This is another installment in our Coffee Cup Doctrine series, a look at popular verses referenced in the American Christian culture that are typically used apart from their scriptural context. You can read the introduction to the series here, and you can find other blogs in the series by typing “Coffee Cup Doctrine” into the search bar at afa.net/the-stand/#.
So far in our Coffee Cup Doctrine series, we have examined some favorite verses commonly found on Christian T-shirts, coffee cups, and memes. But there are verses that the American culture, in general, has adopted and loves to use, as well. One such verse is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Coffee cup commentary
We live in a world where people feel the right to set their own standards. They take this belief so far that they convince themselves there is no such thing as absolute truth. What may be right or wrong for you may not be the same for me.
So who am I to judge you?
Who are you to judge me?
I can live my life my way on my terms.
In application, I can choose to eat a 24-ounce Porterhouse every morning for breakfast if I want. No one has the right to tell me otherwise, regardless of the fact heart disease runs in my family. You don't have the right to judge my eating.
But it also applies to so much more. According to the satirical website Babylon Bee, a woman in Florida was on trial for murdering her husband. Her response from the stand, “In the words of Jesus, ‘Judge not.’” The jury reached a unanimous decision of “not guilty” on all charges in less than 10 minutes.
By the way, the Babylon Bee is as “real” as the “Coffee Cup Commentary” in this entire series. It’s all made up to illustrate a point.
Matthew 7 falls in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He has just finished teaching His listeners how to pray, fast, and live the Christian life.
Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount and felt as though all of these passages are only loosely connected, similar to the way Proverbs is written?
There are several threads running through the sermon from beginning to end, but one such thread is Jesus’ aim at the hearts of His hearers. He reveals their inner condition; He diagnoses their unknown disease.
When Jesus teaches how to fast, He points out that people fast incorrectly. When Jesus says to not be anxious, He reveals that we all deal with worry and a lack of faith. When Jesus says to not judge, He reveals that we all unjustly judge those we know (and those we do not know).
John Calvin, in his commentary titled A Harmony of the Gospels, says, “The words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears natural to us all.”
The bigger point Jesus is making in this passage is not one about judging but one about hypocrisy. Do not judge someone as sinning when you are enslaved to the exact same sin. First, deal with the sin in your life and then lovingly, gracefully, and compassionately “take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Jesus did not end this idea whimsically. This is a command. He commands us to take the log out of our own eye first then follows with another command to take the speck out of our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
What we miss
Some parts of the Christian life are easy and pleasant. We have a heavenly Father who delights in hearing our prayers. We get to read the Book He authored, revealing Himself to us. We get to fellowship with other believers.
But then there are parts of the Christian life filled with responsibility, many of which are not easy or enjoyable. Judging is one such responsibility. This does not mean Christians are to examine the lives of those around them through the lens of their own self-righteousness, searching for any and every flaw.
It is quite the opposite. The New Testament authors wrote their letters with the assumption Christians were involved in deep, sincere, intimate fellowship. It was an assumed truth they were so involved in one another’s lives that if someone were committing a grievous sin brothers and sisters in the faith would know about it.
For such sin, Jesus explains what to do in Matthew 18:15-18: Confront the brother or sister in Christ one-on-one first. If there is no repentance, bring a small group of wise believers. If there is still no repentance, bring that person before the church. If those steps are taken and there is still no repentance, Jesus says, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17b).
Jesus’ procedure is meant to take time. It is meant to be covered in prayer. It is meant to ensure you aren’t judging someone based on miscommunication, misunderstandings, or hurt feelings. Can Christians still get it wrong? Yes. Is it less likely that they will? Yes.
But James gives us a sense of what is at stake and why we have the responsibility to call out sin in our spiritual family. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
We do not judge because we are better, more righteous, or stand on a pedestal. We do so for two reasons. The first and foremost to honor the God we serve. Those who wear the banner Christian (literally meaning “Little Christ”), publically proclaim they belong to God. If they misrepresent Jesus to the world, we do not have the privilege of remaining silent. Rather, we have the responsibility to call them to repentance for the sake of Christ’s name.
The second reason is out of concern for the soul of our brothers and sisters. It should be a painful, remorseful experience. If there is ever a moment where we begin to relish in it, we must repent and remove the plank of pride in our eye before we can help remove the speck from our brother’s eye.
But remove planks we must.