Today’s passage from the gospel of Matthew opens with probably the most misused text in our day. More often than not, any ethical evaluation the church makes is countered with “judge not,” as if Jesus tells His people not to make any judgments whatsoever. This misinterpretation of our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 7:1–6 is employed by unbelievers and professing Christians alike, and it contributes to the moral and doctrinal anarchy evident in our culture.
However, Christ is most certainly not forbidding His people from issuing judgments altogether. In fact, Jesus in this same gospel orders us to discriminate between good and evil. We must differentiate those receptive to us from the dogs and the swine in order to obey Jesus and hold back what is sacred from those who are proud to hate our Lord (v. 6). We cannot approach those who have honest questions about the Gospel like we do those who seek instruction in order to use it against Christ and His church. Our Lord’s directions for church discipline (18:15–20) call us to evaluate others. Exercising discernment and making sound judgments is part of Christian discipleship.
Jesus is actually warning us to be fair and humble when we make our evaluations. Human beings are naturally prone to focus on the failings of others and ignore their own heinous sins. Consider David’s reaction to Nathan after he slept with Bathsheba and had Uriah murdered (2 Sam. 11:1–12:15a). The king did more evil than the man in Nathan’s parable, but David wanted to chase after the speck in that man’s eye, so blinded was he by the plank of his own sin. Today, church leaders who have gossiped might come down mercilessly on someone who has occasionally used lewd language. This latter sin is real and inexcusable, but we have done wrong when we who judge do not hold ourselves to the same standard by which we judge others (Matt. 7:2).
John Chrysostom says, “Jesus does not forbid judging but commands that one first remove the plank from one’s own eye” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 23.2). We must be harsher on ourselves than we are on others. Let us make sure our consciences are clear before we judge our brothers and sisters.
John Calvin says that the one “who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.” No earthly judge is perfect, but we can make judgments without hypocrisy if we live a life of repentance and endeavor to mortify our own sin. Are you more critical of others than you are of yourself?
For further study:
The Bible in a year:
For the weekend: