Bible Q&A: Please Explain Matthew 7:1-6

Please explain Matthew 7:1-6.  Does Jesus not want us to judge others?  What does verse 6 mean?  I don’t understand what He’s saying.

Here’s the passage under consideration:

Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
3 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?
4 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?
5 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.
6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Verse 1 is probably the most misunderstood and misapplied passage in the New Testament, perhaps in the entire Bible.  It’s commonly quoted by those who are being corrected for wrongdoing as a way to get the focus off of them and onto the person who is pointing out their misdeeds.  “Why are you telling me that I am wrong?  You’re judging me, you know…and Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’  So you’re the one who is doing wrong, not me!!”  What I can’t help but notice is that by telling the person that they’re “wrong” for judging you, you are basically judging them…and thus are doing the exact same thing.  In fact, by simply making that observation I myself have just made a judgment, the judgment that inconsistency and hypocrisy is taking place.

In reality, it is impossible to avoid making judgments about others.  Think about it.  If you are at McDonald’s and your order comes out rather quickly and the burger is cooked well and the fries are hot, resulting in you being pleased with the service and commenting, “This is a really good meal,” then you’ve just made a judgment about the restaurant and the workers who made your food.  If it took twenty minutes for them to complete your order and the hamburger is burned and the fries are cold, resulting in you telling the manager…or even yourself in your head, “The service and food here are terrible,” you’ve just made a judgment about the restaurant and the workers who made your food.  If you are an employer, making judgments about your employees is essential to the job.  If you are a Christian, making judgments about those with whom you share the gospel — namely, if their descriptions of themselves and their religious backgrounds, when compared with New Testament teaching, indicate whether they are lost and in need of salvation — is likewise essential.  In like manner, if you are a Christian and one of your brethren is “caught in any transgression” (Gal. 6:1a), making that judgment call that they are in fact caught in a transgression is essential if you are to obey the command given to you as a spiritual person to “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1b) and, if he refuses to repent, “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13b).  Scripture even commands Christians to judge “those inside the church” with regards to church discipline (1 Cor. 5:12).

In fact, Jesus — the same One who said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) — also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).  Therefore, “Judge not, that you be not judged” must not be meant as a prohibition against all judgments whatsoever, since Jesus wants us to “judge with right judgment.”  With that in mind, let us examine Matthew 7:2:  “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”  This sheds light on the meaning of “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).  Rather than prohibiting all judgments, Jesus is teaching us to be very careful about the kinds of judgments we make because in the end those same kind of judgments will be made about us.

This is very true when you think about it.  Consider the person you know — it may even be yourself — who holds their family members, friends, and/or co-workers to unreasonable standards and makes incorrect and hypocritical judgments about others all the time.  How do the people around that person end up feeling about him?  They end up despising him and not wanting anything to do with him…and with that comes the inevitable result of them giving him unreasonable standards and assuming the worst about him, even if in that particular instance he was innocent.  “Bob?  Yeah, he’s the worst.  Nothing I ever say or do is good enough for him.  He is always finding fault with every little thing I do.  If something goes wrong at the office, he always assumes it’s my fault.  What, we didn’t get the Michelin deal that he was working on?  They went with someone else?  Well, I’m not surprised because Bob was in charge of that.  I bet he’s the reason we didn’t get the deal.  He’s a horrible person.  I feel sorry for his wife and kids.  I bet he’s a terrible husband and father.”

Matthew 7:3-5 elaborates on the lesson of verses 1-2 that we should be very careful about the kind of judgments we make.  In this passage, Jesus figuratively talks about us seeing “the speck that is in your brother’s eye” but failing to notice “the log that is in your own eye.”  He asks how we can “say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye.'”  In other words, Jesus is condemning focusing on the faults of others when we ourselves are unrepentantly guilty of either the exact same fault or something similar which is far worse.  That’s why in verse 5 He calls us a “hypocrite” and directs us to “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.”  In other words, we must repent of our own wrongdoing first, and by doing so we will be in a much better position to help our brother who has either the same or similar fault to overcome it.

Think of the person who (correctly) finds fault with something you said or did that was wrong…all while doing the exact same thing, or something similar which is far worse, themselves.  When they tell you that you are wrong, what goes through your mind?  It’s likely this:  “Who are YOU to tell ME that I’m wrong?!  You hypocrite, you do THE EXACT SAME THING…except you do it even more than I do!!”  Notice that you’re not even focused on the fact that what you are doing is in fact wrong and you should repent.  Instead, all you are focused on is their hypocrisy.  They are judging you hypocritically, and so their hypocrisy is all you are focused on…exactly what Matthew 7:2 warned about.

However, think of the person who comes up to you with love and gentleness and says, “Hey man, I want to tell you something.  You know what you said/did back there?  Well, I’ve struggled with that myself.  It took me a long time to be able to stop doing that.  In fact, there are times when I mess up and still do it sometimes out of weakness.  Only by God’s grace and mercy have I been able to make the progress that I’ve made in overcoming it, but I’m really glad He helped me because I’ve found that my life has been so much better now that I don’t do that nearly as much anymore.  I’m telling you this because, well, you know you shouldn’t have done that, right?  Yeah, but I also want you to know that I’m here for you, I don’t think I’m better than you, and I understand because I’ve had the same problem.  I’m praying for you and, if you want, I can help you overcome it by sharing with you what has helped me do better in this.”  Are you more likely to give honest consideration to someone like that?  If you have an open and honest heart, you would (Lk. 8:15).  The stumbling block of focusing on the other person’s hypocrisy is not there in a case like this.  That’s why Jesus wants us to work really hard to make sure that we are not unrepentantly doing the exact same thing that we find fault with others.

Now we come to verse 6.  This is talking about people who are foolishly close-minded to their own mistakes and misdeeds.  They don’t want help overcoming their weaknesses and sins.  They don’t like to think of themselves as being wrong at all about anything at any time.  They are the fools Solomon repeatedly condemns in the Old Testament (Prov. 1:7; 12:1, 15; 15:5; 17:10; 18:2, 13; 28:26).  You could have “taken the log out of your own eye” first before approaching them about “the speck in their eye,” but that won’t matter to them.  They don’t want anyone to tell them that they’re wrong about anything, and so they’ll “turn to attack you” (Matt. 7:6; cf. Prov. 12:16; 14:9, 16).  Biblical instruction about what is right and wrong in the sight of God (“what is holy” and the “pearls” of Matthew 7:6) does not matter to them at all, which is why they are figuratively called “dogs” and “pigs.”  When you show them what God’s will is in Scripture, they will take “what is holy” and “trample them underfoot.”  Thus, when you realize that you are dealing with such a person, Jesus instructs you to not waste your time with them in Matthew 7:6.

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