Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:1–2

Matthew 7:1–2
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

What did Jesus mean?

Judgment is a normal and necessary function of any society. Too little judgment can bring big problems. As of March 2010, India had a backlog of 31 million court cases that would require 320 years to clear![1] One serious criminal case in India that involved the death of more people than the 9/11 attacks in the US took 26 years to go to trial.

In spite of such ridiculous situations, Christians have somehow understood Jesus to say that they should never make judgments about others at all. How then do we expect unbelievers to make a judgment about Jesus? How will we make judgments about who has not believed?

New Testament scholar David Turner rightly says, “Matthew 7:1 is certainly one of the most misquoted verses in the [New Testament].”[2] It will take several steps to clarify the verse and correct the misunderstanding.

First, the Greek word translated judge means, “to pass judgment upon (and thereby seek to influence) the lives and actions of other people.”[3] The word itself is neither positive nor negative; individual judgments may be wise or foolish, fair or extreme.

Second, it is sensible to consider the context of the Sermon on the Mount in the ministry of Jesus. Remember that Jesus has been preaching throughout Galilee: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). Those who have gathered to hear him are either his disciples — presumably people who have repented — or they are the curious, who may yet repent. Whatever the makeup of the crowd, a message of repentance provokes defensiveness on the part of the uncommitted and possible arrogance on the part of those who have already crossed the line to Jesus. Even among self-proclaimed disciples of Jesus there can be disputes about whether some have repented enough; that remains a hot topic to this very day!

Jesus does not want his message or his disciples sidetracked over petty squabbles created by personal judgments. What then does Jesus mean when he says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (7:1)?

Once again, David Turner hits the mark when he says that discipleship inevitably requires discerning judgments about people and their teaching (e.g., 3:7; 5:20; 6:24; 7:6, 16, 20; 10:13–17; 18:15–20).[4] Further, Jesus himself makes such judgments (e.g., 4:10; 6:2, 5, 16; 7:21–23; 8:10–12; 13:10–13; 15:14; 23:1–7). What Jesus condemns is the critical judgmentalism that analyzes others without even a moment’s thought about oneself. That concept will be explained in the next post.

Verse 7:2 informs us that God will evaluate us with the same standard we use for others! That is a tremendous incentive to judge with a measure of grace and forbearance. Verse 7:1 informs us that the way to avoid harsh judgment by God is to avoid being merciless and harsh in our judgments of others. Christian interpersonal judgments must be constructive and gracious since our Lord commands us to love even our enemies.

Making fair judgments

All of us routinely make judgments about people. We do it instinctively when we look for a “good” doctor, a “dependable” babysitter or a “reliable” auto mechanic. Parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth. In fact, I am making a judgment about you by saying that you do these things, even though I may not know you. I hope you do not decide I am being unfair, because then you will be making a judgment about me!

You and I are going to be evaluated by others for the rest of our lives. There is no avoiding it. What we can do is make sure our own judgments stand the test of scrutiny by Jesus himself!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] “Courts will take 320 years to clear backlog cases,” The Times of India. 21 June 2010. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Courts-will-take-320-years-to-clear-backlog-cases-Justice-Rao/articleshow/5651782.cms>

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 205.

[3] BDAG-3, krin?, judge, q.v.

[4] Turner, Matthew, 205.

 

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!