Summary: This portion of Matthew is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood parts of the Bible. Jesus isn’t talking about political correctness but about correctly presenting the story of sin and salvation.
What’s your approach in sharing the gospel? There are probably as many ways of doing it as there are people—mostly because Jesus told us to be His “witnesses.” A witness tells what they experienced. Preaching the gospel—the second of the two reasons for our existence as Christians here on earth—isn’t so much presenting a reasoned argument or cold-witnessing on the street (though those are two approaches) as much as it is living your relationship with Jesus on the outside and being ready to give a reason for the hope within you based on your own experience with the gospel.
That doesn’t mean changing the gospel but rather how the true gospel as changed you. In our approach Jesus has some direction for us, and it is contained in Matthew 7 verses 1-6.
Matthew 7:1 may easily be the most mis-quoted verse in the entire Bible and at first blush doesn’t seem to be about witnessing at all. How often in a discussion with someone who is a pre-Christian have they said “you can’t talk to me about what I do. Didn’t Jesus say ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’?”
Many times we are at a loss for words when someone says that. We know that sin keeps us from God but that God is love. Could it be that we are not supposed to bring sin to light as part of sharing the gospel? We feel wrong and non-PC (politically correct) and what right do we have to talk about sin when we ourselves blow it so much?
Well, hopefully we can bring some clarity to this section and some help as we attempt to communicate the gospel message more effectively.
Remember, Matthew’s theme is to present Jesus as King and Messiah. He is the rescuer we never knew we needed. Showing someone who is under water that they are in fact drowning is the first step towards the rescue.
1 – 2
The first thing we need to understand is the word “judge.” The Greek word “krino” means “to separate, select, or choose.” It is the idea of evaluating and analyzing. It can mean to judge and pronounce sentence on someone. Here it is not meaning judgment from a court of law or critical, discerning thinking. The word here can refer to the attitude of a judgmental spirit towards others. It might read “do not condemn”. The rest of the section hangs off of this idea.
Let’s talk about what it is first by what it is not.
Jesus is not telling us to accept behavior as right that is clearly not in line with the character of God. We need to be discerning thinkers. Jesus told us to watch out for false teachers (verse 15 of chapter 7). The church is to exercise discipline (1 Cor 5:1-5). We ourselves are supposed to be attuned to what is good and what is not:
Heb 5:14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. NKJV
What Jesus is talking about here is not taking God’s place of judgment to condemn another. This kind of attitude is not the kind of character of love that typifies God. First of all, we are not in the place to know someone’s heart in order to condemn them—only God knows that. Secondly, we are in no position to set up a standard we ourselves have not been able to attain. In short, we cannot make a decision on someone else’s salvation or condemnation for:
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.
The audience Jesus spoke to were well attuned to religious leaders who judged others while they themselves did not follow what they taught (Mattew 23:4). We as humans have gotten it all mixed up.
We’re all equally sinful, equally separated from God and all that’s good—and we are equally deserving of God’s condemnation. That’s why we all need a rescuer. Jesus, being untainted by a sin nature (by way of the virgin birth), and willing to give Himself as a sacrifice (by way of the cross) becomes that Rescuer.
So the idea isn’t to wink at sin—God doesn’t—or put yourself in God’s place. We sometimes feel like after we come to Jesus we are so much holier than those outside of the faith. The truth is that we are much worse than we realize and it is ONLY by God’s mercy that we continue to stand at all. We cannot earn favor with God but we can get it by holding onto Jesus.
We tend to focus on obvious sins, like sexual immorality, homosexuality, murder, etc. But we forget that one lie can send you away from God’s presence (Rev 21:8)—being born is really all it takes (Psalm 51:5).