Matthew is presenting a compilation of Jesus’ teachings in what has become known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” It is in the 7th chapter where Jesus teaches his disciples how they ought to rightly judge judging.
Clearly, there is a improper judging that ought not be practiced This sort of judging is harmful and forbidden:
Matthew 7:1–4 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 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? 4 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?
However, there is a right judging that ought be practiced. This sort of judging is commended and encouraged:
Matthew 7:5 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.
Jesus then gives an example of the importance of right judging. It can be a matter of spiritual life and death for oneself, one’s family, and one’s church:
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Then the Teacher gives one of his many principles of right judging. These principles for just judging are found throughout the Old and New Testaments, but here Jesus focuses on God’s assistance in man’s judging of true or false prophets. Bottom line, God judges and damns evil teachers. He judges good teachers and validates authenticates them with visible fruit. This should assist the believer in making right judgments:
Matthew 7:16-20 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
At the end of the chapter, Jesus gives a warning about superficial, outside-of-the-cup, external-focused judgment. In essence, one can hear Jesus saying, “Be careful; many have been fooled by good-looking, religious, mighty works.”
Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Clearly, in accordance with scripture and logic, there is a right judging that ought be practiced. It is impossible to get away from making judgments. Even here in this famous text, wrong judges are judged. So, how can we be instructed? How can we worship well in our judging?
First, let us understand the difference between clarifying and condemning. Jesus Christ came into the world to highlight the difference between good and evil. He called a spade a spade. He helped people see truth from his Father’s perspective. But even in his earthly ministry, he came not into the world to condemn the world because the world was condemned already. (John 3:17) However, he did come into the world to make right judgments. Therefore, let us learn to have the mind of Christ. We have been given the charge to clarify. We are to judge or discern between good and evil. (Romans 12; Ephesians 5). We have not been given the charge to condemn — ourselves or anyone else.
Second, let us begin with judging or clarifying our own guilty situation. Passionately, we are to meditate upon God’s good Law. We are to review God’s objective and fixed rules. In addition, looking at our rights through the law of love, we are to examine whether our allowable actions are prudent and edifying. (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 10) In doing so, we will be made humbly aware of our own sinful affections, thoughts, words, and deeds. (Matthew 7) Yes, long before any sinners are called out and stones picked up, we must be broken by our own rank transgression, hypocrisy, and lack of love. Our internal lust and hatred must be seen as lawless as our neighbor’s external adultery and murder. (Matthew 5) We must deal with our logs first. (Matthew 7)
Third, let us preach the Gospel to ourselves. In understanding how to apply God’s free and liberating grace to us, we will be able to better minister to our neighbors. There is no better “judge” than those who have been judged, found lacking, and then have received the tender touch of the Friend of Sinners. They know best how to pass along God’s grace — in the form of Law and Gospel.
Fourth, let us then practice loving, other-brother-improving judgment. Bottom line, God commands every believer to “make right judgments.” (John 7:24) So, with incredible affection, we as parents, neighbors, fellow-congregants, and ordained elders should judge ….
- Seriously – recognizing the the dangers of the world, flesh, and devil to us and our neighbors.
- Scripturally – recognizing only God has the right to define righteousness and constrain the conscience.
- Relationally – recognizing the best judges, teachers, ministers, coaches, and friends have made investments.
- Graciously – recognizing we are sinners judging sinners. We are no better and have been forgiven much.
- Humble – recognizing we might be wrong in our understanding and assessment.
- Timely – recognizing there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.
- Slowly – recognizing God is longsuffering, patient, and quite often his Spirit takes his time.
- Selflessly – recognizing our judging is for the good of the sister, brother, and others.
Fifth, let us learn to prosper alongside friends who love us enough to judge us rightly. Let us thank God for friends who look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2) It is a blessing to have friends who exhort, teach, sharpen and faithfully wound. (Psalm 141; Proverbs 10; 12; 25; 27; Ecclesiastes 7) Good judgment, through loving neighbors, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers is a gift from the Heavenly Father. Through right judging, God improves worshipers, protect worshipers, and promote his own glory.