“Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1
I read that John 3:16 was the most familiar Bible verse for decades, but that in recent years Matthew 7:1 has become the most oft quoted verse in America. If you can believe that survey, I believe it’s because our pluralistic, morally relativistic culture loves to cite that verse to tell anyone who might try to correct their immoral behaviors to, “Back off because Jesus said so.”
However, this verse is a classic example on the importance of interpreting the Bible in context. If you read the next verses Jesus reminds his hearers that they aren’t to be hypocrites who point out specks of sawdust in their brothers (or sisters) eyes when they have planks of wood in their own. Again, people celebrate that Jesus appears say, “Don’t judge others, because you’re not perfect either.”
But Jesus points us to the Gospel and tells us to not be hypocrites by judging others while we have unconfessed, unrepentant sin in our lives. He admonishes us to “first take the log out of your own eye.” That’s the Gospel. We need to deal with our sin first. That can only be done through the cross where Jesus died to pay the price for our sins.
After we’ve dealt with our sin Jesus says, “Then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Did you catch that? The aim is to help your brother or sister get the annoying, irritating, painful, possibly even dangerous speck out of his or her eye – NOT LEAVE IT IN THERE. The goal is to help a brother or sister in Christ when we see, or they reveal, that there’s a “speck” in their eye/life.
However, we’re to examine our own hearts and lives first, to ensure that we’re wading into their situation (“walking toward their mess”) with a right heart and pure motives. Once we’ve done that, then we can trust the power of the Gospel that has cleansed and purified us to accomplish that same work in the heart and lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
One last thing, this truth isn’t for the faint of heart or the spiritually immature. That’s why Jesus adds, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Most people don’t like to be confronted with the truth about sin in their lives. Jesus knew that. That’s why these verses are primarily for believers living in biblical, gospel-centered community. When we love and care for one another, in community, then we can approach these truths under the umbrella of grace, mercy, and love.
Confronting people without self-examination, confession, and personal repentance only sets us up to be called judgmental and condemning. If you approach sin in people’s lives, particularly unbelievers, without the important step of Gospel cleansing through self-examination and personal repentance, then you’re going to lose your pearls AND get attacked to boot!