Misuse of Matthew 7:1
Aside from John 3:16, Matthew 7:1 gets quoted a lot by people from all walks of life. It’s not just the religious people; all people use this verse as a way of deflating a situation.
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Does this mean that we can’t judge an individual? A known celebrity once uttered the phrase, “Only God can judge me.” However, that phrase, in itself, is a judgement. Now that’s irony!
Out of Context
We make judgments all the time when we meet someone. We looked at the way they’re dressed, their behavior, their mannerisms, how they talk, etc. However, people say that we can’t do this and that we should tolerate their decisions. You’ve heard women say, “My body, My choice” as a support to abortion. But that is a judgment also.
Essentially what people are saying is, “Leave me alone, I have a right to live my life the way I want to and you can’t say or do anything to change that.” Again, that is also a judgment. So, you see, you can’t escape making judgments toward anyone.
In regards to the statement, Only God can judge me; Yes, He will judge you in the final day as stated in Hebrews 9:27, And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. This is the judgment every mortal will face in the final day; the decision that will place you in eternal rest or eternal torment (Mt. 25:46).
If you look at the passage that includes verse 1; by they way, this is part of what is known as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus says more than ‘judge not’. Let’s look at the first 5 verses of chapter 7…
“Judge not, that you be not judged. "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
What Jesus is saying is don’t pass a condemning judgment on an individual by the way he looks or talks. We sometimes see ourselves as better than those around us; giving the false authority to judge others. However, if we look at our own lives, we’ll see that we are no better than that individual we judged; especially in the eyes of God.
In John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” In other words, you need to get to know a person before passing judgment on someone.
Here’s an example, suppose you’re at the local church building and a man walks in wearing clothes that are stained and full of holes. He asks to speak to the preacher. Those in the foyer might immediately pass judgment saying that this is a “street person” who’s looking for money or food. When, in reality, he was either wondering when services began or wanted to know the location of the nearest gas station as his car broke down (hence, the stains). Those in the foyer should have asked his intentions without drawing unnecessary conclusions.
Another example is when the apostle Paul passed judgment on Peter in Galatians 2:11, Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed. Can you imagine what Peter’s reaction would have been if we used the out of context version of Matthew 7:1? Peter might say something like, “You can’t judge me, I was one of the original Twelve! I was with Jesus during the transfiguration, I was part of the ‘inner circle with the Sons of Zebedee.” And so on.
In truth, Paul had a right to judge Peter because he was in the wrong; see verses 12-14. And we know that Peter accepted this judgment the way it was meant because in in 2 Pet. 3:15, he referred to Paul as a ‘beloved brother’. Had he taken offense to Paul’s judgment, he wouldn’t have cited him as a brother but more of a meddler.
Judgment of others is something we do every single day whether we think we do or not. We are judged by others as well; whether righteously or not. We need to remember not to condemn any individual until we fully understand the situation they are in.
Finally remember what Jesus said in Matthew 12:36-37, "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."