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Judge Not! (1)

In our day, there is a very popular, but terribly wrong, interpretation of Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” This means, many say, that absolutely all judging is wrong. You must not judge religions or churches or doctrines or people or principles. For did not Jesus say, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”? According to this view, one cannot say that pagan religions are idolatrous (Ex. 20:3; I Cor. 10:20), abortion is murder (Ex. 20:13; Ps. 139:13-16), free will is false doctrine (John 6:65; Rom. 3:11) or homosexuality is an abomination (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:26-27). “Judge not, that ye be not judged”! In fact, the only thing that is wrong is judging that various things and people are wrong, and the greatest virtue is tolerance of everything. “I’m OK and you’re OK!” There are no absolute standards, everything is relative and only judging is forbidden. In fact, judging is sin—if there is such a thing as sin any more!

This view and this interpretation of Matthew 7:1 is foolish and logically contradictory. If all judging is forbidden, then it is also forbidden to judge someone for judging! After all, judging someone for judging is also forbidden by this (false) interpretation of Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”!

Moreover, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7)—in which this text is found—requires judging. Consider our Saviour’s words in Matthew 5. He condemns murder and even being angry with one’s brother without a cause (21-26); adultery, even looking on a woman to lust after her (27-30); divorce, except for fornication (31-32); and various sorts of sinful swearing (33-37).

Judging is also required in order to obey Christ’s instruction in Matthew 6 concerning alms or charitable deeds (1-4), praying (5-15) and fasting (16-18), for one must not do these things, like the Pharisees, in order to be seen. The Lord Jesus judges the following as sinful behaviour: laying up for ourselves treasures on earth (19), trying to serve God and money (24), and worrying about our earthly needs (25-34).

Matthew 7 is similar. In order to obey Christ’s prohibition of casting our pearls before swine, we need to recognize the people whom He characterizes here as “dogs” and “swine” (6). And how can we heed Jesus’ warning against false prophets, if we are not to judge them by their fruits, as He requires (15-20)?

There are many other situations in which (proper) judgment is required. I Corinthians 6:2-3 tells us that, at the last day, believers will judge the ungodly world and angels. From this, Paul encourages the saints in the church to judge rightly now (1, 4-5). Obviously Christ’s word, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” does not forbid this.

Magistrates are called to judge in civil affairs. A murderer is arraigned before the court or a thief is brought to trial. It will not do for someone to stand up in the gallery and shout, “Judge not, m’lord!” appealing to the false view of Matthew 7:1!

Parents, too, must judge. Was their son’s or daughter’s behaviour sinful (according to the principles of the Word of God)? What is the most appropriate form of loving discipline in this case? Verbal admonition? Or does it warrant physical chastisement?

Church consistories or sessions are also called upon to judge righteous judgment. A member goes the way of Matthew 18:15-20 with another member. Sadly, the brother does not repent after being frequently admonished. So the matter is brought to the elders, according to the procedure laid out in the Church Order.

Congregations are called to judge church leaders biblically. The church at Ephesus was commended by Christ for condemning false apostles (Rev. 2:2). The congregation at Thyatira was rebuked by the Saviour for tolerating a Jezebel who taught and seduced the saints (20).

Each believer is commanded to judge himself or herself according to the Scriptures, as I Corinthians 11:28 commands, “But let a man examine himself ...” This is especially our calling as we prepare for the Lord’s Supper, as the context in I Corinthians 11 shows (Belgic Confession 35; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 81).

In fact, the child of God is commanded by his heavenly Father to judge in various capacities and ways. The believer is, after all, a prophet, priest and king. As kings, we must judge, exercising righteous judgment in conformity with the mind of Christ, as revealed in Scripture.

Martin Luther famously declared, near the start of The Bondage of the Will, his celebrated rebuttal of the humanist Erasmus, that a professing Christian must judge (in accordance with biblical standards) or else he reveals that he is not a believer. “To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. Now, lest we be misled by words, let me say here that by ‘assertion’ I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished ... And I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures ... Take away assertions and you take away Christianity. Why, the Holy Spirit is given to Christians from heaven in order that He may glorify Christ and in them confess Him even unto death—and is this not assertion, to die for what you confess and assert?” Then Luther asks Erasmus (and all modern, politically-correct sceptics), “What is this new-fangled religion of yours, this novel sort of humility, that ... you would take from us power to judge men’s decisions and make us defer uncritically to human authority? Where does God’s written Word tell us to do that?” Where indeed!

The Christian judges according to his position or station in life (e.g., parent, magistrate or elder), taking due cognizance of the facts (on both sides), with mercy (allowing for mitigating circumstances), in love (for the Triune God, for His truth and for his neighbour), in humility (as a servant not a lord) and according to scriptural principles.

Next time, Lord willing, we shall consider the (sinful) judging that our Lord forbids and in which we must not engage. 

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 7
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001

Website: www.cprf.co.uk/

Contact Details

  • Address
    7 Lislunnan Road
  • City
    Ballymena
  • State or Province
    Co.Antrim
  • Zip Code
    BT42 3NR
  • Country
    Ireland
  • Telephone
    (01144) 28 25 891851

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