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Considering Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:1-6, some may say Christians hypocritically judge when they condemn certain forms of behavior. But Jesus’ remarks actually condemn hypocritical judgment, not all forms of judgment.

He does not condemn the act of making accurate and righteous judgments against those who disobey his gospel. In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches that he wants the hearts of those who desire to follow him. The basic message in Matt. 7:1-6 is that as Kingdom-citizens, Christ-followers should not hypocritically judge others.

Exposition of Matt. 7:1-6

Do not judge (7:1): This verse is one of the many misinterpreted verses in the Sermon on the Mount. Many interpreters assert that Jesus forbids all forms of judgment since he says “do not judge.” However, I think this is incorrect for four reasons. (1) Jesus himself judges in the gospel of Matthew. (2) The entire Sermon on the Mount is judgmental. Jesus identifies the scribes and the Pharisees as hypocrites outside of the kingdom of heaven (5:20; 23:1).

(3)There are also numerous places in the NT where Christians are commanded to judge other people. For example, In 1 Cor. 5:5, Paul commands the Corinthians to judge the immoral brother within their midst by excommunicating him from the church: “Hand this person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (4) In Matt. 7:5, Jesus uses the word hypocrite. Thus, Jesus is not forbidding all forms of judgment.

Instead, he is forbidding hypocritical judgment that flows from disobedient hearts that don’t love him. He is forbidding the kind of judgment that comes from those who practice the same things they condemn (see also Rom 2:1).

  1. What judgment (7:1)? Since Jesus states in 5:20 that the scribes and the Pharisees will not enter the kingdom of heaven and since he states in 7:21-27 that some will stand before him in judgment and be turned away from heaven, judgment in 7:1 possibly has a eschatological meaning (cf. Luke 6:37—adds the verb to pass a sentence upon). If so, Jesus is forbidding us from hypocritically pronouncing a verdict of condemnation upon people because only God himself is able to pronounce that kind of judgment; God knows our hearts (e.g. 7:21-27).

Jesus is condemning judgment that flows from spiritually dead hearts. Therefore, in v. 2, he warns us not to judge hypocritically because we will be subject to a harsher judgment from God at the end of history in comparison to our harsh hypocritical judgment of others in this age.

A series of questions (7:3-4): In vv. 3-4, Jesus poses a series of questions to emphasize the sin of hypocritical judgment. He uses the words speck and beam to talk about the sin in the hearts of those who hypocritically judge. This is supported by Matt. 6:22-23 when Jesus says that the lamp of the body is the eye, and that when the eye is evil, the entire body is evil. Eye in 7:3-4 is another way of talking about one’s heart. Jesus wants our hearts (the seat of the emotions). Jesus asks:

Question 1 (7:3): Why do you see the speck (small piece of straw) in your brother’s eye, but not the beam (large piece of timber) in your own eye?

Question 2 (7:4): Why do you say to your brother: allow me that I would cast out the speck from your eye, and behold there is a beam in your eye?

Jesus’ Response (7:5): Jesus responds by saying when you judge people for their sins while your hearts are evil and are not submitted to him, you are acting hypocritically: “Hypocrite, cast out first from your eye the beam, and then you will see to cast out the speck from the eye of your brother.”

Jesus’ statement in Matt. 7:5 recalls his earlier remarks in Matt. 6:33 when he says: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” When Jesus says cast out first the beam in your eye, he means give him your heart/repent/turn from your sin and then your spiritual eyes will be able to see clearly the sin in the lives of others. Christians have no spiritual right to point out the sins of others if we refuse to acknowledge our own sins before God. Jesus once again is saying that he wants our hearts!

On the other hand, the Pharisees and scribes hypocritically judged others for disobeying the Law and, yet they did not obey the Law themselves. If our hearts belong to Jesus, we don’t criticize gossipers while we ourselves gossip. We don’t condemn liars when we ourselves lie. Rather, we repent, and then we help people see they should repent of their sins.

Yes, Christians have a moral responsibility to judge evil and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only gospel that saves sinners. But we must give our hearts to Jesus before we offer any moral evaluation of this world. It’s hypocritical of so-called Christians to condemn sinners while yet refusing to repent of our own sins.  

In summary, Matt. 7:1-6 Jesus tells Christ-followers not to be hypocritical, and that we should wisely preach the gospel. We should not morally evaluate people, unless we follow Jesus in faithful obedience.

Jesus is telling his disciples in Matt. 7:1-6 to judge with the kind of spiritual discernment that flows from broken, repentant, and transformed hearts transformed by and yielded to King Jesus.

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