By John Page
As much as social media can be a reflection of overall American society, two words from Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not”) have replaced John 3:16 as the best-known scripture among non-believers. However, according to Bible Gateway (https://www.biblegateway.com/year-in-review/2018/), Matthew 7:1 isn’t even among the top 100 verses most often read. So, we have a disconnect – an incredibly popular verse among the world at large, but not necessarily one earmarked in most believers’ Bibles. More than ever, Christians need to be grounded in Matthew 7 to engage the world around them when they inevitably hear the words, “Judge not.”
Not only is “Judge not” a pithy, easy to memorize portion of scripture, it’s seemingly so compatible with today’s predominant worldview, that if it hadn’t already existed, it’s almost guaranteed someone would have invented it as a bumper sticker. Searching the phrase on Twitter or nearly any social media platform produces instant illustrations:
- “They need to judge not, lest ye be judged. There’s a lot of guff in religion but that statement is true.”
- “Judge not. Seek your own truth.”
- Tweet: “I’m so hurt right now. My friend said, ‘You’re going to hell for not believing in God.’” Reply: “Remind him that he shouldn’t be judging you. I am no way a Christian, but he doesn’t sound much like one either.”
Seemingly, “Judge not” is the “Get out of jail free” card for the non-believer – the two word response that would make a Christian choose between remaining silent on sin or leaning into hypocrisy. It wasn’t always this way. There once was at least an acknowledgment of sin in western society, even if repentance didn’t always follow. The sickness was understood, even if the cure was undesired. Now, in a world of aspirational relativism, there is no true “right” nor “wrong,” no “good” nor “bad,” no “holiness” nor “sin.”
In fact, the only true evil in the view of today’s world is to hold that objective morality exists. Living in the absence of being questioned becomes moral superiority in itself, leading to a “better world” with total personal freedom and no fear of personal responsibility or consequence. The leading western worldview has turned us into teenagers who have been left alone with an unlocked liquor cabinet, the Wi-Fi password and an open gun locker. The last thing we’d want is to be told our parents might not approve.
To know how to respond to “Judge not,” we first need the scripture in its context. Matthew 7 is a continuation of the most famous sermon in history – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Here are the key verses needed for context (Matthew 7:1-6):
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 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? 4 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? 5 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. 6 Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
The first thing you notice when reading past verse 1 is that Jesus doesn’t stop with “Judge not”. There are warnings in how we approach discussing sin, but the goal is a “clear eyed” ability to help our brothers and sisters understand God’s righteous standards – standards we can never hope to attain outside of Christ’s gift, but which we strive for out of love for Him once we believe.
Before attempting “eye surgery,” however, we must heed Jesus’ warnings about the way in which we see sin in others and in how we communicate it. First, we need to understand that the sin we may be most aware of in others may be the very thing with which we struggle. Even without being aware, we may be tempted to focus specifically on areas where we fall short in holiness. That’s why it may be easy for us to see it in others – we see it in the mirror each day! We’ve all heard the stories of a Christian leader condemning a specific sin only to be caught in that same sin. This type of fall can be especially hurtful to our witness and stems from both the sin itself and from ignoring Jesus’ commands in Matthew 7. If one struggles with gossip, they’re likely not the right messenger to another struggling with gossip. The same would apply for any specific area of sin in which a believer might struggle. However, we can’t use our own struggles as an excuse for silence in all areas. Those who have worked through specific areas of sin in their lives may be exactly the people God would call to speak out. Here are some questions that may be helpful to ask ourselves:
- Am I the right messenger?
- If we’re struggling with similar sin, Matthew 7 would point us back to deal with our own hearts first. Before we discuss any sin with others, we first need a hard look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s word. God may have someone else He plans to use as his “eye surgeon.”
- Is the “sin” I see in someone else defined as sin in God’s word?
- We have a natural tendency to invent our own rules, but we must use God’s word as our barometer of right and wrong. If unsure, dig deeper in scripture and consult with an elder, pastor or other leader (avoiding the pitfall of gossip!).
- Is the person ready to hear the message?
- There are some circumstances where discussing sin in another’s life may be counter-productive at that time. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 7:6 – some will abruptly reject any mention of personal sin and even use such a mention as a means to attack believers. It’s also worth considering the medium here – a face-to-face discussion may open opportunities for the gospel, where a social media “discussion” might be unfruitful or even harmful.
Unless we answer “no” to any of these questions, Jesus calls us to help our brothers and sisters see where sin in their lives is either holding them back in their Christian walk, or is a symptom of an unbeliever’s heart that needs the saving grace of our Lord. In remaining silent, we neither show our love for the Lord or for our brothers and sisters. As seen in James 5:19-20:
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
So, how do we respond to someone who quotes, “Judge not”? Here are some considerations:
- First, with the Word – share the full context of Matthew 7:1-6.
- Second, point out that we all make judgments – in fact, they’ve just used a Bible verse to make a moral argument for hypocrisy.
- Finally, note that this is not about our personal feelings about sin, but that we’re pointing them to the greater Judge. It’s because we care about them that we’re called to point them in God’s Word to what He defines as holiness.
Showing a brother or sister how their sin goes against God’s word, isn’t judging – it’s loving! We can humbly, yet boldly share how their sin is out of our Father’s expressed will for our lives. It’s important never to let a fear of judging hold us back from “speaking the truth in love.” Too often, our natural tendency, both personally and corporately, is to avoid the confrontation. It’s unfortunately easy for us to use “Judge not” as an excuse not to speak out against sin. If we’re honest with ourselves, like Jonah sitting outside Nineveh, we hold back in speaking the truth because we love our neighbors too little.
The world would use Jesus’ words of “Judge not” to provide an abrupt end to any conversation of sin. However, the Christian should be prepared to use Matthew 7 to demonstrate our love for God and for our brothers and sisters. Rather than a conversation ender, it may be just the opportunity a believer needs to share the hope within us!