Perhaps the most quoted (or misquoted) verse in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” The political, religious, and cultural climate we find ourselves in loves to build worldviews and opinions on those words. Many of our cultural sensibilities are reflected in that verse, the ideas of tolerance and openness chief among them. Moreover, there is a cultural call to adopt these ideas as normative and formative. These ideas have made it into the western church and the Christian psyche. They have become a part of the air we breath and thus become a part of what we say and how we think.
Every verse or text of scripture we read must be backdropped by the redemptive work of Jesus. Platitudes and imperatives are ultimately useless and burdensome without the proper context which shapes the entire Bible and brings the gospel into clear focus. Without the gospel, doing and obeying are chains around the ankles and a bridle in the mouth, restraining behavior without granting any freedom or restoration to a bent, broken, and diseased heart.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 7 follow his deep dive into the human heart of Matthew 5 and 6. In his teaching leading up to this text, Jesus describes sin as less a specific action or thought and more a condition of a bent and diseased heart. He exposes the insufficiency of morality and moral behavior in the greater context of man’s need for a reconstruction of the heart. So even the context of this popularly quoted text warns us of doing rightly without believing rightly.
So while this text offers an immense amount of practical wisdom for the Christian (and I don’t ignore that), I want us to focus on these words of Jesus while looking through a redemptive lense. There is wisdom how to handle conflict, how to be humble, how to be discerning, and how to be introspective. I don’t want to talk about that, because before we even mention how to do, we must understand the gospel that informs everything we do.
Our passage begins, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will measured to you.” Seeing this redemptively, we cannot help but be reminded of God’s judgement, and the measure by which he pronounces judgement.
The greatest news for the Christian is our reconciliation to God. One of the means by which this occurs is the pouring out of God’s judgement, not on us though we deserve it, but on Jesus at the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. Jesus drank from the cup of God’s wrath so that we don’t have to (Matt 26:39). The judgement reserved for the Christian was poured out on Jesus as he died on the hill at Calvary.
More than that, there is the often overlooked reality that not only did Jesus take something from us (our sin penalty), but he gave us something in return. Jesus’ perfect life and perfect obedience doesn’t go unrewarded. However Jesus does not claim that reward for himself, rather he freely and graciously gives it to those for whom he paid the ultimate price. Not only is our sin paid for, but we are credited with perfect righteousness.
Romans 5:18-19 reads, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Similarly, Colossians 3:3 says we are “hidden with Christ…” Meaning that when I stand before the judgement seat of God in the last days, God isn’t going to judge me based on the prideful, selfish and slothful man I have been in my life, but based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus. He will then say as I stand before the gates of eternity, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
How do you want to be judged? What ‘measure’ would you like used as you stand before God? Do you want God to look at your life, actions, and thoughts and credit you only with that which you deserve? The very first thing we should do when we read this text is see the glorious and beautiful way God judges us: he looks at us, and sees a sinner clothed in the pure white robes of Jesus’ magnificent righteousness.
How much easier is it to face and confront conflict when it is backdropped by that?! How much more sense does it make to have grace and mercy on another when God has been infinitely more merciful to us?! To talk about judgement between people, we must first be mindful of the ultimate judgement which comes from the one who created the very idea of judgement.
Continuing in Matthew 7,
“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.”
Often in scripture, the eyes have a deeper meaning than just the eyes that fit into our thick skulls. Biblically, the eyes can be understood as a metaphor for the heart (Matthew 6:22-23). If we are to understand the eyes as the heart in our verses of Matthew 7, what does that mean for the words of Jesus?
If our hearts are filled with specks and logs of sin, what can we do to wash them? What can we do to remove the sin from our own hearts or from someone else’s? Nothing. We can do nothing to clean and redeem our own hearts, much less remove the stain of sin from someone else's. That is a task reserved for God, and God alone.
However, this doesn’t mean we or others are irrelevant in the work of salvation and sanctification. Nor is it an excuse for passivity and slothfulness. At the end of Matthew Jesus commissions his people to evangelize and disciple (Matt. 28:18-20). Humanity has a role, to be sure. But what the disciples were fully aware of and reliant upon, we often miss when it comes to passages like this. It is God who wills and works. We are mere tools in his hands, participating in the work that God has already willed (Acts 9:15, 13:48; Eph. 1:11; Phil. 2:13).
What would these verses mean absent this understanding? Not only are we responsible for the impossible within ourselves, but are doubly weighed down with liability for the hearts of others. What an oppressive burden!
By understanding this text with more clarity and context than just these five verses, we are offered deeper wisdom instead of hollow advice. What a glorious inspiration for a greater and more complete reliance on God to cleanse us of our sin, and to cleanse the sin-stained hearts of those around us! As 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
By setting aside the practical implications of Jesus’ words and placing them in their greatest context, we can return to the wisdom of Jesus with a greater joy and deeper understanding of his words for our lives. With the gospel shaping this text we are afforded far more profound implications!
We are called to labor for the good of others as part of God’s great design to bring about change and conversion through the gospel! Far from being a mere exercise in conflict resolution, this passage is an exercise in gospel-cooperation.
The Greatest Context
By God’s grace, we live this side of the cross. We have the unique clarity and perspective of the entirety of God’s word and the gospel that it heralds. The words of Jesus in Matthew 7 are intended to be heard within the greatest context of the gospel. The depth of it’s meaning can only extend beyond the mere morality of human behaviour when the gospel has taken shape within us, and the greatest perspective can give way to a more complete picture of our reality before God. All of the moral instruction in the world cannot reconcile us back to God, and will by itself leave us impotent as we stand before the throne of God’s judgement.
As the gospel takes deeper root in your life, and as it grows to touch every area of your life, let it inform the commands of scripture. Let doing rightly be preceded by believing rightly.