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Today's Little Lift

    by Jim Bullington

Judge Not (Matthew 7:1)
Date Posted: February 7, 2023

Some incorrect ideas absolutely will not die. Some of them are based on biblical passages, or at least those who hold them claim that they have such a basis. One idea that will not die is the belief that the bible, and more specifically Jesus, teaches that it is wrong to judge. Of course, the stock passage that is used to justify this idea is, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7.1). My purpose today will be to add Matthew 7.1 to my list of Vindicated Verses.

First, Jesus did not say, “Judge not.” The only way to make Jesus say “Judge not,” is by taking away the rest of the verse. Of course, if it is fair to take away one part of a verse, it is fair to take away another part of the verse. If I take away the word not from “Judge not,” I get, “Judge!” Playing this way with what people say, and especially with what God says, is unfair and dangerous.

What Jesus did say in this passage was, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He did not say judging was wrong, or for that matter, even something to be avoided. He merely stated a principle that if one wishes not to be judged, he had best not be one who passes judgment on others. It might even be compared to the modern proverb, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” The meaning is roughly the same. To take that general concept/principle and to distort it to mean that judging is sinful is the height of ignorance and/or malicious intent.

A cursory reading of the immediate context of this passage reveals that Jesus wants us to judge on certain occasions and in certain circumstances. Some five verses later and almost in the same breath, Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7.6). The context bears out that He was not speaking of literal dogs or swine. Rather, He was speaking of the disposition that some people have to abuse even the most noble of thoughts and concepts. Maybe He was speaking of people who would knowingly distort a passage like Matthew 7.1 to make it teach something that He never intended!

By reading more of Jesus and His earthly ministry, one can come to understand that Jesus actually commands judging of others. If we take the words of Jesus in John 7 at their face value, we can come to no other conclusion. Here is that quotation: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7.24). There is one type of judgment that is strictly prohibited (judgment on appearances) and another type that is enjoined (righteous judgment). If we obey the words of Jesus, we will render righteous judgment (i.e. judgment based on facts), and abstain from judging based on superficial matters (the appearance).

The first recorded gospel sermon was literally filled with judgments. Peter said his hearers had “...taken [Jesus] by lawless hands, ...crucified [Him], and put [Him] to death.” (Acts 2.23). Furthermore, he concluded his words with, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2.36). If this is not judgment, I certainly do not know what is! Peter followed that by calling on his hearers to “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2.40).

Matthew 7.1 will be a Vindicated Verse as long as we remember: (1) Jesus did not say, “Judge not,” (2) Jesus wants us to judge others to prevent sacred things from being abused, (3) Jesus expects righteous judgment and forbids superficial judgment, and (4) The effect of the first gospel sermon was rooted in the fact that otherwise honest men were being called out for their errors! A Vindicated Verse!

Questions:

1. Rather than, “Judge not,” what did Jesus say?

2. Who/what are the dogs and swine in Matthew 7.6?

3. What is judging on appearances? How does it compare with righteous judgment?

4. On Pentecost, did Peter judge some in his audience (see Acts 2)? If yes, were his judgments righteous? What effect did this have on his hearers (see Acts 2.37)?

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Biography Information:
Jim Bullington - A Christian writer whose insight into the scriptures is reflected in practical application lessons in every article. The reader will find that the Bible speaks directly to him/her through these articles. God is always exalted and His word is treated with the utmost respect in this column.
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