Misread Text: Matthew 7:1

Often times, people tend to look at a Scriptural text without having any interest in the context of the passage. Instead, the passage is used to reflect one’s own view or to teach something that is not the intended meaning for the text. I call these specific texts that are associated with improper exegesis “misread texts”, for most of the time they are indeed misread. This will be a recurring series on the blog as there are far too many verses to deal with in one post.

I have already dealt with two verses in the past that were taken out of context. In my post about the misuse of the verse Jeremiah 29:11 (click here to read), I wrote about how the context had nothing to do with God’s supposed “guarantee of prosperity” for the reader. The verse’s context was the suffering of the Israelites and that God would eventually deliver them out of their exile into their promised land again. Another verse I dealt with was Philippians 4:13 (click here to read), which is believed to mean that God supports our every goal and strengthens us when striving for our good works. Rather the verse was about enduring through suffering for the gospel, and being faithful to the proclamation of the gospel.

Now, while those two verse have been taken out of context quite often (and I still hold to the view that Jeremiah 29:11 is the most misread text in the Bible), there is no verse that has been more misquoted than Matthew 7:1 (ESV) which says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” The outcry of Western liberalism and philosophy has made the verse’s contents their own anthem. Most of the people in today’s culture would submit to the idea that judging is wrong and that questioning someone’s view is unethical. It has become more sinful to call out one’s immoral act, than to indulge in the immoral act itself.

However, this misinterpretation of the text has not only become popular among those who preach secular liberalism, but also among people who claim to be those who profess the gospel of Christ. “Don’t judge” is no longer just a phrase heard from the mouths of the young secularists, but now among the Christian youth for the sake of love and tolerance. Exposing, rebuking, and preaching on sin has become a shameful act in Christianity. Confronting sin is now to be avoided. The idea is that we want to make sinners feel like they are in a welcomed environment, devoid of any judgement or confrontation.

So now offending someone is no longer a Christian lifestyle, and certainly so if you are correcting someone. Without even considering what the text is trying to say in Matthew 7:1 under its proper context, people make haste to believe that we are to never make people feel bad. There is also the view that we shouldn’t judge so that one doesn’t look or feel bad. God forbid that anyone feel uncomfortable around you, or you’re not a good Christian (I say that with sarcasm of course).

If we are to never judge anyone then there is no justification for laws, law enforcement, and judicial systems. Their sole purpose is to judge the public. If we are to really carry out the conclusions that many would have after reading Matthew 7:1, then Hitler was not to be judged. After all, he did what he thought was right, and the public supported him. Not to long ago I saw the film Bitter Harvest, a movie with a story that took place during Holodomor, a man-made famine that was orchestrated by the command of Stalin. Stalin was single-handedly responsible for 7-10 million deaths from Holodomor alone, but modern liberalism says that we can’t judge him because it isn’t our place to question his motives.

Of course, many people who take Matthew 7:1 out of context would not believe that everyone should be left out of judgement, they just strongly believe that Christians should stop calling out sin and immorality within society. Generally, advocates of the “don’t judge” mentality will resort back to Jesus’ words, twisting them to fit their own agenda. So now, it seems that the Bible says we can’t tell anyone they are wrong on a view, issue, or action because Matthew 7:1 says, “Judge not!” However, is that what Jesus was directly saying? Did Jesus really tell people to not judge…at all? I don’t think so.

Jesus didn’t stop His teaching on judgement as He went on in Matthew 7:3-4 (ESV) saying, “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?'” Does this conclude that Jesus was indeed warning us to just leave people alone? It would seem that way at first glance, which is the problem. Scripture needs careful examination of the textual context before reaching any rash conclusions. That is why Matthew 7:5 (ESV) becomes very important to properly understanding the biblical passage. It says, “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.”

Matthew 7:5 gives us insight to what Matthew 7:1 is trying to say, which is this: God abhors hypocritical judging, but we are still to exercise correction for it is beneficial. Jesus specifically said that before confronting one’s sin, the concerned individual must first repent of his or her own sin. Then, after the concerned individual has repented, one can be confronted for the committed sin or the ongoing addiction. This means that Christians should most definitely preach against sin and most definitely be intolerant to sinful lifestyle, but God expects much from us first before doing so. In order to be servants of righteousness, doesn’t it make sense to be righteous in Christ first?

Sins such as homosexuality, abortion, pornography, pre-marital sex, transsexuality,  cursing, lying, blasphemy, heresy, and many more sins should be condemned by Christians who profess to live a godly life. There are times when gives us a person so that we might take away the speck from the eyes, but sometimes it can be logs as well. Sin shouldn’t be tolerated by any Christian and we must address it, no matter how accepted the lifestyle or sin has become in the culture. Culture is not what defines morality, but rather it is God who defines what is good and just. We forget that though we are in human flesh, we are in reality a new creation that has been awakened with a new nature and desire. This gives us authority (with wisdom and love) to rebuke the sin and folly not only in our own self, but afterwards to our fellow brothers and sisters. Sometimes, we must also be willing to rebuke the people of the word so that the Word of God may take effect in their heart.

It seems offensive, and too estranged from popular thinking. It is not supposed to seem offensive…because it actually is offensive, but this is godly living and we must accept the fact that we will have to do somethings that will bring offense to those who might hear us with a closed heart. In John 7:24 (ESV), Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” God discourages all kinds of superficial, harsh, false, and unforgiving judgement. He doesn’t want to see the wrong kind of judgement, but a judgement that would benefit His kingdom and the Church.

Paul speaks of how judgement is to be exercised in Galatians 6:1 (ESV) saying, “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.” If we are faced with a moment where we have to exercise biblical judgement, we should not cowardly run, but rather we are to examine yourself. If you have been proven to be true, then you must (with all gentleness and patience) address the one who sinned and lead them back to the truth. While the world screams “don’t judge”, and call for people to wallow in sin, you must stand firm with the truth of Matthew 7:1 in hand. Be ready to say truths that might be considered hateful, offensive, and bigoted to the secular world (even when you practice gentleness), but know that this is pleasing to God and will not be left unrewarded by Him.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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