Judgment vs. Judgmentalism

Posted: November 27, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 7:1-6, “Judgment vs. Judgmentalism”

“Judge not.”  It’s a popular quote – even those who know nothing about the Bible have at least this phrase memorized & quote it frequently back to Christians.  Yet in the words of Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride,” we have to say “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” 🙂  So what DOES Jesus mean by it?  Quite a bit more than we sometimes realize.

Jesus had been teaching on what it means to live as a disciple of the kingdom of God.  We are to recognize our dependency upon God and His righteousness, since our own attempts at righteousness fall short.  We are to practice sincerity in our worship, not doing things to be seen by others, but rather with an eye towards what God alone sees.  We’re to have the right priority in life, dedicating our worship to God alone, without becoming obsessed with material things (either luxuries or necessities).  True disciples of Christ recognize that we are children of God, and it is His glory and His righteousness that we seek.

As Jesus continues in the Sermon on the Mount, He continues in the theme of seeking the righteousness of God (a true disciple never stops seeking God; our pursuit of God truly begins once we put our faith in Christ & goes from there).  But the emphasis here is on the application of God’s righteousness.  How do we apply it to others?  How do we apply it to ourselves?  When we’re seeking the kingdom of God & His righteousness, it can be easy to fall into a trap of self-righteousness – which is exactly the opposite of what a child of God ought to portray.

The Pharisees were well known for their self-righteousness & hypocritical judgmentalism; true citizens of the kingdom of heaven ought to be known for the righteousness of God & true godly judgment.  Thus Jesus tells us not to judge.  It’s not judgment that is bad, but judgmentalism is.  Judgment is good when it’s done in humility and truth – when it’s rooted in the love of Christ.

Matthew 7:1–6 (NKJV)
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.

  • If anecdotal experience counts, it’s likely that this is the most popular Bible verse quoted today among non-Christians back to Christians.  Every time Christians take a stand on some sort of moral issue (be it abortion, homosexuality, fornication, or whatever), it seems like someone is angrily shouting back “Judge not, brother!  You’re breaking Jesus’ commandment!” Of course, what they don’t realize is that they’re quoting Jesus out of context.  In verse 1 Jesus forbids wrong judgment, but in verse 6 Jesus tells us to judge rightly.  Is Jesus contradicting Himself?  No!  He simply teaches us to follow the same righteous judgment of our God & Father.
  • Jesus is NOT saying all judgment is wrong.  As with English, the word used for “judge” can have a wide number of definitions.  It can range from “condemnation” to simple “discernment.”  The word was used for legal proceedings & to refer to personal preferences, all depending upon the context.  The question really is: what kind of judgment does Jesus forbid for His followers?  We certainly cannot assume the position of condemning someone to hell – that would be judgment in an arena in which we have no authority or jurisdiction.  Only God has that right; people do not.  Of course prejudice (“pre-judge”) is also forbidden for Christians.  Those who have been shown the unmerited favor of God because of Christ Jesus have no right to pass worthless judgment upon someone else simply because of their skin color or social status.  Thus some judgment is absolutely wrong. 
  • Yet some judgment IS good.  Jesus actually tells us to judge with righteous judgment (Jn 7:24).  Righteous judgment is not done according to man’s standards, but according to God’s standards.  Righteous judgment keeps us from falling into the twin traps of legalism & licentiousness.  (From legalism, by keeping us focused upon the heart of God.  From licentiousness, by helping us rightly view the holiness of God.)  Thus the right kind of judgment isn’t only good; it’s helpful & necessary!
    • If we totally abdicated any form of judgment, how would we be able to tell right from wrong?  How would we be able to live righteously among ourselves & teach our families to live according to God’s standards by the grace of Christ?
    • How could judgment by itself be wrong?  GOD judges.  Anything God does is righteous.  If God judges, then His people ought to be able to judge according to God’s standards.  In fact, that’s exactly what we’ll be expected to do in the Millennial Kingdom.  We’ll be judging the world & angels along with Christ (1 Cor 6:2-3), thus we ought to learn how to judge rightly now.
  • Contextually from the following verses, the type of judging that Jesus refers to here is best described as judgmentalism.  Judgment in itself isn’t wrong; hypocrisy that leads to judgmentalism is.  The Pharisees had set up their own legalistic version of the Jewish religion & were well known for passing judgment on others, depending how they lived up to the Pharisaic standards.  Yet at the same time, they would open up loopholes for themselves to allow themselves to seem to be “righteous.”  For example, to swear an oath by the temple wasn’t binding, but if the oath was sworn by the gold of the temple, it was (Mt 23:16).  Their legalism made them hypocrites as they looked for endless loopholes to achieve their false self-righteousness & in the process, they looked down their noses at anyone who failed to do the same. [] Of course, it’s easy to point the finger at the Pharisees on this count (after all, to call someone a “Pharisee” today is to point out their hypocrisy & judgmentalism), but we need to remember that Jesus wasn’t speaking to the Pharisees that day.  Jesus was speaking to those who wished to be His disciples – those who desired to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  Christians can easily fall into the trap of judgmentalism.  Some Christians dwell in so much legalism that it’s difficult to tell if they actually know the grace of Christ.  They impose their standards upon others, and anyone who doesn’t live up to what they believe are the commands of God are automatically labeled “false-converts” or “wolves among the sheep.”  They bully people into their own brand of legalism, rather than recognizing their own dependency upon the grace of God.  Maybe you know of someone like that – maybe you’ve been someone like that…Jesus tells us not to do it.
    • (Stott, quoted in Carson) “The command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous.  Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men (by suspending our critical powers which help to distinguish us from animals) but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God (by setting ourselves up as judges).”  Jesus’ brother James tells us the same thing – James 4:11–12, "(11) Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" []  Only God is our Judge, and the Lord Jesus is our Advocate.  We dare not play the role of the accuser…the Devil does a good enough job there without us engaging in the same practice.
  • Question: what does Jesus mean by us not being judged?  Obviously this is not talking about God’s judgment over someone’s eternal fate.  The person who refuses to take any moral stand regarding anyone else, yet still refuses to surrender his/her life to Christ will still die in their sins & be righteously judged by God.  Yet even beyond the issue of eternal salvation, Christians still have a judgment to face from God. [Bema Seat]  On that day, men will be called to account for every idle word spoken (Mt 12:36), and we will need to explain to our Lord Jesus about every instance in which we cast unrighteous judgment upon His servants.  This is the same judgment in which teachers of God’s word will be held to a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1) – it ought to be a pretty sobering thought that we will be judged by God for the judgment we have put upon others.
    • Why would God judge us for judging others?  Because our hypocritical judgment of someone else might hinder them from following Christ.  Romans 14:10–13, "(10) But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (11) For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” (12) So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (13) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way." []  How many new believers have had their walk with Christ scarred because of the legalistic standards of someone else?  How many non-believers have had their hearts hardened against the gospel because a self-proclaimed Christian forced his/her own personal convictions upon them, rather than simply living by truth of the Scripture?  May we be careful with rushing to judgment, that we stay clear of judgmentalism!

2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

  • Our judgment of others is the standard of our own judgment.  Jesus used this same kind of logic when it came to forgiveness in the Model Prayer.  If we forgive others, than our Heavenly Father will forgive us – but if we don’t, He won’t. (Mt 5:14-15)  Contextually, Jesus was talking about our ongoing relationship with God (our initial justification is a free gift of God’s grace & in no way “earned” by our forgiveness of someone else).  Because Jesus uses the same logic & argument here, we can know the same thing here in regards to judgment.  Again, the “judgment” that Jesus refers to here is not our eternal judgment, but a reference to our judgment as believers in Christ – the Bema Seat.
  • Perhaps we get a bit more insight in the parallel account of this in Luke during the Sermon on the Plain.  Luke 6:37–38, "(37) “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (38) Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”" []  The idea is simple: we WILL be judged.  We will receive back according to what we have given towards others.  If we treat others with indifference, we will receive indifference.  If we judge others according to harsh legalism, we will ourselves be judged according to legalistic standards.  Yet if we lovingly come alongside others according to God’s righteousness, we can be assured that Jesus will do the same with us.  How we treat others will dramatically affect not only how others treat us in return, but how God treats us at the judgment & in our daily relationship with Christ.  One of the quickest ways for a believer to let his/her love of Christ grow cold is to start criticizing others harshly & living in judgmentalism.  (After all, it’s tough to experience the abundant joy of the Lord when we’re always looking at someone else rather than Christ!)  If we want to experience an abundant measure of the grace of Christ on a daily basis, we need to be willing to generously extend it to others.
  • Biblically, this is the principle of sowing & reaping.  Whether it comes to financial giving, or love towards one another, we can be sure that we will reap what we sow.  The rebellious Israelites sowed to the wind & eventually reaped the whirlwind (Hos 8:7), but God told them to sow righteousness & reap mercy (Hos 10:12).  Paul tells us that God will not be mocked & that those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption, but those who sow to the Spirit will reap everlasting life (Gal 6:7-8).  It’s the same principle here with Jesus.  If we want to reap grace, we need to sow grace.  If we’re going to sow judgment & criticism, we can be assured of reaping the same.
  • Note: this is NOT “karma.”  Karma is a Hindu concept that has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.  In Hinduism, a person’s actions for good or evil sow into good or bad karma which has an effect on their next reincarnated life.  An observant Hindu tries to sow in as much good karma into their next life so that eventually they would be freed of the cycle of reincarnation & reach nirvana.  Although it’s not identical, there is a similar thought within Buddhist teachings as well.  This is vastly different than Biblical Christianity!  The idea of “sowing & reaping” in the Bible has to do with our relationship with God, and with one another – it has nothing to do with determining our eternal future.  People have but one life on earth & we enter into eternity judged according to how we are found according to God’s righteousness.  Those who have received the righteousness of Jesus Christ (by believing upon Him & surrendering their lives to Him) will be saved; those who are depending upon their own individual righteousness will be condemned.  “Karma” is all about building up individual righteousness; Christianity is all about falling upon the grace of Jesus.

3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?

  • Translation and thousands of years distance from Jesus’ teaching can somewhat lose the humor here.  This is a pretty comical scene that Jesus is describing – exaggeration to be sure, but drastic enough to get the point across.  Imagine your friend with a small speck of wood in his eye.  It’s a nuisance to be sure, and if the splinter is big enough, perhaps it’s even enough to cause irritation & quite a bit of pain.  Your friend likely needs help – but you’ve got big enough problems of your own.  You don’t have a splinter in your eye; you’ve got a 2×4 sticking out of it.  And you think you’re going to help your friend?! Trying to remove the speck would be like a scene out of the 3 Stooges…we’d be falling all over ourselves all the while claiming we can help. J
  • The point is clear.  We’ve got enough issues of our own to take care of before we start looking at the faults of our friends.  We’ve got to deal with ourselves first.  See vs. 5…

5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

  • What happens if we don’t deal with our own issues first?  We’re engaging in hypocrisy.  Keep in mind this was the same description that Jesus gave those in Ch 6 who did their devotions (giving, prayer, fasting, etc.) to be seen by men & not by God.  The Pharisees were lambasted by Jesus as being hypocrites for their obsession with the outside of a person & not the true internal righteousness of a broken, contrite heart before God.  When we judge others harshly without regard to our own issues, we’re engaging in the same hypocrisy as the ancient Pharisees.  It’s a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, and it has no place among born-again believers in Jesus Christ!
  • The problem is that we’ve all got planks in our eyes.  There’s not a single one among us without sin.  The man or woman who lives out the Beatitudes understands this because they understand their poverty of spirit & utter dependence upon the grace of God.  Question: how exactly do we go about removing the plank?  Obviously Jesus never specifies what the plank is (which leaves the possibilities wide open!), but it’s some sort of impediment from righteous judgment.  It’s some sort of obstacle between us & the righteousness of God.  How do we deal with an obstacle between us & God?  By humbling ourselves at the cross of Jesus Christ.  The wood in our own eye is dealt with by going to the wood that Jesus hung upon.  We humbly confess our sin, and continue to trust Jesus Christ for His forgiveness & His power – daily submitting our lives into His loving hands.  Jesus forbids us from hypocrisy, yet calls us to humility.  The way to remove the plank from our own eyes is to remain on our knees, completely dependent upon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    • And the good news is that Jesus freely gives of His grace!  There’s not a single sin among us that Jesus cannot forgive, if we but turn to Him in faith.  Christian, that’s not just a message to the unbeliever, but a message for you.  Remember the forgiveness & grace that is available to be showered upon you because of your Lord Jesus Christ!  He loves you & He bought you with His blood.  His desire is for you to walk humbly with Him on a daily basis – that you would experience joyous intimacy with Him & live out your days as the man or woman of God that He created you to be.  Why let anything get in the way of that?  Especially an attitude of criticism & judgmentalism?  Rid yourself of self-righteousness at the cross!
  • Note that Jesus doesn’t excuse the other person’s problem.  Their speck (whatever it may be) is still an issue that needs to be resolved.  It’s just that we cannot help them when we’ve got our own sin or issue that’s glaring & in the way.  We can only truly be a help to our friend in need after our own sin has been addressed.  This does two things:
    • It removes any excuses from those who would try to justify their own sin by claiming to someone else, “judge not, brother!”  Their sin definitely needs to be dealt with; it simply needs to be dealt with in a righteous manner.
    • It keeps the emphasis on loving our brother through a problem; not condemning him.  The only reason someone would want to remove a speck from their brother’s eye is to help them see clearly & prevent medical damage.  No one would want to remove a speck just to degrade the person & boast how much better “I am than you.”  When judgment is done right, it’s done in an attitude of love.

6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

  • This statement may seem to come out of nowhere from Jesus, but it actually fits into the context quite well.  Remember that Jesus is teaching about righteous judgment.  We’re not to rush into judgment, but neither are we to run away from it either.  Jesus tells us to “judge not, that you not be judged,” yet at the same time we’re to be able to judge what’s holy & what’s not.  There are some who would take verse 1 as an excuse to claim “anything goes,” and never are we to attempt to take a public stand on right versus wrong.  Jesus doesn’t leave us with the option of complacency.  The citizens of the kingdom of heaven are not to engage in hypocritical condemning judgment, but their not to abdicate their responsibility to exercise righteous discernment, either.  Part of being “salt & light” is to being different from the rest of the world around us.  We can only do that if we can judge the difference between that which is God-honoring & that which is not.
  • The whole illustration Jesus uses is interesting, on two levels: (1) What is meant by “what is holy”?  (2) What does Jesus mean by the pigs tearing us “in pieces”?  On the 1st question, contextually, “holy” seems to refer to righteous judgment, or at the very least the righteousness of God.  The whole discussion of judgment came after affirming the priority of seeking the kingdom of God & His righteousness, and the righteousness of God is not shown in hypocritical judgmentalism.  That which is “holy” is something that is of supreme worth – a “pearl” among treasures.  Keep in mind that pearls were not found in ancient days in the same way they are today.  Pearls are rare enough today, but people have the benefit of harvesting techniques to grow them.  In ancient days, divers just had to hold their breath & repeatedly dive bringing up hundreds of oysters in what was often a vain search.  Pearls had immense value – there would be no conception of casually tossing one to a pig or a dog.  To take the righteousness of God & casually toss it away ought to be a horrendous thought.
  • On the 2nd question, dogs & pigs were considered unclean animals – definitely not an animal considered holy by God, nor would they in any way treat holy things as being sanctified.  Not only is that which is holy defiled by being given to the dogs & swine, the pigs might actually turn and attack the person giving out the holy thing.  As if the Jewish priest took the holy sacrifice off of the altar & instead of letting it be consumed to the glory of God (or a portion given to the worshipper), he gave it to a pig, which in a frenzy, turned around and attacked the priest.  It was bad enough that the sacrifice was defiled, but even the sacrifice itself had no value to the pig or dog – it would be despised by them & the person might be harmed.  How might a person do that to a Christian?  By despising the glorious truth which was given to him.
  • The point?  Christians need to be able to judge rightly.  There are times to step in and help someone who’s stuck in their sin (albeit in a humble, sincere way), and there are times to turn someone over to Satan for the destruction of his/her flesh.  Christians need to be able to discern between someone who’s seeking the righteousness of God, and someone who is in love with his/her own self-righteousness.  Whether that would be a false teacher, or someone who is completely unrepentant & proud in his/her sin, Christians need to be able to distinguish the difference between someone who is humbly ready to receive the pearls of God and someone who would despise & trample it underfoot.
  • Beyond the issue of judgment in regards to sin, this seems to even apply to the gospel of grace – the most holy of issues, which completely demonstrates the righteousness of God.  There are times that someone is ready to hear and to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to be quick to the opportunity in front of us to share it with them.  Prayerfully, we have no hypocritical issues of our own that become a stumbling block in those cases, and we can feel free to share the gospel without fear.  Yet there are other times in which a person couldn’t care less about the name and work of Christ Jesus, and would actually despise the gospel when presented to them.  Don’t cast your pearls before swine!  Discern when someone needs to be humbled by the law of God, and when someone is humbly ready to hear of the grace of God.
  • Keep in mind that even Jesus demonstrated this same sort of righteous judgment.  There were some individuals that the culture despised, but Jesus readily forgave: the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4), the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8), the tax collector Zacchaeus (Lk 19).  Yet there were other time in which Jesus was silent (before Herod – Lk 23) or sent someone away in their self-righteousness (the rich young ruler – Lk 18).  Sometimes we may wonder: “Why didn’t Jesus share His grace with everybody the same?”  Simply because not everyone was in the same place.  Jesus discerned the difference between them & was not about to cast pearls to swine.  As His disciples, we need to be equipped by the Holy Spirit of God to be able to do the same thing.  We certainly don’t want to judge others hypocritically, but neither do we want to abstain from judgment indiscriminately.  The children of God need to walk in the wisdom of God, and that calls for us to judge matters rightly – sometimes understanding when to share the truths of the Bible & when NOT to.
    • There are times to shake the dust off your feet (Mt 10:14)…  The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18)…  The natural man cannot receive the things of God – it’s foolishness to him (1 Cor 2:14)…  How do we know the difference between the person who is humble & the person who is hardened?  Pray!  Rely upon the power and the leading of the Holy Spirit!  (And remember that even the most hardened person can be humbled by God.  We may not be able to yet share the gospel with them, but eventually someone might.  Pray for their conversion!)

So how do you judge?  Undoubtedly, all of us are going to come across situations in which we’re going to need to pass some form of judgment.  Maybe a family member is engaged in a lifestyle that’s in opposition to the Scripture.  Maybe a co-worker is asking for your tacit approval on something you know is wrong.  Maybe a brother or sister in the Lord is overtaken by some sort of sin & is in desperate need of help.  Can you help him/her?  Are you able to judge rightly?  Judgment is to be dealt with carefully & humbly, and when it is, it can bring glory to God – the One who always has perfect judgment. 

  • Don’t rush into judgment.  Remember that it is God alone who is the Lawgiver & Judge.  We are going to be held accountable for our own actions & attitudes & we have no business criticizing another Man’s servants.
  • Don’t be hypocritical in judgment.  We need to beware laying down a standard for others that we don’t abide by ourselves because we’re stuck in our own self-righteousness.  Go to the foot of the cross & deal with that pride (or whatever the sin is) in order that we can be free to humbly help our brothers and sisters in need.
  • Don’t run away from judgment.  We’re not to criticize, but we’re not to hide in a closet either.  Christians are dependent upon the Spirit of God in order that we can discern rightly through the love of God.


Righteous judgment is always rooted in the love of Christ because those who judge rightly have remained humbly at the cross of Christ.

  • Have you been guilty of hypocritical judgment?  Humble yourself before God, seek His forgiveness through Christ, and then go & seek the forgiveness of those you’ve offended.
  • Have you been complacent towards someone overtaken in some sin?  Demonstrate the love of Christ by coming alongside him/her and helping to bear their burdens in humility & gentleness.
  • Have you been indiscriminate with the pearls of Scripture?  Ask for true Godly wisdom to know when to share the words of life & when to pray for someone’s brokenness.
  • Or maybe you’re one who’s been overtaken with the trespass.  You’ve got the splinter in your eye & you know it’s there – you just don’t know what to do about it.  Go to Jesus in faith!  Humble yourself before Him & ask for His mercy & grace – He promises to help!



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