Let’s Revisit “Judge Not”

by Terry Wane Benton

Each time we speak or write on an issue of sin, we have told what God has said about that sin. When we do that, we are relaying God's judgment (what He has said and the necessary implications of what He said). We are not making up things and trying to use our judgments to condemn anyone. We are relaying that God is not pleased and that we should adjust our behavior to His will and good pleasure.

So, when Matthew 7:1 is brought up, it has to be used correctly. You cannot use it correctly by shutting down the presentation of God’s word against sin. In other words, if I am teaching from God’s word that adultery will keep one out of heaven (I Corinthians 6:8-10) (pick any of the other sins in that list as well), it is not proper to shut down that presentation of truth by saying “Judge not!” When you do that you have judged that I have done something wrong by presenting the truth of God’s word. You violated the very use of that verse by judging that I was judging. If we are not to judge anything, then you cannot judge that someone is judging. In a strange way, you have violated the passage by telling someone that they are violating the passage. Surely we can see that this is not what Jesus had in mind when he said “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Now, think of the ramifications if Jesus was saying to never make judgments of any kind. He would be telling you to never seek to get a plank out of your eye so that you can see how to get a speck out of your brother’s eye. Does Jesus want us to judge the need to get a plank out of our eye? Yes! So, Jesus is not saying in this text to never judge anything, and never judge that you need to remove a plank from your eye. He is not even saying that we should never correct a problem in our brother. A brother has a speck in his eye. It is small compared to a plank, but it does need to be removed. The person that can help remove it is not someone with bigger issues. What we have in this verse is a principle of priority.

It is similar to “labor not for the food that perishes”(John 6:27). Did Jesus forbid all work that would put food on our table? On the surface, it might seem that way, but when you consider the whole counsel of God and the context, Jesus is not saying that one should not work for food but not merely labor for temporal food. He is comparing two things: food that perishes and the kind of food that endures. Some were merely laboring for the food that perishes. Jesus is correcting that approach to life. Put the most work into acquiring the food that feeds and strengthens the soul. So, if someone uses this verse to say that we are not to labor for physical food at all, we know this is not what Jesus is saying.

Likewise, when Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged,” He was not saying to never judge that you need to remove a plank from your eye or a speck from your brother’s eye. He was saying that our priority is to work on those larger issues of sin in ourselves so that we can see better how to remove the speck in our brother’s eye. In other words, we must first deal with our own bigger issues before we can possibly assist our brother. Our brother does indeed need our assistance, but his problem needs particular visual judgment and care that you with a plank cannot see. If you are having to look around a bigger problem in your own eye, you cannot see well enough to help him get the speck out. Now, someone can and should help the brother with a speck. Jesus is not saying that you are not to judge whether you have a plank or a speck in your eye and no one else is to judge such things either, but that when we refuse to judge that we have a plank in our eye, then we are in no position to help a brother get the speck out of his eye. The brother with a speck in his eye needs assistance. He needs someone who can judge how to help him get the speck out, but that is someone with good eyesight, not someone with obscured eyesight.

Jesus is telling us that we have to make judgments just like we have to work for food, but that we need to go about the business of helping people out of sin by first taking care to deal with ourselves. Do we need to judge that we have a plank in our eye? Yes! When we have a serious problem, are we to seek aid in getting rid of that plank? Yes! Are we to tell the doctor not to judge if we have a plank in our eye and not to judge how to help you remove it? Of course not! After we get a plank out of our eye, are we supposed to help a brother with a speck in his eye? Absolutely! Should the brother with a speck in his eye tell people who have first removed obvious sin from their lives to never judge my speck and that he is keeping his speck in his eye? That is silly! The speck needs to be removed just as much as the plank needed to be removed. In both cases, someone is supposed to judge:

  1. This man needs help, and
  2. This man needs assistance from someone, and
  3. Am I in the best position to help him, and
  4. What tools and care do I need to use to be of help to him in removing his small but significant problem?

Jesus is not saying to never judge anything but to get in a better position to judge the needs of others by dealing with our own bigger issues first. In the same context, Jesus said to give not that which is holy to the dogs nor cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). To do that one must judge. In another place He commanded His disciples to "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Is this a contradiction? No! There are many things we must judge, but be in a position to judge carefully, fairly, and compassionately. But, judge your own problems first, and that way you are in a position to help another.

Did Jesus mean that we have to first be perfect? No! The illustration was regarding a problem you have in common with another. It was an eye problem, only the one wanting to remove the common problem had the bigger issue. A person who does not share that common problem would be best suited to give the help needed. My problem may be an injured foot, but I can see fine to help the brother with the speck in his eye. Jesus is not saying that we have to all be perfect before we can judge the needs of others, but that when we share a common problem and our problem is the larger problem in that area, we need to first get our larger issue removed. If a bank robber wants to teach a petty thief that he should not steal, the bank robber is not in a position to help the petty thief. If an alcoholic tries to tell a man who occasionally gets high not to drink alcohol when he is drinking far more, the alcoholic is invalidated. If the alcoholic breaks his relation to alcohol, then he can help the man who has just begun dabbling with alcohol.

The bottom line is that we all need to judge ourselves so that we put ourselves in the best position to help others. Judgment is required, but unfair and hypocritical judging of others with lesser issues is the only thing Jesus is forbidding in Matthew 7:1ff. Don’t misuse the verse to protect your favorite sin! That is a very inappropriate use of the verse.

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