Out of Context: Matthew 7:1 – Judge Not

In our next installment of Out of Context, we are going to examine what some have deemed to be the trump card to any rebuke, Matthew 7:1.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Plank-in-eyeMany people use this verse as a blanket to protect themselves from any moral correction. I’ve even had it quoted to me multiple times to make me stop talking about sin. “Ah but Jesus says, ‘Don’t judge.’ You’re sounding really judgy right now.”

This interpretation gives the impression that no sin can be pointed out—that we’re above or outside moral accountability. We’ve even created a title for someone who does not follow this verse very well—they are “judgmental,” like the angry adults from Footloose who wouldn’t let Kevin Bacon just dance.

Is this true? Are Christians not allowed to call out someone else’s sins?

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the context to Matthew 7:1.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

We find this passage in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus used this famous sermon to overturn the traditional ideas of the Law—that it’s all about external behavior—and to show the people that it’s really all about the heart. God cares more about the heart than the outward appearance of righteousness. Those who focus only on appearing righteous, they’re deemed hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16; 7:5).

Which brings us to Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.” Normally we just stop there and wave it in the faces of our accusers. But Jesus doesn’t stop at the first two words. He continues to explain His point, “That you be not judged.” He shows the reason we shouldn’t judgenot because it’s bad but because we will be judged too.

So judgement is reciprocated with judgement. How is this boomerang judgment done? “With the measure you use” (7:2). If we judge someone else’s sins, we’ll be judged by the same standard.

Who will judge the judger? He doesn’t indicate that it will be another person. The implication is that the judger will be judged by God. If you’ve been judging others by a different standard than you judge yourself, then you’re in big trouble.

Jesus then uses a fairly humorous illustration to drive His point home. He says the person who judges with different standards is like a person with a log in their eye who’s trying to take a speck out of someone else’s. Kind of ridiculous right? If you have a 2×4 sticking out of your cornea, you’re probably not in the best place to help get a small piece of dust out of your neighbor’s eye. You should probably go to a hospital.

Jesus ends, indicating who He’s talking to, “You hypocrite”—the person who says one thing and does another, the person only focused on appearing righteous. He commands that the hypocrite first remove the log out of their eye. This will enable them to take the speck out of their brother’s eye. It’s important to notice that He doesn’t forbid them from removing the speck. He just wants it done in the correct order.

THE IMPLICATIONS

So what does this all come down to? It shows that Jesus is less focused on “judging” and more focused on the heart.

A hypocrite calls out someone’s sin when they haven’t dealt with their own. The hypocrite thinks they’re more holy and above everyone else. They look down on others because of their sin. They think they’re always right and everyone else is always wrong. They commit the same sins they’re condemning in others. They may even celebrate the downfall and sin of others. They don’t realize that the same Bible is judging them too.

Does this passage forbid judging sin? No. He still wants the speck out of the person’s eye. Also, if you look at the following verse, 7:6, it says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.” Jesus is speaking metaphorically here of those who do not value or treasure the truth. How are we to determine who are dogs and pigs if we aren’t allowed to make a judgment call?

Instead, Jesus is giving the proper procedure to judge sin. Be humble. Deal with your junk first. Admit your sinfulness and your need for a savior. Repent. Know that you are no better than anyone else. If you do that, then you will be able to clearly see and help someone out of their sin with a heart of compassion, love, and grace.

The church should be a place where people are accountable for their sins. This is why Proverbs talks so much about how to give a rebuke and how to receive a rebuke. But we don’t do it with our own standards. We do it with the standard of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Sin is cancerous. If we truly love people, we will help keep them away from what will kill them.

A couple final caveats for judging.

1. We do not judge non-Christians. Paul writes, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). It’s not our place to call out the sins of the world. If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, how can we expect them to live like Him? The point is not to have a society full of moral people. The point is to get everyone saved. You get saved through faith in the Gospel, not morality. Living like Christ comes after being saved by Him. Instead, we’re to make sure that those who’ve been redeemed are living like redeemed people, starting with ourselves.

2. Our desire should always be restoration. Whenever sin is confronted, there should be the hope of repentance. This idea is echoed throughout Scripture, like Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We don’t gloat over someone else’s sins. We don’t celebrate anyone’s downfall. We don’t point out someone’s sin just to make ourselves feel better. If that’s your attitude, then you still have a log in your eye. Your desire should always be restoration with a gentle spirit.

3. Recognize your own sinfulness. You aren’t any more immune to sin than the person you’re helping restore. It could’ve easily been you who was caught in the affair, passed out drunk on the couch, addicted to pornography, filled with bitterness, or caught gossiping. Constantly check the mirror, look for logs, and pray that God would give you the grace to remove them.

Previous Out of Context posts:
Matthew 18:20 – Where two or more are gathered
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Him who strengthens me
How to take a verse out of context

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Out of Context: Matthew 18:20 – Where Two or More Are Gathered

carpool_sign_500To continue our series looking at commonly taken out of context verses, I wanted to take aim at one of the most famous of them all, Matthew 18:20.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Typically, I’ve heard it quoted in church services by pastors and worship leaders praying in front of the congregation: “Lord, thank you so much that You are here with us right now as we worship. Your Word says, ‘Where two or more are gathered, there I am also.’ We have at least three hundred here just to be safe, so we know for sure you’re here.” I’ve also heard it in small prayer meetings: “God we know you can hear our prayers right now because Sebastian and Helga are praying with me.”

It’s used as an encouragement to the others listening that God approves of their worship. We know something really extra-special and spiritual is going down because God is actually here with us.

I’m definitely not innocent in my use of this verse. This verse is so commonly used that it’s become another prayer-ism that people naturally say along with “Heavenly Father,” “Place a hedge of protection,” “Bless this food to our bodies” (Because you know, of course, nutrients only travel through your bloodstream if you pray—especially fast-food), and “In Jesus’ name.” Sometimes we don’t even think about it. We just say it.

This is a public service announcement to not take all our Christian-ese as given truth. We need to think through what we say and do in the Christian life, even if it’s been said or done by pastors, and see if what we’re doing is actually founded on the Bible. If it is, then that’s great! If not, then we need to reevaluate our spiritual habits.

(1 + 2 = God) is an equation we really don’t need.

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the context to Matthew 18:20. It’s a little long, but stick with me.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Jesus here is teaching His disciples how things are to work in His kingdom, in His church. He has just finished teaching the disciples about true greatness (18:1-6), how to fight sin (18:7-9), and God’s heart for the lost (18:10-14). Then in verse 15 (our context), Jesus transitions to talk about how we deal with others who sin against us. Justice is not found in taking matters into our own hands but in an orderly system of checks and balances, and in restoration. Jesus gives the disciples four steps to follow in such a situation.

1. Talk about it

Jesus tells His disciples that if they’ve been wronged by someone else in the church, first and foremost they are supposed to confront that person one-on-one (18:15). Not gossip. Not put passive-aggressive statuses on Facebook. Lovingly face-to-face. The goal in all of this is restoration and redemption.

2. Take one or two witnesses with you

If for some reason the perpetrator does not believe you or is not sorry for their sin, you must take one or two people to again confront them (18:16). This shows the person proof that the accusations are not the result of a grudge but in reality seen by multiple people. Jesus says, “every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16). Does that number sound familiar?

3. Have the leadership confront them

If the perpetrator again rejects your loving correction, Jesus says you and the witnesses are to bring it before the “church” (18:17). I don’t have time to explain it all, but I take this to mean the church leadership and not the entire congregation. Hopefully having all the pastors confront the person will make them see the severity of their sin.

4. Send them out of the church

If they still won’t repent, even after multiple confrontations, the church is to send the person out because they are willfully rebelling against God’s Word (18:17). They will bring others down if you don’t (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; Titus 3:10-11).

Then Jesus ends this sermonette with a reassurance, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (18:18-19). He’s saying, if you go through this process correctly then God agrees with you. This is encouraging because proper church discipline is not a fun deal for anyone.

As a part of His encouragement Jesus ends saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). Remember that number? It’s the same amount of witnesses needed to properly confront a person in sin. Jesus isn’t saying you need two or three people praying to Him to have Him present. Jesus is encouraging believers that if they go through this process of church discipline properly then He supports their decision.

It’s almost hilarious how different this is from the common misinterpretation of this verse.

IMPLICATIONS

So, is Jesus present when two or more gather in His name? Yes.

He is also present when only one gathers in His name. Or none. God is always with you (Psalm 139) and you can call out to Him at anytime or anyplace. He wants you to. He’s not waiting for a magical number of people to appear.

If that were the case, then what do you do if you have two people gathered but one secretly and nefariously has not gathered in Jesus’ name? Is fellowship broken? No.

Instead, we can come to Jesus at any time, knowing that He is ready and excited to hear from us.

Other Out of Context posts:
Philippians 4:13 – Can I do all things through Christ?
How to take a verse out of context

Out of Context: Philippians 4:13 – Can I do all things through Christ?

As a followup to my tutorial on how to take a verse out of context, I thought it would be beneficial to show and not just tell. I wanted to take a look at some of the most commonly taken out of context verses and place them back into their proper place. You’ll be able to see the implications of taking a verse out of its context and how it really does change the meaning.

Unfortunately for Christians, many of the favorite verses we quote are actually taken out of context. It’s usually not heresy, that takes some real skill, but what happens is we often take a belief that is consistent with American culture and force it into a verse (tip of the day: American doesn’t always equal Christian). I want to look at such an example today.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

This is a verse I’ve quoted to myself many times over the years. On the surface, the meaning seems pretty straightforward: “When insurmountable situations occur, I can rely on Christ’s strength to help me accomplish it.” Whenever I hit a hard test in school, I remember quoting this to myself (because I didn’t study) and it always gave me that extra boost of confidence for the test. In college, Tim Tebow used to wear this verse on his eye black during football games, carrying him to a national championship and Heisman trophy. I’ve heard of other believers using this verse to encourage themselves to ask that girl out, apply for that job, audition for American Idol, and countless other random things.

It’s the American dream with Jesus steroids.

The logic flows like this. Can Jesus do all things? Why, of course He can. He is God after all. If I’m saved, doesn’t Jesus live in me? Yes, right again. Then by the transitive property, I can do all things.

It sounds nice and I understand why people believe it, including myself years ago, but—and I hate being a wet blanket—this understanding of the verse is incorrect. It takes Philippians 4:13 out of its context.

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the immediate context of the verse:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Alright, let’s unpack this to discover the correct meaning.

To give you some background, Paul is writing from prison to the Philippians. Paul had a good relationship with the Christians in Philippi, so naturally they were concerned for their imprisoned pastor (4:10). The problem was that although the Philippians were worried for Paul, they had no opportunity to express that concern through more gifts (they had previously given Paul a gift, 4:18, but wished to do more). Paul, sensing their concern, sought to reassure the Philippians that he did not need another gift. He writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (4:11-12).

What Paul? Aren’t you in prison? How can you be content with that? It’s because he knows the secret to being content—and he reveals that secret in the next verse.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

THE IMPLICATIONS

Paul says, the secret to being content is Christ. In any situation, even if you are alone in a dark Roman prison, you can be content through Christ’s strength. That’s what Philippians means by doing “all things through Him.” It’s about finding complete satisfaction in Jesus Christ, even in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.

So Philippians 4:13 is not talking about accomplishing anything through Christ. Can we do great things with Christ, things only possible with His strength? Of course. But Jesus is not Siri, waiting for us to give Him requests to fulfill.

I think such a belief can be subtly dangerous. It gives a whiff of the Prosperity Gospel—the idea that Jesus’ work on the cross accomplished for me not only spiritual victory over sin but physical victory over sickness, poverty, and hardship. It says, if I believe hard enough and take hold of that victory, Jesus will make me healthy, wealthy, accomplish my dreams, give me a hot spouse and kids that behave, and I’ll die at an old age peacefully in my sleep.

It’s about using Jesus as a genie to get more stuff.

This idea is profoundly unhelpful. What happens if you don’t accomplish that goal you were pining for? You fail the test. You don’t get the job. You lose the game. Your mortgage goes belly-up. What went wrong? By the old logic of Philippians 4:13, either you didn’t believe Jesus could do it or Jesus can’t do it. Tell that to someone who just found out that their cancer came back and you’ll quickly see how this interpretation falls apart.

Paul couldn’t get the thorn out of his flesh. Timothy couldn’t heal his stomach ailment. What was wrong with their faith? Nothing. In fact their faith was strengthened because of their trials.

Knowing what this verse means in its context should actually give us more encouragement than less.

We are not promised that hardship will avoid us. We live in a broken world and it takes its toll. But we are promised that in the middle of the hardest things life can throw at you Christ will still be sufficient for you, His power is made perfect in weakness, and you can make it through His strength.

Now that is something far more valuable than getting an “A” on the test.