“I am a sinner. I’m a redeemed sinner with a new heart, but I’m still a sinner. This sin is not my friend; it’s my greatest enemy. What’s so insidious about my sin is that so much of it is obvious to the people around me, but I’m completely oblivious to it.”
The other day I was on a drive through a part of my city that I have not been to in a while and saw a billboard for a church. In bright letters, their sign said something like “Where you are always loved and never judged.”
This sounds good to us initially because we have been trained to think that being judged by another person is the worst thing that can happen to us. I remember in 1997 hearing a pastor say that Matthew 7:1 had passed John 3:16 as the most popular verse in American culture. That statement would not even cause one second of debate now because that is the only Bible verse that many people can quote.
“Where you are always loved and never judged” sounds good to us because we think that the people who love us would never judge us. Judging is something only hypocritical people do and we don’t like being friends with hypocrites. After all, people who judge others are the ones that Jesus had the harshest words for.
After walking with Jesus, planting my life in the local church, and reading the Bible seriously for two decades of my life, something about the sentiment that the best way to love me is to never judge me doesn’t sit right with me. If the people around me never judge me and never call my actions to account, do they really love me? The New Testament paints a picture of the church as a place where people love each other enough to judge each other rightly, hold each other accountable, and call each other to repentance when needed. Done correctly, this is not harsh or unloving, but the most loving thing another person can do.
Our Misunderstanding of Matthew 7:1
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
One of the fundamental rules of biblical interpretation we often violate is the need to pay attention to context. When we try to understand what the biblical writers meant, context is king. This means we pay attention to what came before the statement we are quoting and what comes after it.
The typical evangelical reading of Matthew 7:1 goes like this, “never question another person’s behavior, unless they are judging someone. Then call them a Pharisee and tell them they are the reason more people aren’t Christians.” Yet, when we simply read the verses in the rest of this paragraph, we see that the “never call another person’s behavior into question” reading of Matthew 7:1 holds no water.
Notice what Jesus says in verses 3-5. He says that a person cannot take the speck out of their brother’s eye when they have a log sticking out of their own eye. What Jesus refers to here is a hypocritical and censorious spirit. It’s a person who calls out the behavior of others while ignoring the glaring deficiencies in their own righteousness.
He doesn’t stop with this though, does he? Jesus moves on and says to remove the plank from your own eye and then you can see clearly to help your brother take the speck out of his eye. Notice that Jesus does not say, “well, you have a plank, so ignore his speck.” Instead, Jesus says to get the log out of our eye and then we can see clearly to help our brother with the speck in his eye. In other words, when you see moral fault in your brother, repent of your own sin, and then help him with his.