By Morgan Cates
If you have done any sort of evangelizing, or you have lovingly approached a brother or sister about a decision they made, then you have no doubt been opposed with the objection, “Only God can judge me,” or “Remove the plank from your own eye.” People often appeal to Matthew 7 in these conversations where Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). They use this sentence to claim that no human has a right to oppose them or call them out because Jesus tells us, “do not judge,” and they would be right if Matthew 7 stopped after verse one. However, Jesus does not stop here. He spends the first five verses of Matthew 7 expanding on what He meant when He said, “Judge not.” In verse two He demonstrates that by whatever standard you choose to judge a brother or sister, that same standard will be applied to you. Then in verses three and four Jesus illustrates what that looks like. He gives the famous example of someone attempting to remove a speck of dust from their brother’s eye meanwhile there is a plan of wood in their own eye. After this, Jesus gives His statement in verse five that ties the whole passage together, “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 7:5). That verse is the key to understanding what Jesus means in this teaching.
If you removed verse five from this passage, then it would be easy to make a case for the typical scenario in which Matthew 7 is most commonly quoted, as mentioned above. However, without divorcing verse five from verses one through four, we can clearly see that Jesus is not forbidding Christians from opposing one another out of love. In verses one through four He is giving a strongly worded warning against hypocrisy, not a disapproval of criticism, and then in verse five He clarifies what He had been teaching the entire time. Jesus is teaching the exact same thing that the apostle Paul addressed in his letter to the Church in Galatia, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). The Bible does not forbid Christians from approaching other Christians who are living in unrepented sin, it actually encourages it.
Although it is not sinful to correct a Christian who has gone astray, there are ways in which you can go about that action that are sinful. For example, notice that Jesus says, “first take the log out of your own
eye” (Matthew 7:5a). This is a warning against hypocrisy, as previously stated. Jesus makes it clear that a Christian should not approach a brother or sister while they are living in habitual sin themselves. Before you plan to go to another Christian, examine yourself, inspect your own sin, and if you are not currently
living with unrepented sin, “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5b). To approach a Christian about their sin while you are still living in yours is blatant hypocrisy, and Jesus explicitly forbids it. In addition to that, if you have found yourself to be in a spiritual position to approach someone, you should also check your heart. Figure out the real reason why you want to talk to them. Do you want to correct them because you see an opportunity to embarrass them, or do you want to go to them because you genuinely care about their walk with Christ? If you are without habitual sin and your heart is in the proper position, then approach that person with the right attitude. It is always a good idea to seek advice from a trusted third party about how to approach the situation. However, you should never go to another person in an angry manner with the intent of spreading negative gossip about a brother or sister. It is also wise to pass off this burden to a trusted member of church leadership that you know will properly handle the situation if you do not feel comfortable with it.
Regardless, the most important point to remember in regards to judgment comes from Paul’s command in Galatians 6:1, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” The most paramount aspect of Matthew 7 is that you always approach this situation in a posture of gentleness and respect. You are dealing with an image bearer of God who has fallen away, and you want to humbly and lovingly address them in an effort to draw them back to the holy walk our Father desires for them. That cannot be done out of a mean spirit. Yes God can and will judge you, but that does not exclude other humans from that same action. In fact, because God will judge you one day, you should be well accepting of other Christians who lovingly judge and correct you.