. We’re also not to make unmerciful judgments, where we’re unrelenting and persistent in our criticism. Instead, we're to be like God, who is rich in mercy.
What the Lord here is forbidding is that officious, hasty, unwarranted, unjust, unmerciful condemnation that is spawned by self-righteous pride. We’re not to do that. And He gives three reasons why not.
1. Wrongful judging demonstrates an erroneous view of God.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)
Humans are not the final court, because we are not God. To judge other people’s motives is to play God. It is to usurp the divine position. Every time you sit in judgment over someone, every time you criticize their motives, you’re playing God. Every time you carry out vengeance or a vendetta or you get even on your own, you are playing God. Every time you pass an arbitrary sentence on someone, you’re playing God.
Of course, as we have already seen, we must judge in cases of obvious sin. But Matthew 7:1 is talking about when you assume the authority of setting the standard of behavior. Romans 14:4 says of such cases,
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
It is so tempting to sit in judgment over other people’s ministries, teaching, lives, and attitudes. We do this all the time. But we are called to a very different way of relating to each other.
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)
2. Wrongful judging demonstrates an erroneous view of others.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2)
Jesus is basically saying this: “The standard you judge others with, God will judge you with.” In other words, God is going to evaluate you on the basis of your knowledge. If you say, “I know enough to judge others on this issue,” then you prove you know enough to be judged on it yourself.
We are inclined to assume that there is a double standard — that other people need to be held to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to. In criticizing, we assume that we’re exempt from what other people are not exempt from. But this is a wrong view of others. They’re not under us, but equal with us. There is no double standard with God.
If you are negative, gossipy, tale-bearing, critical, judgmental, you are under the illusion that you’re exempt from judgment. But whatever you condemn in somebody else, you prove that you should be condemned for in your own life by virtue of such knowledge. Criticism then becomes a boomerang; you throw it out and it comes right back. And unloving criticism will come back on your own head at the hand of God.
I always think about Haman in the book of Esther, who built a gallows to hang Mordecai, and wound up being hanged on his own gallows. That is a fitting picture for what Jesus is saying here.
3. Wrongful judging demonstrates an erroneous view of yourself.
Why do you look at 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," and behold, the log is 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 7:3-5)
Jesus’s image here is bizarre to the point of comedy. And it makes this point: We are unfit judges. Not only are we fallible and partial in our own favor, but we are also blinded by our own sin. If we weren’t blind, we would be removing our own logs instead of messing with other people’s specks.
Some of us would do well to take the time we spend criticizing other people, and put it to action in prayer and confession of our own sin. Because until we get our own life straightened out, we have little usefulness in trying to assist someone else.
As long as you’re self-righteous, and you think you’re all right, and you never bother dealing with your own sin, there’s no way you’re going to help anybody else. It is the sin of subtle, self-righteous criticism, and it is a plank in your own eye that is making you blind.
If you’re really concerned about righteousness, then you’re going to see sin first and most clearly in your own life, aren’t you?
In the end, it all comes down to your attitude. Are you criticizing, evaluating, discerning, and discriminating in order to know the truth and honor God? Or are you doing it to exalt yourself and hurt somebody else?
We must make judgments. But they must be proper, righteous judgments. We must be discerning, and we must deal with sin in the life of another brother or sister. But we must never be judgmental and critical, because we set ourselves up as self-righteous judges by doing so. In all of our judging, like with everything else in our lives, we can only act rightly when glorifying God is the motive.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1980, titled "Stop Criticizing."