One of the dangers when it comes to studying the Bible is pulling out a single phrase or verse and running away with it instead of understanding that each verse needs to be taken in context. Our reading today takes us to one of the most misapplied verses in all of the Bible. We read in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Have you ever heard anyone quote that verse to you? What was the situation?
Most of the time when that verse is quoted it is relating to a professing Christian who is involved in sinful practices and is confronted or even simply questioned by another brother or sister in Christ. “How dare you question me or my intentions! After all, Jesus said, ‘Judge not!'” is often the spirit of the response that is often given. The implication being that it is wrong for anyone to question the actions of others since only God can rightly judge us. The question is, is that what this verse is teaching?
Again, context is the key. Matthew 7 is in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, a wonderful message our Lord gave to the multitudes who were following Him. No doubt many in the crowd would have been Pharisees, the religious zealots of the day who were quick to point out the sin in others yet refused to look at themselves. Hypocrites, that’s who Jesus intended that phrase for. People who were were worried about the splinter in someone else’s eye but refused to see the beam in their own eye. Jesus was essentially saying that we should only judge others if we are willing to be judged ourselves.
Looking at the rest of the chapter, we see several places where we are in fact encouraged to confront other’s about their wrong actions. In verse 5 says that once we have gotten rid of the beam in our own eye, then (and only then) can we help to remove the speck in someone else’s eye. Did you catch that? We are called upon to help remove the specks (sins) of others. Later on in the chapter in verses 15-20 Jesus warns against false teachers and says things like, “You shall know them by their fruits” in verse 16 and goes on to say that you can know the character of false teachers (and false professors) by the lives that they live. The implication from this passage, and other’s in the New Testament, is that we are called upon to “judge” others, or as others have said, be “fruit inspectors.” Obviously there are right and wrong ways of doing this (a subject for a different devotional) but the point being that we have a Scriptural right and even admonishment to practice spiritual discernment and confront other Christians when they are going astray.