Before I get into the heart of this discussion, I feel the need to establish some background which will help in the long run, clarify the rationale behind my positions on the subjects related to the primary topic of discussion.
I am a Christ-follower. The term Christian is also used, but I prefer Christ follower. It is more specific and less ambiguous, although we will discover that in the Biblical Greek of the New Testament, called Koine, or common Greek, either translation is correct. I prefer the latter, however, because for the last, oh, seventeen hundred years or so, when you say the word “Christian” in most corners of the world, it is synonymous with the Holy Roman or Catholic Church, or in some locales, the Greek or Russian Orthodox churches, and all the ugly connotations that are stitched hand in glove with it. Things like the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials. All perversions perpetrated in the name of the Church and Christianity, and here you may read Holy Roman Church for the best part. Only since the bravery of men like Martin Luther has the name Christian really meant anything other than Catholic, a word which means ‘universal’, or in the colonies of Henry the Eighth’s England, also as an act of rebellion against Rome, albeit of a more carnal than spiritual nature, which gave birth to the Anglican Church, or Church of England, where the Monarch replaced the Pope as the leader of the church.
When Luther posted his famous 95 thesis on the grand door of the Wittenberg church, the church begin to take on a shape and form new to the world. These first non-Catholic, non-Anglican churches would come to be called, in general terms, Protestants, because they were seen to be protesting the secret enclaves, wealth, and empirical power and dictates the Holy Roman Church and the Anglican church held over man and King alike.
Religion takes many forms and rituals, but whatever the form and ritual, however much or little they may appear to have in common, they all share a singular impressive distinction from Biblical Christianity, or, the term I prefer, Christ Followers. Here it is. Religion is a man-mad attempt to reach his image of God or god(s). True Christianity is a relationship with God initiated by God.
The term “Christian” is actually a Biblical term, albeit in the pejorative. It was meant to be an insult when hurled at those to whom the term applied. It’s found only twice in the Bible; both in the New Testament’s history book, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, or Acts for short. The first time is Acts chapter 11. Peter has just revealed his vision that the Gospel is for everyone – Gentiles included – to the church leaders and the disciples, including the original ones selected by Christ in the Gospels, who were gathered in Jerusalem, the location of the first Christian church, although they didn’t call it that yet – Christian, that is. They were simply “the Church at Jerusalem”. The church leaders decided to send Barnabas to Antioch to check out this Saul guy they’d all heard so much. The great persecutor of the church who held the death warrant and stood by nodding in approval when young Stephen was stoned to death.
When they arrived at Antioch, they not only found Saul, but to their great surprise and amazement he was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a power and anointing they hadn’t witnessed since Jesus Himself! Barnabas and company spent a year with Saul in Antioch, and verse 26 tells us that “they were called Christians (Greek Χριστιανός – Christianos: literally “Christ Followers”) first at Antioch. It was meant as an insult. Religious freaks. Contrary to the Law of Moses! Followers of that carpenters son! They were called by the common practice of labeling someone who was a follower of some other teacher or leader by using that leader’s name in a derogatory fashion. I’m pretty sure in today’s political climate you won’t have to think too hard to come up with an example. Same idea.
Near the end of the book of Acts we find the only other use of the word. This same Saul, now called Paul, stands before the Jewish figurehead King, Agrippa, and the Roman Governor, Festus, preaching Jesus. Festus, the Governor dismisses him as a madman while Agrippa sarcastically says, Ah, Paul, you clever fellow! You almost talked me into being as Christ follower! The same Greek word and the same sneer of sarcasm.
You see, from the moment the church was born at Pentecost, it has always been less an organization than an organism of Christ followers making up the individual cells and parts of the body. This is an illustration Paul himself uses in his discussion of Spiritual gifts in his letter to the fledgling church at Rome, chapter 12:3-6, and the entire 12th chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12). The church is a living, breathing creation of God the individual parts of which, namely the Christ followers, are in direct contact 24/7 with the almighty creator of the universe through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit! When I say I am a Christ Follower, that’s I’m talking about. Relationship, NOT religion. Souls, NOT bricks and mortar.
A religion is a man-made mechanism to reach out to his idea of God or a god or gods. It id deity designed in the image of man. The deity is flawed allowing its creators to rationalize their own flaws. It is organizational structure designed to bring god down to our level. It is filled with rules and regulations, a hierarchy of leadership, including in some religious organizations a high holy poohbah who speaks for God and whose words carry the same authority as God’s do, and they have a membership payment plan. I could name several examples, but I won’t that isn’t the point. The point is to make the distinction. What I have described in this paragraph is a religion, and it is consistent with almost any man-made religion.
Being a Christ follower is none of this. Being a Christ follower is all about relationship. Vertical (me and God) and Horizontal (me and everyone else). The way it works best is when the vertical one is good, the horizontal ones will be too. It is no coincidence that I’ve just described a cross, with the prominent feature being the vertical structure.
Now don’t think Christ followers don’t understand that religious ideas have their place. They do. James spelled “Pure religion” in the context of the church for the bod of Christ to understand. Most scholars believe this was written by James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church, AND the half-brother of Jesus. It stands to reason that the son of Joseph and Mary and half-brother of our Savior might have some insight on the question of “pure religion”. James 1:26-27 says
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
James is talking about being a servant, and before he is a servant, being certain your life is right with God! Not to put too fine a point on it, but to invert what James is saying is “if your heart isn’t pure and your tongue bridled, you’re a useless blowhard! You’re lying to yourself and you’re not even worthy to do meals on wheels to widows and orphans!” I hate to be the one to bring this up, but that sounds like James is judging someone, doesn’t it? Before you get your knickers in a twist, remember context. Read all of James 5, but especially the last half. You’ll see that James has a solution for this, and it’s going to come as a surprise to you.
It’s vitally necessary that you understand the difference between being a Christ Follower and being religious. The two are not synonymous. In fact, they’re more akin to being mutually exclusive! If you’re genuinely walking in the light of the Word of God and communing daily with God the Father and God the Son through meditation on His Word, and through communication through and with God the Holy Spirit is a much deeper way of living than simply being religious. If all you have is religion without a genuine relationship with Christ, you’re sleeping in the garage expecting to wake up a BMW. It’s not going to work. The only thing that works is genuine day to day, moment by moment personal, intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe who gave up His seat at the right hand of God to be born a human, live as we lived, face what we faced, die a sacrificial death in our place on the cross at Calvary, raise himself from the grave, all as prophesied in Scripture. That’s Jesus Christ. That’s not religion!
Romans 3:23 says we’ve ALL sinned and Romans 6:23 says the penalty for that sin is eternal separation from God, or death. Jesus said that God loves us so much (John 3:16) that he gave His only begotten son to die in our place that whoever believes on him will not perish, but have eternal life. In John 14:6 Jesus makes it clear that he is the only way to heaven. Period. Romans 10:9-10 says “ that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”
That’s all there is to it. That’s the difference between religion and being a Christ follower, and that’s the key to understanding the second half of this post. Confess your sins to Jesus. Repent, ask Him to forgive you and come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior. Pray a simple prayer using those concepts in your own words – just you talking to God. It’s just that simple, and if you do I’d love to hear from you and welcome you into the Kingdom of Christ followers- the Kingdom of God!
OK. Now on to the heart of this. “Judge not that you be not judged”. A lot of people think it just says “judge not” because that’s their kneejerk response any time someone points out something that might be construed as wrong.
Dude – you’re a married man. I think maybe now would be a good time for you to go home:….JUDGE NOT!
But you’re missing the point – the Bible says that’s sin….JUDGE NOT!
(This one is for real) I cannot condone any may man, but especially not one who claims to be a man of God standing in a pulpit on Sunday morning and using such filthy language and especially taking God’s name in vain! …..JUDGE NOT!
What you’re getting there is the abbreviated version – the out of context, very abbreviated version of Matthew 7:1-5. Yes, one through five. The most popularly and oft quoted passage on judgment in the bible is 5 verses long, not two, or if you use the entire phrase, “Judge not that you be not judged”, seven words.
But what does it mean, and is there more to the Bible than those seven words?
Although there are numerous passages in the Bible on the subject of judging, the most commonly used one is this one from Matthew, so this seems as good a place as any to begin, but because we’re going to look at this with the hope of really understanding it from the point of view of the person who said it, we’ll examine it in context and we’ll skip using the redacted version – you know – the one where we leave out the parts we don’t like? This is from the New King James Version, which I believe is one of the best modern translations available today. It keeps the general flow and feel of 1769 KJV (commonly referred to as Authorized version or 1611 version) but without the thee’s and thou’s, and with minor translational errors (you shall not murder instead of thou shall not kill, for example). This should help in better understanding what Jesus is saying.
We’ll employ other common exegetical, or interpretative rules that students of the Bible are taught when trying to understand Scripture. We’ll use the Bible as our primary reference because the Bible is the best tool to interpret the Bible. In other words, does God confirm this interpretation of this idea elsewhere? If He does. Odds are it’s the correct interpretation. We’ll look at historical and cultural context if that helps understand the passage. We’ll look to see if there is a general interpretation that is true to the historical/cultural interpretation, but transcends time and space. By this we mean does the original interpretation still apply today? If not. Why?
A common error in Bible interpretation today is that we like to understand what the Bible means by filtering it through today’s morays and accepted cultural norms. We want to say “what does the View and Oprah think about this?” and if they disagree with our Christian friend’s interpretation, we go with the View because clearly Rosie and Whoopi are more qualified to interpret the Bible than your friend who went to Sunday school his whole life. So instead if life experience filtering, we’ll rely on two of the three most trusted means of interpreting Scripture.
And as always, rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance as we study the Word of God. Without Him, there can be nothing more than an intellectual understanding of the Bible, which is almost always wrong.
Now – on to the Scriptures:,
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Now the first thing to notice is that the context of this passage is much more than the simple single sentence “Judge not , that you be not judged.” So the questions that really beg to be asked, are to whom was Jesus speaking, just what did Jesus mean for his audience to understand, and what does that mean to me today?
From the samples I gave earlier, I believe “judge not” is little more than a kneejerk a cop out response by people who don’t know what “judge not” means” but think it sounds rightly religious. I think it’d also the choice response of people who don’t know the author of the book, and generally mean “What right do you have to tell me how to live my life?” Sadly the passage is used by Christ followers as well; not because they don’t know the author of the Book, but because they don’t know the book. They are still stuck in interpret by life experience mode, or they are not surrounding themselves with good, solid fellow believers who will help keep them steered in the right direction. In other words, we as the church are failing them. Likewise, being a Christ follower doesn’t mean we are perfect, and that’s part of the point of Matthew 7. We are fallible, and we are responsible for having each other’s backs. This in no way dismisses personal responsibility. It adds a layer of accountability. Why do you think Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs
Now understand I say all of that with great caution. I’m not speaking out of a so-called holier-than-thou self-righteous arrogance. I trust and pray that what I am writing is coming from my heart in a spirit of sincerity and intent to understand what the Bible really says on this subject.
I’m going to give it away up front and tell you what I believe the volume of Scripture tells us about Judging. First and foremost, God and ONLY God can judge the heart and the intent of the heart. That is never open to debate. The word “JUDGE” appears 286 times in the Bible in a variety of forms (judge, judgment, judging, etc.) and from first mention in Genesis 15 to the final judgment of unsaved man at the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation, the Bible is crystal clear that God and God alone can judge the heart and intent of man, God and God alone judges whether a man is genuinely saved. That is never open to debate.
And I do not believe that is the subject of this passage of Scripture, because Scripture speaks of another kind of judging, often called discerning, or in some circles fruit inspecting, and that is encouraged by God with caveats, a few of which are mentioned in this passage.
Okay – now we’ve arrived at the place I remember from years ago as a teenager when, after sitting and glancing at my watch for what seemed like hours, but was in reality twenty or twenty-five minutes, the preacher takes a deep breath and announces, much to my disappointment, “that was the introduction.”
Context, as I said, is a hugely important key in understanding what Scripture means. For example, there a several aspects of context key to the understanding the meaning and application of judging that begin to come into focus when you examine judging through the filter of context rather than experience. Why is that? Because God’s Word is unchanging, context never changes. Experience changes not only from person to person, but from moment to moment for the same individual. Context is reliable; experience, which generally means feelings and emotions, is not.
But context can be complicated. Immediate context is the verses surrounding the verse or verses in question. General context may be limited or broad. Limited in this case is everything that has to do with the passage in question. Broad could be the Book of Matthew, the new Testament, or even the Bible.
The first question of context is easy. Who is speaking. The answer is Jesus. It says so. Not in 7:1, where the verse in question is located, however. To find that you have to go back to where the discussion in which the question of judging appears, and that takes us to limited general context, in this cast back to Matthew 5:1, the first verse of a lengthy talk Jesus delivered that Bible scholars, preachers, and students of the Bible alike have come to recognize as a contextual unit called The Sermon on the Mount. It begins at Matthew 5:1 and continues until Matthew 7:29. It includes the Beatitudes, the passage we call The Lord’s Prayer, and to my surprise one much earlier reference to judging, relatively speaking, than the one everyone knows in chapter 7. Interestingly, that passage, to which I will return, looks at the subject from a very different perspective, which immediately suggests that there is more than one way to understand what Jesus means when he says do not judge. Then again, simply reading the entire Matthew 7 passage tells us we’ve been getting it wrong even if we don’t look any further.
The second question of context is audience. To whom is Jesus speaking when He begins this most famous of sermons? This, too is answered back in Matthew 5 and is also a key to understanding Matthew 7 because he is still addressing the same crowd in chapter 7 that he was addressing in chapter 5, and that alone bears great significance.
The third contextual question is that of historical/cultural setting and its bearing on the here and now, and I believe we can answer that by understanding the first two questions of context.
Matthew Chapter 5:1-2 “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:”
The ‘He’ of this passage is Jesus. Answer to context question one.
Context question two is a little more complex, but if you look at the verse grammatically, it’s actually pretty clear. It says Jesus saw the multitudes , and headed up a mountain. The impression is that Jesus wasn’t climbing the hill to give Himself a better vantage point from which to address the masses; to the contrary, He was climbing to get a break from them. The verse says that He sat down and called His disciples to Him. Only then did he begin this famous sermon.
That the disciples are the target audience and not the crowd is made clear by the specific language Jesus uses as He addresses the group. Throughout chapter five Jesus calls His audience “Salt of the Earth”, and “light of the world”. In verse eleven Jesus tells them they are to be blessed because of the persecution they will receive for being his followers, and that their reward will be in heaven. These are hardly words to be spoken of the same crowd He would only moments later warn his disciples to not be like! And so it is to these select chosen few, and by implication through them the Church to whom this message is intended.
Of interest here are verses 21-22: “21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”
Jesus is talking about judging before the chapter Seven reference everyone and their brother tosses around about. The first big difference in the Matthew 5 reference is the presence of the article “the” preceding “judgment”. This specifies a particular judgment as opposed to general judgment. The Greek word is krisis, and has both a civic and a ceremonial meaning. The civic meaning in the first century Roman society was that of a tribunal; by implication justice. For the Jewish mind in the first century, think Mosaic Law for the ceremonial interpretation: (specifically divine law): - accusation, condemnation, damnation, judgment. Clearly neither relates to the Matthew 7 passage. The further you read in Matthew 5 the more you realize that Jesus is laying out the impossible before His followers. He is showing them that apart from the redeeming grace and mercy of God the things required of the Sermon on the Mount are impossible for man, but as he concludes in the final verses of chapter 6, “33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” They must be reliant on the grace and mercy of God.
And this brings us to the crux of the matter.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Let’s begin with the word judge. To begin with, it’s a different word than the one Jesus used in chapter 5. Here the word is krinō, and it means to distinguish, decide, decree, determine, esteem, judge, ordain, call in question, sentence to, think. So, yeah, pretty much what you think it means, but NOT the way you think it means it. How can I say that? We’re back to context. Immediately after the warning to not judge, Jesus explains what he means, and what the rules are.
Look at verse 2: For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. What Jesus is saying is be prepared to have the tables turned on you. That phrase that you be not judged can just as honestly be translated don’t judge unless you’re willing to be subject to the same standards.
Verse 3-5 are saying and don’t be a hypocrite about it! Make certain you’re not doing what you’re pointing a finger at someone else for doing. In other words, if your life isn’t right before the Lord, shut up. Note I didn’t say PERFECT – only Jesus is perfect. I said clean before the Lord. Verse 5 puts yet another twist on this. Pull the plank out of your own eye; make certain you are seeing clearly so you can HELP your brother!
There’s one other scripture in the Sermon the Mount that helps qualify the question of judge or judge not. It’s found just a little further down in Matthew 7.
Verses 15-20 to be precise:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Two important things to notice in this passage:
First, Jesus is telling us how to judge our fellow men: by their actions. You know – if it walks like a duck, etc.?
Second, He is talking about we as believers discerning the behavior of each other using the Bible as our standard with the goal always of bringing one another back into the fold when our behavior and actions indicate we are straying.
Here’s what it doesn’t say: Jesus NEVER grants us the freedom to judge another man’s heart. That, my friend is reserved for God. And for these we look elsewhere in Scripture. The other major passages of scripture that mention judging in general have two things in common.
First, is that most of them are prophetic in nature, by which I mean they concern themselves with end times. Of these there are two major prophetic judgments. The judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-13 and 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 are the key passages of Scripture for this judgment), and the Great White Throne Judgment, which is found in Revelation 20:11-15.
The key distinctions between these two judgments and the Matthew 7 passage are that both are done by members of the Godhead.
The Judgment Seat of Christ is the place where Christ followers will stand before the Savior and give an accounting of their life after becoming a Christ follower, NOT to determine whether he has earned his way into heaven – that was settled when the believer repented and asked Christ to be their Lord and Savior. The Shed Blood of Jesus on the Cross answered that one once and for all.
The Great White Throne Judgment, on the other hand is a different matter. This will be the lost souls of all time standing before God the Father on the precipice of an eternity in Hell. This is the judgment so many people, lost and saved alike think is going on when they say “Judge Not”. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the Creator saying to His creation for the final time, “Depart from me, I never knew you.
So let me try to wrap this up for you. The Bible speaks at great length about the subject of judging, but because we so often read no further than the words “Judge not”, we never get a clear understanding of what the Bible means by that, so we have attempted to glean an understanding of the meaning by resorting to the most time test and reliable method of understanding the Bible known to men. Look at it in context. We’ve examined the passage in its immediate context, its more complete setting and its historical/cultural setting and what we’ve learned from this is that Jesus was speaking, He was speaking to his disciples who, because they would become the first members of the first century church, He was by extension speaking to the church, and not the unchurched world.
We’ve learned that Jesus was in fact telling His church HOW to judge each other – how to be fruit inspectors, with the intent that should a brother or sister in Christ see another brother or sister or in Christ stray, how to approach them to lovingly welcome them back into the old. He was NOT telling them to judge or not judge whether or not their brother or sister is born again, or the intent of their heart. That is reserved for God. Galatians 6:1 is an excellent example of this idea put into action:
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” The very fact of observing a brother overtaken in a trespass and restoring him is the practical Biblical definition of Matthew 7:1-6 in action!
And we’ve learned that because God and His Word are immutable, these words are every bit as true for the church today as they were for the church of the first century. All you need do is read the Pauline Epistles and read the number of times Paul says things like “test all things”, or the other writers of Scripture say “by their fruit you will know them” do you see the overwhelming preponderance of biblical support for this interpretation of these verses.
One last thing, and perhaps the most important thing to take away from this study, is the one that’s implied not so much from the main focus of the study, “Judge not”, but from the whole context of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s implied throughout the three chapters that make up the passage, and it’s implied even in the three verses that cause so much contention in discussing the idea of judging, and that is this: forgiveness! I believe that’s what the whole beam in the eye thing is all about, and I know that it’s what the numerous other passages in the Bible, such as the Galatians one we just read is about. If you take nothing else away from this study, please get this: Matthew 7:1 is NOT a prohibition to see the fault in other Christians, nor is it permission to go on witch hunts. It is the admonition of a loving Savior to His Children – the Church – to walk the walk, and if, as they are keeping their relationship with God clean before the Lord, they see a brother or sister overtaken in sin, go to them after being absolutely certain your house is in order, NOT with the purpose of condemnation, but with that of forgiveness and restoration of fellowship. There is more to that and in greater detail, but that’s another study for another day. Please understand this. The ultimate goal of the Judge not passage is not condemnation, but forgiveness and restoration, neither of which can be accomplished until sin is first revealed, acknowledged, confessed and repented. That involves judging from which come these other things leading to forgiveness and restoration.
It’s taken me a week to write this. It was like preparing a sermon when I was an associate pastor all those years ago – 40 hours of research, prayer, reading, prayer, writing, prayer, and did I mention prayer? For a 20-30 minute message, but the cool thing about the Bible is that I learned new things from the Sermon on the Mount this week I didn’t know before I started. That’s what makes God’s word such a living, breathing book. The God breathed, divinely inspired Word of God.
I pray this look at the subject of judging was as revealing and enlightening to you as it has been to me.
God Bless you as you seek the truth of His inspired word.