Dallas Burdette

January 30, 1999

                                                                                                    

 

 

Thrust Statement: God does not want His people to be hypocritical in their judgment.

 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:1[1]

 

 

            In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord warns His people about judging others: Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1); on the other hand, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (7:6).  How does one account for this apparent discrepancy?  How can one determine that another person is a “dog” or “pig” if there is no judgment on the part of the person making the decision.  Can one form an opinion on those who do not abide in the ethical teachings of Jesus?  Is it proper to pass judgment on those who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God?  Can one rightly criticize someone who does not have flawless comprehension of God’s Word, especially if that person’s reading does not coincide with his or her explanation of the Scriptures? 

This essay is concerned about those reviews of Matthew 7:1 which are in conflict with the totality of God’s Word.  This paper is not examining the myth that one is never to judge one’s beliefs or moral course of action,[2] but rather, the focus of this article investigates the violation practiced by many Christians in their excommunicating other believers who disagree with their exposition of Scripture.   Within the Churches of Christ, perfection in understanding is often the criteria by which judgment is made as to whether a person is or is not in fellowship with a particular congregation.  If one is not in communion with a certain “interpretive community,” that is to say, if one is not identified with a group that has a “shared understanding,” then, that person is out of friendly intercourse with God and his fellow believers.  If one gives credence to individual cups, Sunday school, instrumental music in the morning worship service (Sunday 11a.m.), “bread-breaking” versus “bread pinching” (during the communion), wine only or grape juice only, and so on, then Matthew 7: 6 and 15 are cited to nullify 7:1.

            Matthew 7:1 is frequently violated by many God-fearing followers of Jesus by entering into a spirit of censoriousness, that is to say, picking apart or pulling down any believer who does not reach an agreement with their particular brand of orthodoxy.  On the other hand, this counsel of Jesus does not preclude one from making judgements on every occasion.  For example, Jesus also speaks of “righteous judgments”: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).”   Following His renunciation of judgment in Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (7:5).  Again, Jesus encourages the disciples to exercise caution against those who violate His teachings:

 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them (7:15-20).

 

The admonition of Jesus in 7:1 is similar in construction to other passages in the Sermon on the Mount.  For instance, think about the following announcements of Jesus:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (6:6).

 

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (5:39).

 

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (5:42).

 

Does Jesus really mean that a person must pray in his room and “close the door”?  Does Jesus teach that one cannot defend himself if someone is trying to kill him or a family member?  Does Jesus inform Christians that they are never to turn someone down if they wish to borrow from them?  Does Jesus mean that one is never to exercise any kind of judgment?  It is obvious that Jesus employs in his teaching what is known as hyperbole, that is, bold exaggeration for the sake of emphasis.  Just what is Jesus teaching in Matthew 7:1?

It is necessary that one apply correct principles of biblical interpretation in order that one does not violate or nullify other plain teachings of Scripture.  Consider, for example, the teachings of the Holy Spirit concerning judicious perception of that which is right or wrong:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

 

 On the other hand, one observes the teachings in Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Is Paul echoing, in Romans 14:4, the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 7:1?  “Judge not” is inconsistently understood and plundered of its intended meaning by many well-meaning Christians in their zeal to be true to the Word of God.  The most able and accomplished preachers have clashed in their explanations.  One should study Jesus’ language with minute attention and in the context of His phrase.  The following quote summarizes the problem Christians experience in their application of Scriptures quite well: “We perceive what is ‘on our mind’ and not always what is presented to us.”[3]  It is not uncommon for individuals to confuse their understanding of God’s revelation with their interpretation.

            OVERALL VIEW OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Matthew Chapter 5

It is important in one’s exposition of this passage (Matthew 7:1) to consider the Sermon on the Mount as a whole before one attempts to exegete a particular view.  First, Jesus sets forth the characteristics that exemplify His people (5:1-9); following the beatitudes, Jesus informs His disciples about the mistreatment of those who follow Him (vv. 10-13); next in order, He then makes known to them that they are “preservatives”—the glue or cement that holds society together, that is to say, “salt” and light” (vv. 13-16); next, Jesus calls attention to the necessity of not breaking the commandments of God (vv. 17-20); soon afterward, Jesus calls attention to the true interpretation of the law over against that of the religious leaders in the form of six antitheses (vv. 21-47).  In this Sermon, Christians are taught how to behave in their walk with God and their fellowman; they are counseled that God’s law is relevant for every area of one’s life; and they are informed as to what it is that God demands of His people in order to praise Him.

Matthew Chapter 6

Jesus continues His discussion of the acts of piety that honors God: [1] giving to the needy (vv. 1-4); [2] praying in sincerity [vv. 5-15]; and (3) fasting as a means of enhancing one’s own spiritual renewal [vv. 16-18].  These performances of devotion were not simply to be external accomplishments, but internal transactions.  God is concerned with the heart, not just outward acts.  Whatever activity one performs, he or she must do this to God’s glory.  Jesus warns His disciples of the perils of simply doing deeds to be seen of men.  Following this exposition of true piety, Jesus admonishes His children about the hazards of worldliness, that is, the jeopardy of living for the temporal possessions of life (vv. 19-34).

Matthew Chapter 7

In this chapter, Jesus concentrates on relationships.  His disciples are all members of God’s community; therefore, His children should not sit in faultfinding, hypercritical, scrupulous, and fussy judgments (7:1-5).  As stated above, even though Jesus issues an injunction against judging, nevertheless, this admonition is followed immediately by “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (7:6) and “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (7:15).  Hence, it is evident that “Do not judge” (7:1), in the first five verses of chapter 7, Jesus must have reference to judgment of His people other than discernment of those who have rejected the gospel of God.

Do not judge” (7:1), is not the same judgment that Jesus speaks of in verses 6 and 15.  The judging in verses 6 and 15 deals with those who have spurned the ethical behavior that Jesus calls for and the rejection of the “good news” of the Kingdom, that is, Jesus is God’s way of salvation.  The ones who Jesus addresses in these verses (vv. 6 & 15) are echoed in Romans 2:8: “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”  Matthew 7:1 contemplates, not those who have repudiated God, but rather, those who have acquiesced to the teachings of Jesus.  Christians are not to judge their fellow believers in the sense of being censorious, faultfinding, hypercritical, or overcritical in their analysis of their spiritual welfare and of their relation to God and other Christians.

James our Lord’s brother also reiterates this teaching of Jesus in his epistle:

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12).

 

To speak against a brother or sister is to scorn the law of God.  It is a violation of the “royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (2:8) because it is the supreme law that is the source and summation of all laws governing human relationships (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10). James, no doubt, had in mind the words of Jesus when he wrote:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13).

 

Paul captures the very heart of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:1, when he discusses the “weak versus the strong” in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 14 and 15).  The spirit that Paul condemns—and Jesus condemns—is that feeling of superiority, that is to say, an outlook that we are all right while others are not.  It is that spirit or tendency to be sanctimonious—big “I” and little “you.”  There is a difference between meekness in dealing with one’s imperfection in understanding and arrogance in which one takes a meat cleaver to hack one to death for honest misunderstandings.  Jesus denounces censorious actions, but humility is sanctioned.  It is in this vein that Paul exemplifies the commandment of Jesus (Do not judge,Matthew 7:1) when he wrote his instructions to the Romans:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:1-4).

 

Paul is confronting the issue of imperfection in knowledge head-on.  This deformity in perception calls for toleration on the part of both parties.  Within the Christian community, there are infants, there are children, there are young men, and there are old men.  No one is at the same level of knowledge. None of God’s children has 20/20 vision.  God’s people can no more all think alike than they can all look alike.  God has never made absolute perfection in knowledge a condition of salvation, if so, no one could be saved—that includes you!

Since Matthew 7:6 and 7:15 are employed by many within the Churches of Christ to set aside Jesus’ instructions in 7:1, it is appropriate to refer to one of the founders of the Movement—Churches of Christ—who understood the implications of Matthew 7:1; Romans 14 & 15; and James 2:12-13; 4:11-12).  This Restoration Movement originated out of a sectarian background among the Presbyterians.  Thomas Campbell, father of Alexander Campbell, had been defrocked for offering the communion to other Presbyterians not of his orthodox party.  But Campbell understood the biblical principles of making allowances for one another.  He had captured the essence of “Do not judge.  He had grasped the reality of Christian forbearance toward those who did not comprehend the teachings of the Bible as he did.  When there were doctrinal differences, he exercised humility, leniency, and moderation toward those whom he knew to be in fellowship with God.  In his Declaration and Address (1809), he went right to the heart of attitudes that Christians should exercise with one another in dealing with differences within the Christian community.  The following excerpts from the Declaration and Address expresses the "intent" of Matthew 7:1:

Proposition 6.  That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God.  Therefore, so such deduction can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.[4]

 

Proposition 7.  That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of Divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient, and the more full and explicit they be for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of Christian communion; unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the Church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment, or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; wereas the Church form the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.[5]

 

Proposition 8.  It is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge of distinct apprehensions of all Divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church.[6]

 

CONCLUSION

Matthew 7:1 does not mean the refusal to practice any discrimination between right and wrong or of pronouncing “right judgment” as taught by Jesus (John 7:24).   The best way to illustrate this “judging” is to reflect upon the self-righteousness of the Pharisees.  In this Sermon, so it appears, our Lord had the Pharisees’ hypocritical judgment in mind.  They had misinterpreted the law; they were pretentious, boastful, braggarts in their giving to the needy, pompous in their prayers, and ostentatious in their fasting.  They were object-oriented, earthly-minded, unspiritual, and greedy in their vision with regard to the material and spiritual things of this world.  The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) is a bang-up commentary on Matthew 7:1.  Jesus warns His disciples of this breed of behavior.  May God help each person to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Jesus graphically depicts the kind of judging He prohibits in the Sermon on the Mount with the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).



[1] All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.

[2] The Sermon on the Mount addresses beliefs and ethical behavior that is not in keeping with the commandments of God.  Everyone must stress holiness as a way of life—there is no middle of the road.  Having said this, it is imperative that Christians do not identify the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount with their particular brand of orthodoxy, depending on which of the twenty-five divisions within the Churches of Christ, that they are pigeonholed with.  It is not uncommon for sincere Christians to describe their “interpretive community” as bearer of all truth.

[3] John C. Condon, Semantics and Communication (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966 ), 17.

[4] Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address in C. A. Young, Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union (Joplin, Missouri, 1985), 110.

[5] Ibid., 110, 111.    

[6] Ibid., 111.