The other day I was on a drive through a part of my city that I have not been to in a while and saw a billboard for a church. In bright letters, their sign said something like “Where you are always loved and never judged.”
This sounds good to us initially because we have been trained to think that being judged by another person is the worst thing that can happen to us. I remember in 1997 hearing a pastor say that Matthew 7:1 had passed John 3:16 as the most popular verse in American culture. That statement would not even cause one second of debate now because that is the only Bible verse that many people can quote.
“Where you are always loved and never judged” sounds good to us because we think that the people who love us would never judge us. Judging is something only hypocritical people do and we don’t like being friends with hypocrites. After all, people who judge others are the ones that Jesus had the harshest words for.
After walking with Jesus, planting my life in the local church, and reading the Bible seriously for two decades of my life, something about the sentiment that the best way to love me is to never judge me doesn’t sit right with me. If the people around me never judge me and never call my actions to account, do they really love me? The New Testament paints a picture of the church as a place where people love each other enough to judge each other rightly, hold each other accountable, and call each other to repentance when needed. Done correctly, this is not harsh or unloving, but the most loving thing another person can do.
Our Misunderstanding of Matthew 7:1
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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.”
One of the fundamental rules of biblical interpretation we often violate is the need to pay attention to context. When we try to understand what the biblical writers meant, context is king. This means we pay attention to what came before the statement we are quoting and what comes after it.
The typical evangelical reading of Matthew 7:1 goes like this, “never question another person’s behavior, unless they are judging someone. Then call them a Pharisee and tell them they are the reason more people aren’t Christians.” Yet, when we simply read the verses in the rest of this paragraph, we see that the “never call another person’s behavior into question” reading of Matthew 7:1 holds no water.
Notice what Jesus says in verses 3-5. He says that a person cannot take the speck out of their brother’s eye when they have a log sticking out of their own eye. What Jesus refers to here is a hypocritical and censorious spirit. It’s a person who calls out the behavior of others while ignoring the glaring deficiencies in their own righteousness.
He doesn’t stop with this though, does he? Jesus moves on and says to remove the plank from your own eye and then you can see clearly to help your brother take the speck out of his eye. Notice that Jesus does not say, “well, you have a plank, so ignore his speck.” Instead, Jesus says to get the log out of our eye and then we can see clearly to help our brother with the speck in his eye. In other words, when you see moral fault in your brother, repent of your own sin, and then help him with his.
I Need Someone to Help Me Get the Speck Out
When I was a kid, we were leaving children’s church one afternoon and an older kid had made a paper airplane. There were these little chips that looked like sawdust in the shrubs around the church building and he picked up a handful to put in the fold of his paper airplane. When he threw it, I looked up because I wanted to see what happened with it. When I looked up, one of the chips got in my eye. It’s over 30 years later and I still remember how painful and annoying it was to have that thing in my eye and how thankful eye was when we were able to get it out.
I am a sinner. I’m a redeemed sinner with a new heart, but I’m still a sinner. This sin is not my friend; it’s my greatest enemy. What’s so insidious about my sin is that so much of it is obvious to the people around me, but I’m completely oblivious to it. When I become aware of my sin and am able to repent of it, my joy increases and my walk with the Lord grows. The most unloving thing my friends could do would be to leave the speck in my eye so that I continue to deal with the grief and misery that it causes.
In the first two verses of Galatians 6, Paul says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Notice how similar this is to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7. Here, Paul says that a Christian who is living in transgression and sin should be restored by other brothers in Christ. Paul says they do this in a spirit of gentleness so that they don’t fall into temptation themselves. They don’t Lord their superior righteousness over their wounded brother because they know they are susceptible to the very same things.
Then Paul says that we should bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so we fulfill the law of Christ. When you read this in context, the burdens he speaks of here most immediately refer to our own sins. This means that we are called, not to ignore the sin in the lives of our fellow believers, but to walk alongside them helping them bear the load of their Christian growth. In doing this, we show ourselves to be the people who belong to and follow Jesus.
The last thing Christians need is to be left alone in their sins. We are not doing other brothers and sisters a favor when we ignore their obvious sins and call it “love.” If sin is my worst enemy and you leave me to be oblivious to it or to battle it alone, you don’t love me. It would be better for you to risk offending me and get involved than to stand on the sidelines based on a poor reading of Matthew 7:1. Instead, read the whole passage, repent of your own sin, know your own weaknesses, and then jump in and help.
“Why You Should Wage War Against Your Sin“
For Further Reading:
The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop
Everyday Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester