Judgment. Not exactly a popular word in the church. Yet this is the topic Jesus talks about next in Matthew 7. I feel like most people want to start and stop in v. 1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” There you have it, folks, the Bible says do not judge! Or does it?
If we read beyond v. 1, we will discover that Jesus gives reasons not to be too hasty to judge. First, by the way I judge others, I will also be judged (v. 2). Does this say that I shouldn’t judge? No. What it does say is to be careful because if I judge harshly, I will also be judged harshly. Second, if I judge others before I recognize and deal with my own sin, I am a hypocrite (vv. 3-4). Notice that vv. 3-4 do not say that we shouldn’t judge; however, we must look at ourselves first before we judge others. Verse 5 clarifies that thought even more, “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.”
Who is the one being judged in these verses? Jesus does not refer to everyone, but refers to one’s brother. Even though the church hasn’t been officially formed yet, I believe that Jesus is talking about other believers. Paul teaches the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 after addressing a serious issue of immorality in the Corinthian church:
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (NASB)
Seems harsh, but is it? Paul isn’t talking about people who sin and repent. When we repent, we are washed clean. Sins are forgiven and the Father remembers no more. Rather, he’s talking about people who continually sin. They are unrepentant, yet they call themselves Christians. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is addressing the church because there is a man who has his father’s wife, and the church has done nothing about it. Paul is angry about that and says in vv. 3-5, “For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” What is the purpose of judgment here? Addressing sin will hopefully lead to repentance and salvation.
Here is another example of judgment with the purpose of helping a fellow Christian:
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” ~ Galatians 6:1-5 (NASB)
Judgment, when used properly, can lead to spiritual growth. It can also weed out the false Christians in the church. Let’s see what Jesus has to say in Matthew 7:15-23:
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
We should know who true followers of God are because of their fruit. What is good fruit?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23
People can say all they want. Some may appear righteous–like the Pharisees who had all that knowledge and pomp–but they bear bad fruit and do not follow the Lord’s will. What is bad fruit?
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” ~Galatians 5:19-21
Even worse, false Christians may lead people astray. Here’s some strong words from 2 Peter 2:
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.
Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.
These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’” (Bold print for emphasis)
Jesus also says that before His second coming, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” ~ Matthew 24:24
Why must we judge between good and bad fruit? Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 5:6-8, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” If we allow even the smallest piece of wickedness to remain in the church, the entire church becomes full wickedness. Scripture is full of warnings to stay away from evil. From Genesis to Revelation, the message does not change: Be holy. Be different from the world and all of its temptations. Show reverence for the Lord God. Live righteously. For our God is a con