In my opinion, the most quoted and misquoted verses in the Bible are Matthew 7:1,2 where Jesus instructed, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged.” (New American Standard Bible) In Western culture, many distort Jesus’ words to mean, “Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. That way we can both sin to our heart’s content!”

Question: Is Jesus telling us to never judge? Don’t think so, for it is impossible to live and never make moral judgments. When we take into consideration accompanying statements Jesus made about judging, it is clear that he is telling us to make sure that our judging is done in such a way that we do not sin in the process. Let us note the following.

Not all judging is wrong. The word “judge” used by Jesus has two basic meanings. The first carries with it the idea of “analyzing, evaluating, deciding.” The second means “to condemn, find fault, harshly criticize, act judgmentally.”

It is this second meaning that Jesus condemns. He makes it perfectly clear that while we are not to be judgmental in our attitude and behavior, neither are we to be gullible. There is room in the Christian life for us to make judgment calls as well as properly confront sin when we see it.

A study of this entire chapter of Matthew unquestionably bears this out. We are to evaluate our own sin prior to confronting sin in others (v5). We are to not waste time and energy sharing the gospel with avowed, closed-minded enemies of the cross. We are to move on to more receptive people. That is a judgment call! (v6) We can follow one of two ways in life. Christ encourages us to choose the right one but to do that we must judge between the two (vv13,14). Not everything we hear is true. Not everyone who claims to speak for God does. We must discern (judge) what and who is (vv15-22). It is clear Jesus is not condemning all judgment. He is prohibiting harsh, censorious, fault-finding judgment of other people.

Note the literary device Matthew uses to express Jesus’ statement.

A — Speck of sawdust in brother’s eye (vv3,4)

B — Two by four in own eye (v3,4)

C — First, take out… (v5)

B— Two by four in own eye (v5)

A— Speck of dust in brother’s eye (v5)

The main point of Jesus’ statement is C — “Take out.” It is neither the speck of sawdust nor the two by four. It is to take the two by four out of our own eye so that we can help remove the sawdust from the eye of our brother!

There is room in the Christian life for evaluation and judgment. We should love our fellowman too much to allow him to continue unconfronted down a pathway of error and sin, but we must make sure we do so in a proper, considerate, Christian way. We need to ever keep in mind that the purpose of Christian judgment is not that of harm or injury or telling someone off, but that of healing and restoration.

We must ever remember that God alone can read the heart and know all motives. He alone understands all circumstances; therefore, final judgment is his and his alone!

W. Jonathan Payne is a retired pastor in The Wesleyan Church who lives in Greenwood. He may be reached at jonandmary@centurylink.net or at 341-6794.