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The Story of Jesus
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Speaking in Tongues
"Matthew 7:1"

David Smitherman

The Text: Judge not, that ye be not judged.

The Meaning Given To It: Whenever someone voices a criticism about the religious beliefs and/or practices of another, this verse quickly comes to the mind and out of the mouth of the individual who feels that such criticism should never be engaged in. Just as the thief on the cross is the most popular thief in town, this passage seems to be the most popular verse of scripture in town and one of the few that many people are able to quote. According to some, "judge not" means "criticize not." Before we examine the context and give the significance of this statement, let's take a look at the consequences of this position.

1-It manifests a misunderstanding of what is involved in judging. Judging is not always a negative or critical action, i.e., speaking against someone or something. Oftentimes judging involves that which is positive and taking a stand in favor of something (read carefully Acts 15:19; 16:15; 1 Cor. 10:15; 11:13.) Thus if we are never to judge anyone or anything it would mean we could not only never take a negative position but we wouldn't be able to take a positive one either. In this sense the word "judge" is like the word "lust": one must look at the context carefully to determine the nature of the "lust" ("strong desire") or the judging. Either can be proper, depending on the context.

2-Such a position contradicts numerous passages that tell us to judge and how to do it. See Jo. 7:24; 1 Cor. 6:2.

3-It is inconsistent with the conduct of Christ and the apostles. Controversy, in which they were critical of various beliefs and conduct, was a consistent part of their lives ( Matt. 23; Acts 6;7;17; 1 Cor. 5:3; Gal. 2:11-f.)

4-This "judge not" = "criticize not" interpretation of our text involves a person in a self-contradicting and inconsistent position. If it is wrong to be critical of ("judge") the beliefs and practices of others, then those who are critical of people who are being critical are themsevles guilty of "judging" because they are being critical and thus are doing the very thing they are accusing others of doing.

The Context: The sentence immediately following the Lord's "judge not" statement begins with "for" and thus explains the statement just made. The following verses make it clear that it is a particluar kind of "judging" that Christ is saying we are not to engage in. It is significant that in the context there are at least two statements which indicate that we are to "judge": Vs. 5 tells us that it is appropriate to seek to remove the mote out of a brother's eye and vs. 6 tells us not to give what is holy to dogs or cast pearls before swine. How can we engage in removing someone's "mote" (fault) without making a judgement that they have such? Likewise, we must make a judgement that certain people are "dogs" and "swine" (that is, they have no appreciation for truth as animals have no regard for what is valuable) and thus unworthy to have truth given to them.

The Meaning: Jesus is condeming the attitude that is manifested in trying to straighten out faults in another's life without first seeking to remove those in mine; such is hypocrisy, vs. 5. Can we "judge" (make a determination) that someone has a "mote" (fault) and then seek to remove it? Certainly; the latter part of verse 5 says so. But to do so thinking "I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican," Lk. 18:11; or that I am something when I am nothing, Gal. 6:3; or not "in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, let thou also be tempted," Gal. 6:1, I am in violation of what Jesus is teaching. Let us not judge by appearance (Joshua 22:9-29) or on the basis of our subjective opinions (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8) or inconsistently (Rom. 2:1,21) but let us judge righteous judgement, Jo. 7:24.

Is what we've said about this text correct? Well......you be the judge.

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