Matthew chapter 7 continues the same theme in the Sermon on the Mount of how a true disciple of Jesus should live and follow Jesus. Remember in chapter 5, Jesus explained the attitude and heart of a believer. In chapter 6, He explained how to keep your motives pure by prayer and focusing on the eternal rewards that are ahead for those who believe. Then He warns them about hypocrisy, fear, worry, and the pursuit of material things. Now in chapter 7, Jesus continues to remind the disciples that they must have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees by having a changed heart. This is the overall theme of the Sermon on the Mount, which is to have an internal righteousness that proves Christ has been enthroned within. This is why Jesus warns the disciples of the judgement of others and how to keep themselves on the narrow path to eternal life. Jesus is concerned about the attitudes that would destroy His disciple’s love and divide their hearts.
In the first five verses of chapter 7, Jesus addresses the subject of self-righteous judgment of others. This issue will cripple and stumble you as a believer and keep you from experiencing what God intends in your life. Jesus commanded, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same 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 out of 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 out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1-5). To make this study more applicable to your life, I want you to think about a recent argument or a long-term disagreement you have had with someone and apply the principles I am about to explain to this dissagreement.
Defining what it means to be judgmental
To understand this concept of being judgmental we must define this word judge. One of the great problems I have found over the years in the church is the lack of understanding of what it means to judge. In this particular context, this word judge is a very general word that means to censure or to condemn. Probably the best way to define a word is to look at how the word is used throughout the Scripture. So, let's define this idea of judgment according to Scripture. In Luke 6:37, Jesus said the same thing He says here in this passage but adds one more sentence. He said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” In this passage, the word condemn is the defining word for what it means to judge. This is what’s called a synonymous parallelism. This is where Jesus makes a statement and then immediately gives a similar or synonymous statement. He first commands to judge not, and then gives a similar command to condemn not. The word condemn means to self-righteously pronounce someone guilty or to pass sentence on someone as if we were God and knew their hearts.
However, to find the balance of this concept let me ask you this question. Does this command not to judge mean you should not make any decisions or make any judgements or determinations about what is right or wrong in any given situation? When someone makes a statement, would you be able to judge whether what they said was true or false, and if you did, would that be judging them?
To answer this question, let’s look at another verse of Scripture. In Luke 12:57, Jesus asked His disciples, “Why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” In other words, Jesus is asking His disciples, “Why aren't you making a judgment of what is right?” This question by Jesus makes it clear that they must judge between what is right and wrong. This is judgment of determination and not of condemnation. This kind of judgment is one that we must make on a daily basis.
Jesus also used this word judge to teach Simon the Pharisee about critical thinking. Jesus had gone to his home to eat, and Simon had condemned Jesus in his heart, because he had allowed a certain woman to anoint His feet. In Luke 7:40-43, Jesus told them a very simple parable about a creditor and two debtors. Jesus said, “Simon, I have something to say to you." So, he said, "Teacher, say it." There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged.” Now, Jesus would never have said, “You have rightly judged,” unless you should rightly judge in certain circumstances. Jesus teaches him how to think critically by deciding what is right. If you fail to judge in this manner you will end up making terrible decisions in life.
In another example, to prove this point I am making, Paul writes to Titus and says, “When I send Artemis to you, or Tychicus, be diligent to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there” (Titus 3:12). The word decided in this verse is the same Greek word translated in Matthew 7 as judge. In other words, Paul is saying that he has decided that this is where he needed to stay for the winter
In addition, Jesus taught the religious leaders who were again condemning Him, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus was teaching that an unrighteous judgment was to judge by appearance and to condemn someone without regard to the facts. A righteous judgment is to do the opposite which was to judge by the facts of what you knew to be the truth. Therefore, there are righteous judgments that you must make, and there are unrighteous judgments you can make. Do you see the difference between the two? It is essential that you understand this concept. There are condemning judgments, and there are discerning or determining judgments. One you should do, and the other you must not do. Even the supernatural gift of discerning of spirits is determining what is of God and what is not. Let me show you how this works in other Scriptures.
Right after Jesus taught the disciples not to condemn others in Matthew 7:1, He turns right around in Matthew 7:15 and says, “Beware of false prophets.” But, how can you decide if someone is a “false prophet” if you won’t make a discerning judgment? It is impossible to do so. This is why getting a full understanding and a balanced view of this vital truth is so very important. Each of us must be ready and able to make that determination of what is true and what is false teaching that we hear.
Now that we have given you the balance of what it means to judge, let’s get back to the topic of judging to condemn another. Why should you stop your harsh judgement of others?
Why you should not be judgmental?
This question of why Jesus is teaching that we should not be judgmental toward others is the heart of this passage. Why does Jesus teach and command us to live this way? Jesus gives five reasons right here in this text for why you should not be judgmental.
- You should stop judging, because Jesus commands you to. The simple answer to why you should stop judging others, is because Jesus said so! He commanded, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s about as clear as you can say it. It's a direct command from Jesus. Don’t do it! If you are condemning someone in your heart, stop it! It is sin to disobey a direct command of Christ! His command should be enough. He said – don’t do it. You must either choose to obey this command or reject it.
- You should stop judging, because God will measure back to you the same. This thought should put a holy fear of God in you. Jesus said, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” The word use and measure are the same root word in Greek. So, whatever judgment you measure out to others is what you will get back. What you give out to an individual is what you will get back. What does Jesus mean? How does the Lord measure back to you what you are measuring out to others? It's a simple principle. It's the sowing and reaping principle that is taught throughout the Scripture. Paul taught, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). There are many passages in Scripture where you see this principle taught. Right here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that if you don’t forgive others, then He won’t forgive you (Matt. 6:15). What happens if the Lord does not forgive you? Believe me, your spiritual life is going to dry up. You will feel dead inside. You will just be going through the external motions of trying to be a Christian, but something is missing.
However, sowing and reaping has a positive side. In Luke 6:36-38, Jesus taught the same concept. He said, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Notice how Jesus teaches what you should do instead of judging. You should be merciful and giving just as your Father is toward you. If you measure out mercy and giving to others, your Father will measure out the same to you. My pastor, Chuck Smith, used to say, “you can’t ever out give God, because God will never be your debtor.” How do you want the Lord to treat you? Treat others the same way!
There is also an eternal recompense of sowing and reaping. The Lord reveals this principle in Revelation 18:5-8, when He speaks about mystery Babylon the great, and the judgment that will come upon this Christ rejecting world system. John records, “For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, 'I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.' Therefore, her plagues will come in one day--death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” Notice that Babylon’s sins reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. He will render to her just as she rendered to others and repay her double according to her works. In the same measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, will her torment and sorrow be measured out to her. So, there is an earthly sowing and reaping and an eternal recompense as well. The Bible’s point is clear, do unto others as you want others and God to do to you.
- You should stop judging, because it is hypocritical. Notice how Jesus begins verse five. “Hypocrite!” That word stings, doesn’t it? It's meant to be direct and to the point. Jesus teaches that if you judge and condemn others, you're being hypocritical. Why? Because you can’t see that you do the same things. You have done the same sin in the past, or you are doing it right now, or you will do it at some time in the future. Why? Because we are sinners. We are all sinners by nature. We are all the same. But, self-righteousness blinds you to your sin. Remember what the self-righteous Pharisee said to God in prayer? “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). But, we are like other men, and that's the point. If you allow self-righteous judgment to take root in your heart, you will begin acting in a hypocritical fashion.
Paul warned the Romans of the same self-righteous judgmentalism. He said, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2:1). I would encourage you to put your name into this verse, so you will get the force and intent of the message. Therefore, you are inexcusable, O _____, whoever you are who judge, _____ you condemn yourself; for _____ you who judge practice the same things. You must see that you fail in the exact same way, or manner, or degree as others do. So, when you see someone’s failure and think to yourself, I would never do anything like that. May God convict your heart immediately, because you have either done it, or thought about doing it. So be careful. “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12). May your heart be humble, because you need grace, just as much as anyone else!
- You should stop judging, because judgmentalism will spiritually blind you. Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 7:3-5). Look at the obvious point Jesus makes in this simple illustration between trying to remove a speck in someone else's eye, while you have a plank in your own eye. This is hyperbole. Hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration, which Jesus used all through His ministry. Why? Hyperbole gets your attention. It's an illustration that makes you see the absurdity of you trying to take a tiny speck out of your brother’s eye when you have a 4 x 4 stuck in your eye. Why is it absurd? How could you see at all to help your brother when you are blind to the problem that you have? Note Christ’s solution in verse 5. “First remove the plank from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” You cannot see clearly until you take the plank out of your own eye. Clarity to see a situation as it really is, requires me to first examine myself and my own faults. So, in the next conflict that you have with anyone, or when you find yourself with resentment in your heart, first ask yourself where have I failed to love or give? What should I have done differently? Where did I not listen? Where was my attitude wrong? What did I do wrong? Acknowledge that before God, then ask His forgiveness. Then go and confess your fault to the person you had the conflict with (James 5:16). Doing this is what is required to remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to fully resolve the issue with your brother.
Now, if there is anything that would characterize the Pharisees, it was spiritual blindness. Jesus called them “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” in Matthew 23:24. Here is Christ using hyperbole again. Gnats and camels were both unclean animals. What did Jesus mean by this statement? The Pharisees would take little strainers, and they would strain any liquid that they drank to make sure that they would never consume the tiniest gnat. They did this because they were meticulous in their observance of the law to not eat any unclean animals. But, then they would swallow a camel. In other words, Jesus was saying, you guys are nit-picking the smallest detail, and then you violate the most important parts of the law by not loving, doing justice, or showing mercy to others (Matt. 23:23). In addition to that, they had missed the most important point. Their self-righteous condemnation of others caused them to become blind. If we do the same, then we too will miss the whole point of the Christian life. So, it is essential, keep removing the planks you have in your own eye, and you will never become a Pharisee.
Remember what James taught in James 1:23-24. He warned us as believers, “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” It's so easy to take a magnifying glass to someone else's sin and forget to look in the mirror and see your own sin. If you want to keep yourself from unrighteous judgment, look in the mirror regularly. How do you look in the mirror? Open up your Bible and begin to read on a daily basis. The Word is the mirror. You cannot read the Scripture and not see yourself and your own sin and come away without being convicted. If you do, you're not hearing the Word with your heart. The Word of God is a two-edged sword. It cuts, and it should cut you every single day. The more judgmental you are, the less you will see your own needs, and the less you will grow as a believer. If judgmentalism is where you struggle, if this is where you stumble, you must realize that you are in trouble. Ask the Lord for a serious attitude adjustment in your heart. Tell Him that you know you are blind to your own faults and failures, and ask Him to open your eyes to see them clearly. But, make sure you don’t go to the other extreme and fall into self-condemnation. This will do no good. Keep your failures in the light of His grace and be changed, not condemned. Then, keep looking into the mirror of His Word, instead of taking a magnifying glass to others.
- You should stop judging, because if you continue, you really can’t help anyone else. Loving and helping others is truly the point of Matthew 7:1-5. God wants us to help and to minister to others. But, dealing with someone else's faults is a very delicate thing. It's like eye surgery, taking a speck out of someone's eye. You wouldn’t want a blind surgeon taking a piece of metal out of your eye! I sure wouldn’t! So, why would we think that we can help anyone with their sins, if we can’t see our own? Jesus said in Luke 6:39, to the Pharisees, “He spoke a parable to them: Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?” The blind cannot lead anyone anywhere. Likewise, I have to first see myself as I truly am and resolve the issue in my own life before I can tell anyone what they should do. Then I will be able to see clearly to help my brother with his need. So be delicate, be sensitive, and move slowly when you start to deal with the speck in someone else's eye. Look very closely at your own heart first.
How can you make correct judgments?
Last, I want to leave you with some practical ideas for how to correctly judge. So, let me give you five very simple principles that help you to make correct judgments.
- You need to first judge yourself. Jesus made this so clear in verse 5 of our text. Jesus said, “First remove the plank from your own eye.” If Jesus said to do something first, then this is where you must begin. If you want to make a correct judgment, this is the first thing you have to do. Ask yourself, where did I fail? What did I do wrong? Where was I being selfish or prideful? Have I done anything to bring about any of this problem or dilemma that has just taken place? This is called self-examination. I believe self-examination is the fastest way to deal with self-righteousness. When you examine yourself, you see your own sin. You can't stay prideful and self-righteous very long if you hold yourself up to the mirror of God’s Word. When you sense that self-righteousness and condemning attitude in your heart, or you are resentful and angry, just begin by asking the Lord to open your eyes to your own sin.
I believe Jesus gave us this instruction, because self-examination is the fastest way to feel compassion towards another individual. Compassion is one our greatest needs. We need to show compassion, just as the Lord has had compassion upon us. When Jesus instructs Peter on the subject of forgiveness, this is exactly what He deals with in Peter’s heart. In Matthew 18:33, when He is telling Peter this story of a man who had been forgiven much and then refused to forgive a small debt, Jesus said, “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” Why would you have pity or compassion on someone else? Jesus said it was because you see the compassion and patience He had on you. So, if your heart is hard, all you need to do is pray, “Lord, show me my own sin. Show me how I have wronged others in the same way.” Now, remember my previous warning about self-examination. There are two extremes. One is that you don't look deep enough into your own heart, and you become superficial in your self-examination. I've seen people come in to talk with me, and they tell me something they have done. And I'll say to them, “Well, you know that's a direct disobedience to the Scripture.” But, their response is to simply rationalize, excuse, and blame-shift to someone else for what they have done. I conclude that the person has no conviction for what they have done at all. This is the fruit of superficial self-examination. The other extreme is when people get so self-critical, that they condemn themselves to hell forever, because they have stumbled in one specific area this one time. They have taken the speck in their own eye and made it into a plank. So, both extremes are dangerous and unproductive for good decision-making. If you don't look honestly at yourself, you will surely deceive yourself. If you get too self-critical, you will stumble yourself. Balance is vital.
- Don’t judge motives. Why should you not judge motives? Because you cannot see a person's heart. It is impossible. Only God can see the heart. Paul taught in 1 Cor. 4:5, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.” Our problem is that we think we know what a person’s motives are. Unless someone verbally tells you what their motive is, be careful not to assume anything. If you want to know, ask them why they did this or that. But, remember, you are not God. He is the only one who can see someone else's heart clearly and completely. How many times have you gotten further information later, after you have judged someone’s motives, and you think to yourself, Boy was I wrong! So, don’t be so quick to judge or be harsh in judging others. Be careful, don't judge motives, because you will end up being wrong.
- Judge only the facts. This is a critical principle in making good judgments. Judge only using the facts that are absolutely certain. This is one of the most important principles that our judicial system today must be so careful about. This is why they don’t allow hearsay into testimony. This is what someone else told me, but I didn’t witness it myself. That’s hearsay. That person who told you this information is not in the courtroom and cannot be questioned as to the truth of this testimony. What the court wants are facts which come from eyewitness testimony. Did you actually see it take place? Did you hear them say this yourseil?
I have people come to me on a regular basis, and they say, “What do you think about what this person did?” And I respond, “I didn't know that they did this or that. Did you see them do it?” They respond, “No, so and so told me that they did.” A red flag goes up inside me! If you weren't there, you didn't see it, you didn't hear it yourself, therefore, you are just spreading gossip at that moment. Why? Because it is all hearsay. This is not a wise thing to if you want to make a correct decision. What was actually said? What was actually done? What was actually observed? These are the facts that can only be provided by an eyewitness. That's the only basis upon which you can make a righteous judgment.
Jesus explained in John 14:10-11 the basis upon which you should make a judgment about Him, and whether or not you should believe in Him. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.” Jesus is telling His disciples that they need to listen to what He has said and look at the works that He has done. These are the facts. This is how to make a righteous judgment of Him.
Jesus also taught that if you want to know the condition of a person’s heart, you should listen to what comes out of their mouth. “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matt. 15:18). So, listen to a person’s words, because these come from the heart. Jeremiah 17: 9-10 also gives some insight on this subject. God spoke these words, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doing.” God tells us that the heart is difficult to discern even during personal self-examination. God, who knows the heart of man, says that He judges according to a man’s ways or actions. The bottom line here is for each of us to listen to what someone says and watch what they do. These two facts are the best way to make righteous judgments.
- Don’t judge prematurely. Judging prematurely is one of the easiest things for all of us to do. We hear from a person we love and respect about some evil done to them, and we immediately decide who is right and wrong. I remember when I started counseling married couples’ years ago, and I was dealing with the first couple I married. They had all kinds of problems after they got married, and the wife came in to see me and began to tell me all of the terrible things her husband was doing. I immediately thought to myself, this guy is a real jerk. Then the husband came in to see me and I thought, I had better listen to him a little before I reproved him for the terrible things he had said and done. But, as I listened to what he told me about his wife, I began to think, what a witch she is! I’m sure glad I’m not married to her. Then I got the two of them together, and I realized my fault. I had made a terrible mistake. I had prejudged both of them, before I had heard both sides of the conflict. This is so dangerous to do. My associate pastor has always helped me through the years to hear both sides before I make any decisions. He always says to me, “Let's give them the benefit of the doubt.” Oh, that is such good advice. Scripture clearly teaches to hear both sides of an argument before you make your decisions. In Proverbs 18:17, Solomon reminds us, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” Therefore, until you have heard both sides of the story, do not make any determination, and especially, do not condemn someone even if you do know about both sides of the story. You should only make a determination of what was right and what was wrong. So, when people come and say to me at church, “What do you think about what this person has done to this other person?” I usually ask them, “Have you talked to both parties?” If they say no, then I tell them, “You don’t know the whole story.” Sometimes I can give them the other side of the story if the parties have given me permission. Other times I can’t because of privacy concerns. I just tell them, “Look, you don't know all the facts; all I can tell you is that you should be careful in making judgments here, because I do know all the facts.” Sometimes that satisfies a person, and other times it does not, because the person has already prejudged. Do not be this person! If you don’t want to hear both sides, then just pray for them both, and stay out of the situation completely.
- Judge according to His Word. The last principle that helps you to make correct judgments is to always judge according to His word. Don’t make judgments based on your ideas, your values, your morals, or your perceptions. You are called to judge righteously according to the Word of God. This principle is given in Ezekiel 44:24, so powerfully. When God instructed the priests in the Old Testament, He said, “In controversy they shall stand as judges, and judge it according to My judgments.” Note that God is clearly talking about when there is a controversy among God’s people and commanding how to make good judgements. Notice also that God is emphatic that they are not to make judgments based on their own ideas, but according to His judgments and His truth. If Scripture declares that some behavior is sinful, no one should say that it is good. If Scripture teaches that something is good, no one should command you to stop it. If the Scripture declares that certain beliefs or behaviors are left to your own discretion, then no one should forbid them (Rom. 14:1-5). Whenever someone tells you that you should do anything, ask them where this is taught in the Bible. Then read it for yourself to examine the context carefully. This is following the example of the Berean church in the Book of Acts (Acts 17:11). Remember, your first responsibility is always to obey God and uphold His truth (Acts 5:29; Eph. 4:15).
Now, if the Pharisees had governed their decisions by the Word of God, and were sensitive to their own personal faults, they would have never rejected Jesus. They would have sensed God’s conviction when He preached, and they would have followed Him. It is then obvious that these principles are essential for your growth and discernment over the questions that arise in your life.
These principles are also essential for you to have compassion toward others and be free from judgmentalism. Paul taught in Galatians 6:1, “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.” If you want someone to show compassion on you when you stumble, shouldn't you show compassion on others when they stumble? Be gentle and loving toward them. This is how you would want to be treated! But, so often we forget God’s compassion toward us, and we become harsh towards others, insensitive, and anything but gentle. Yet, compassion is the heart of Christ. He said in Matthew 11:29, “For I am gentle and lowly in heart.” If you are to be His disciple, let God work in your life in this area. Let Him change your thinking. Refrain from making judgments on issues until you know you have heard all the facts. Be very careful not to condemn someone in your heart. If you want that same consideration toward you, then give it towards others. Let's go to Him in prayer.
Father, we ask that You would work in each of our hearts today. I pray that You would bring conviction to each one of us. Keep us from making those condemning judgments from self-righteousness. Lord, keep us from doing and saying things that we are going to regret. Lord, forgive us for the judgmentalism that we have had toward others. Make us compassionate and gentle toward one another. Make us men and women who listen before we speak. We believe You are doing that right now in our hearts. Help us to pursue reconciliation from whom we are estranged today. Lord help us all to first examine ourselves so we can remove the plank from our own eye. We trust You to do that.
If you have never committed your life to Christ, or you are not sure if you truly are a Christian, I want to give you an opportunity to be forgiven and to experience God’s mercy in your life. God will bestow His mercy on you right now if you will only ask for His forgiveness and invite Him to take over your life. He will cleanse your heart, if you will acknowledge your sin and be willing to turn from your sinful lifestyle to follow Him. If you want to receive Him right now, I would suggest you pray and say to God, “Lord, forgive me. I acknowledge my sin. I have broken your law. Forgive me. Jesus, come in and take over my life. I receive You by faith right now. I want to be Your disciple. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and help me to follow You.” If you just prayed this prayer, confess your faith to someone today. Send me an email at email@example.com and I will send you some new believer’s material to help you get started in your relationship with Christ. May God richly bless you!