AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 7:1-5
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
A common understanding of this verse is that individuals are to think the best of other people, and not engage in any criticism. Some expositors take an extreme position, and teach that any censorious comments against another person is totally forbidden. That cannot be a correct understanding of the text, because Jesus said in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” If the Church ceases to judge righteously, heresy and false doctrine will prevail, and the truth of the gospel will be obscured.
Now the commandment of chapter 7 and verse 1 seems a little startling within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, until it is realized that the words of Jesus follow the pattern of the giving of the Law to Moses. When God gave the Law on Mount Sinai there was a twofold division. There were commandments of man’s duty to God. Then, there were commandments of man’s duty to man. In like manner. Jesus has been speaking about man’s duty to God. Now He turns to man’s duty to man.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
When a person does engage in judging another person, care should be taken. It should be remembered that the same passion, the same intensity, the same vocabulary we use in judging others, will become the standard by which we are judged by God, and by other people as well. It is a law of the universe that like begets like. Therefore, we must avoid the spiteful, vindictive, and retaliatory form of criticism that can grip the soul.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
The term “mote” refers to a splinter, a little piece of wood from a larger beam. The prohibition is against being a Mote Hunter. There is within the Church individuals who are censorious of others. They seek out a flaw in an individual and exploit it. They build their happiness on the unhappiness of someone else.
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
The prohibition against judging others must not be taken to an extreme. The Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Sept 9, 1828 – Nov 20, 1910) interpreted the text to mean there should be no court of law. The Lord has in mind private judgment, not public judgment.
There are many good reasons for being circumspect in judging others. Criticism is a bludgeon, but it can also be a boomerang. The person who throws criticism at others will find themselves the object of criticism. What a person sows, they also reap. There is the Law of Mutual Reciprocity.
In Genesis 16, we read about Ishmael. He was a wild man. His hand was against every man, and every man’s hand was against him (Gen. 16:11-12).
In Judges 1, we read about Adoni-bezek. His enemies cut off his thumbs, and his big toes. Why? Because Adoni-bezek had captured seventy kings and cut off their thumbs, and their big toes saying, “As I have done, so God hath requited me” (Judges 1:7).
In the book of Esther we read of Haman, who had built gallows to hang his personal enemy, Mordechai, the Jew. After a surprising turn of events, King Ahasuerus ordered Haman to be hung. “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified” (Esther 7:10). William Shakespeare would say that Haman was “hoist with his own petard” (Hamlet, Acts 3, Scene 4). There is a Law of Mutual Reciprocity. The Divine principle cannot be violated.
The measure by which we judge others, we will be judged by God (v. 1), and then we shall be judged by men (v. 2). Because we shall be judged, Jesus said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
There is another reason not to judge, and that is because our judgment is fallible. Individuals are often blinded by their own prejudices and concerns. Furthermore, we do not always know the motives of others, or why certain actions are taken, and comments made. The story of David, and his initial encounter with Goliath, illustrates the malicious blindness of others concerning a person’s motive.
While visiting his brothers in the army, David heard the loud mouth giant defy the Living God. David was offended for the Lord, and wondered why no man of Israel had stood up against Goliath. His attitude angered his brother Eliab. “And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither?
And with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle. 29 And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” (1 Sam. 17:28-29).
Eliab thought he knew the motive of David, but Eliab was wrong. He had such a beam in his own eye, Eliab could not clearly see the situation unfolding before him. He was critical of David, but not of his own lack of faith in God.
Had Eliab been more self-aware, and more critical of himself, he might have either become the desperately needed hero of the hour, or, at the very least, supportive of David who was willing to fight for the glory of God, and the good of Israel.
The lesson is learned. Self-judgment is good for self, one can see more clearly, and it is good for others, they can be judged more fairly. It is possible to be critical in a proper manner. First, we must be spiritual. Second, we must be free of any beam in our own eyes. Third, we must be gracious. Fourth, we must be humble lest we also be tempted. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Christians must be loving when a splinter, or fault is found in someone else. But, Christians must righteously render judgment on situations.