Not long ago, I had to confront a dear friend. It was not fun or comfortable. I would have rather not have done it. I tried to lovingly express my concern to him. The immediate response was: “Well, who are YOU to judge? Yeshua said it Himself: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Well, there wasn’t a scripture reference hanging in the air next his words, but I knew which passage he was referring to.
But was Yeshua saying that we are to never say anything critical about other people’s actions? This is how many interpret it. And many people use that interpretation, so they can go on living peacefully with their sinful behavior or actions.
It’s actually funny, because asking “Who are you to judge?” is, in and of itself, a judgmental statement. It’s basically saying, “You are wrong to judge.” I have never thought to respond, who are you to judge my judging!
Also, what would congregations look like if nobody rebuked anyone for their sin out of fear of judging? So, what did Yeshua actually mean when He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
A Ground Rule for Interpretation
As I’ve learned through my own mistakes, the misinterpretation of Scriptures is almost always connected to ignoring the context of the verse. Where and when was this said? Why and to whom was this said? Answering these basic questions will enable us to understand the true meaning of this passage.
Where and When?
“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” (Matthew 5:1)
Yeshua is sitting on a mountain. His disciples are there with Him, bracing themselves to hear God speak, getting ready for some “quality time” with their Lord. They understand that every word that’s going to come out of His mouth is a “word of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Can you imagine that? Being there, listening for the first time to what is probably the most famous sermon in the history—the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 5:1 gives us a picture of intimacy, “His disciples came to Him.”
That’s not to say that the Sermon on the Mount was meant only for the disciples, but that Yeshua wanted them to hear these words as clearly as possible, because He entrusted these truths to His disciples to pass them on. This was a time when the Jews were oppressed, by both the religious and political leaders. The disciples were probably preparing themselves to hear Yeshua’s plan on how to turn the situation upside down and how He was going to overthrow both the religious and political systems. Oh, how wrong they were.
Why and to Whom
As the disciples found out, Yeshua didn’t lay out a plan on how to destroy and expel all the different leaders whom they believed were oppressing them, but He rather showed them Kingdom values that would destroy what’s really oppressing them—their own fallen and corrupted perception of life. Throughout the Scriptures, Yeshua constantly rebukes the Pharisees for hypocrisy, addressing a specific corrupted and fallen perception of life—the thought that God accepts works of worship when the heart is not clean.
Now let’s get back to Matthew 7, but this time we’ll read it with context:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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? 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 7:1-5)
As you can see, Yeshua’s issue was not the act of expressing moral concern for a brother or sister, but rather expressing that concern with a heart full of pride or when you are doing the same things or worse. He wasn’t saying that we are never to tell someone that their sin is wrong! Instead, He was instructing them to tell them their sin was wrong, but in humility, after they had recognized and addressed their own shortcomings.
Notice that Yeshua even calls us to be active about it:
“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)
He tells them to judge, but only after the “log” had been removed from their own eye. Yeshua’s problem wasn’t the act of judging someone for their sin, but rather the hypocrisy behind the act. Yeshua always addressed the heart.
The Right Attitude
We are called to speak hard truths to others, but it must be with a heart full of humility and love towards the other person and after we have dealt with our own sin. Why is that? The end result we want is “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24), and to push one another further into holiness and a truly blessed walk with God. Isn’t that what we all want? Or, at least, what we should want as children of God?
I want to surround myself with people who can judge me according to God’s word and help me be a godly man. I don’t want the right to judge, I want the right heart to judge rightly. Paul said it perfectly:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”(Galatians 6:1)
May we be blessed with the Lord’s heart.
Michael Elady serves full time with Messiah’s Mandate, helping to oversee Nes v’Cafe, a Hebrew-speaking fellowship in Tel Aviv.