The Song of the Mountains – Part 46
Frequently we hear this verse quoted in the public square, “judge not, lest ye be judged yourselves” (Matt. 7:1). Social commentators, politicians, and protestors a like use this verse, most often while denying the existence of the One who said it. Even many well-meaning and sincere Christians quote this verse out of context, attempting to quiet those with a differing opinion. What is important to remember when interpreting any verse or concept in Scripture is that it must be interpreted in light of the entire canon of Scripture.
Matthew 7:1-5 is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to rightly apply. Have you ever had someone take you aside to do eye surgery on “what the Holy Spirit” revealed to them, only to be rebuked for not “receiving” their correction for a non-existent sin? It happens. It’s happened to me on several occasions, and I expect it will happen on many more. Just what is Yeshua/Jesus teaching us?
How would Yeshua expect us to understand and apply His words?
When considered in light of the entirety of His teaching message, we will recognize that He is not forbidding judging per se, He is teaching us to not prejudice, twist justice, or assume some position of moral superiority. In John 7:24 Yeshua said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” This helps to clarify what Yeshua is explaining in Matthew 7:1-5.
First, we must consider the concept of righteous judgment as defined in sacred Scripture. In the Torah, Israel is commanded to establish “judges and officers” in each of their settlements, as we read in Deuteronomy 16:18, “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.”
Judges and officers addressed issues as minor as property disputes, to more serious issues of adultery and murder – and everything in between. They ensured that peace and justice was maintained in the community. The judges ruled based on available evidence in concert with others, and officers ensured the ruling was carried out. Yet, some would point out that we are under the “dispensation of the grace” through the New Covenant, therefore, we are commanded not to judge. This conclusion, however, is nonsensical, and not in keeping with the teaching of Messiah or the apostles.
Consider Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian congregations, as he writes, “Should any of you, holding a matter against another, go to be judged before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (I Cor. 6:1). He then expresses the need for judges to be established in the messianic community in order to resolve issues between brethren. Biblically, judges are to consider evidence, evaluating actions against the objective ethical norms established in the Bible, hear witness testimony, and consider its truthfulness; not relying on the testimony of one, or to favor one over the other. The ruling is to be righteous. It is a very serious matter.
So what is Yeshua teaching us?
He is teaching us to avoid unfair, unjustified, and uncalled for criticism. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do, as we always seem to find fault with others; and all too often will express that fault to them or to someone else. Puritan theologian William Perkins once wrote, “Don’t believe the devil even if he tells the truth.” Yeshua is reminding us that we often ignore our own faults, and see what we consider faulty in others; this type of criticism does not build up, it only tears down.
This criticism surfaces from our own sinful, depraved, deceived, and stony heart – deceived, as we believe that somehow we have arrived at some point of perfection, simply because, in actuality, we are sinning differently than they are. There are better, however, more godly ways to correct, instruct, and shepherd people, even in our own imperfection, that does not involve rushing to judgment, prejudicing, or negatively harming another disciple. Is our ability to remove the speck from someone’s eye – by way of our words – really capable of “fixing” them? How successful have we been at fixing ourselves? Honestly, I’ve never met a single soul capable of fixing themselves, only covering over their imperfections – this author included.
This is what Yeshua is teaching. He is directing us to not play the hypocrite by finding fault with others, while ignoring our own faults. It is so easy to take a hyper-spiritual, “holier-than-thou” posture, and disrupt the work of the Lord in someone’s life. Start in prayer. Not a prayer that affirms your suspicions; but prayer that sets your heart right first.
When you approach someone.
First, do you have the position or authority to speak into that person’s life? Just because you are a “believer” does not mean that you have the godly authority to shepherd another, particularly if you are ill-equipped to do so.
If you see a lack in someone’s faith walk, do you have the ability to meet their specific need? If not, be silent and pray. Do not attempt to be someone’s Holy Spirit. However, if you have the authority, the right motivation, and the ability to shepherd them in their need, prayerfully approach. Even then, do not proceed without seeking godly direction yourself.
Ask yourself these questions before you presume to remove someone’s speck:
Is what you about to say truly necessary? Will it be encouraging? Will it energize them to seek the Lord? Will it maintain their dignity? If you can answer no to any of these questions, then you will harm, not edify.
Dear reader, few of us know each other well enough to know all that is happening in the lives of others. Let us be very cautious about how we are judging, or criticizing another person who may be struggling enormously in some area of their lives. What Yeshua is forbidding is making yourself the judge, jury, and executioner – the specialist surgeon. He is instructing us that righteous judgment is done in concert with spiritually mature, equipped, and accountable disciple leaders.
Even if what we are about to say is truthful, it may not be expedient – and we must learn to discern between “truth” and subjective opinion. Ultimately, the truth we wish to point out to someone might be entirely too much for them to bear. It takes discernment, humility, discipleship, and patience to know how to shepherd someone. Therefore, with our words let us build the life, not destroy it.
Be well. Shalom.