Summary: Jesus’ words condemn a certain type of judgment, but there are limits to our tolerance.
A few years ago, a congregation of the Lord’s church in Oklahoma disfellowshiped a woman for immorality. When she filed a lawsuit against the church, the story made all the national news media. One of the shows to give the lawsuit coverage was Phil Donahue and on that show, I think the attitude of Donahue and most of the audience could be summed up in the words: "Judge not that you be not judged!"
It bothers me to hear someone use Matthew 7:1 that way. But, you see, it’s nice to have a verse to prove what you already want to believe, and I think that’s how this verse has been used. It has been used to convey the idea, "You live your lifestyle and I’ll live mine. But don’t you tell me how to live, and certainly don’t you try to impose your standards of morality on me."
"Judge not that you be not judged" is spouted by a lot of people who have no earthly idea what Jesus meant by that. And I venture to say that the people who quote this verse the most are the ones who understand it the least. It just happens to fall into line with the spirit of our time.
A teenager is at odds with her parents because they’ve laid down the rules that she can’t go out with a certain boy because they don’t think it would be good for her spiritual development. So, she storms out of the room and screams, "Judge not that you be not judged!" Slam goes the door. And she feels she’s cleared her system of her responsibility to tell her parents off biblically.
Or some student gets drunk and has to be disciplined on a Christian college campus. Immediately, his friends rally around and suddenly become very biblical, saying, "Judge not that you be not judged."
Well, what was Jesus saying in Matthew 7? I think one of the key verses in understanding it is Matthew 5:20: "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." We must have a different kind of righteousness from what the scribes and Pharisees had. They wore theirs on their sleeves; it was superficial.
Ours must grow out of a heart committed to the Father. And Matthew 7 is part of that context. Jesus, here in the Sermon on the Mount, deals with two different extremes of the problem of human judgment. The first extreme is a harsh, critical spirit. The second extreme is permissiveness. This morning, we want to take a look at both of these extremes.
I. Don’t Judge (Matthew 7:1-2)
"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."
As Jesus looked at the religious situation of his day, he saw that judging others had become a great religious problem. The Pharisees and scribes sat
in the place of the critic. They were quick to pass judgment on those who didn’t live up to their expectations.
When Jesus was in the house of Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman anointed his feet, Simon said, "This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39). The Pharisees, in their self-righteous arrogance, had created a special class of people called "sinners," as if they themselves were not such.
The Pharisees were used to judging others self-righteously. Jesus said there are problems with that kind of judging. It’s overly critical, always going around with a nit-picking attitude, digging and searching for faults, always suspecting the worst.
So Jesus says that we are not to judge. Now he’s not talking about the judgment in a courtroom. He’s not talking about judging open and obvious sin (we’ll get to that later). He’s not talking about judging false teachers. What he is talking about is a hasty, unloving, "holier than thou" type of attitude. We sometimes call this "jumping to conclusions". It’s at the very heart of gossipping and rumor-bearing.
Jesus wasn’t saying we should never assess people with some discrimination, but rather that we should not have a harsh, judgmental spirit. John Stott put it this way: "Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men (by suspending our critical powers which help to distinguish us from animals) but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God (by setting ourselves up as judges)." That’s what drives this overly critical attitude: a belief that I can see as God sees. I can see your motives. I can see the way you’re thinking. I know all the things that have led you to this point in your life. That’s what Jesus wants to eliminate.