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To Judge or Not to Judge?

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 7; 8:1; Luke 6:31, 37–49

A life built on Jesus Christ will have a profound impact on our thoughts, motives, attitudes, and actions. The conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount reveals various areas in our lives where Christ’s transforming work should be evident.


We arrive today at one of the best-known verses in all the Bible. In fact, I believe the average person on the street knows this verse better than any other. Here at the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He says in Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

About the time you suggest to people that God does not like what they are doing, or you tell them that how they are living is sinful, they pull out this verse and say, “Ah, ah—‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’”

Well, let me tell you, that is not what Jesus meant. We make judgments every day—what to wear, what to eat, what house to buy, and what school to send our children to.

The Bible actually recommends making judgments. For instance, we are to judge unbiblical beliefs as incorrect and to judge our own sin as unacceptable. The apostle Paul mentioned a man sexually involved with his stepmother and in 1 Corinthians 5:3 he writes, “I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.”

The Bible says that a spiritually minded believer judges all things (1 Corinthians 2:15). We are always to make careful judgments between things that are good and things that are evil—and even between things that are good and things that are best.

What Jesus is warning against here in Matthew 7 is a judgmental spirit. Making judgments is very different from being judgmental toward others—judgmentalism is rooted in pride.

Jesus warns in verse 2: “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” In other words, if you’re going to be self-righteous toward others, with a judgmental, arrogant spirit, well, it is going to come back to haunt you in the end.

Jesus illustrates that arrogant spirit in verses 3-4:

“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?”

Jesus is using exaggeration here, rather humorously, to make a point. You have this huge log sticking out of your eye while you are trying to perform delicate surgery to take a speck out of your friend’s eye. You are only going to do more damage!

By the way, the speck and the log are made from the same material. Isn’t it true that the sin we struggle with is the same sin we so easily see in other people? So, Jesus is effectively telling us to deal with our own sin, and then with that humble spirit, we can help others also.

Jesus then goes on in verse 6:

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

Jesus is more than likely referring to the meat priests offered on the altar. The priests would never throw that which is sacred to some scavenging dog. In the same way, one would not take something that is valuable—like pearls—and make them into a necklace to put around some pig’s neck.

So, who are the dogs and the pigs in this verse? Well, in the New Testament writings of Paul and Peter, these terms are used to describe those who reject salvation and choose to stop their ears to the gospel and instead live immoral lives (see Philippians 3:2, 18-19; 2 Peter 2:22).

With that, Jesus begins to focus on those who are living the life they should be living as followers of Christ. He says in verse 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The verb tenses indicate continual action—you keep on asking, you keep on seeking, and you keep on knocking.   

Living like Christ also means loving the unloving. The Gospel of Luke adds to this account, recording that Jesus says, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). This statement is known today as the Golden Rule. And it is golden, isn’t it? In the world people treat others like they get treated, but Jesus raises the bar. In fact, He goes on to say in verse 35, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” Loving people like this becomes a powerful, unique testimony to a lost, self-centered world.

Now back in Matthew 7, Jesus says in verse 13, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide . . . that leads to destruction.”

In the days of Jesus, walled cities had wide gates for two-way traffic. At night when the gates were closed, a small door was used to allow individuals to enter one at a time. Basically, Jesus says here that the way into the kingdom is that small door.

Yes, it is a narrow door, but keep in mind that narrow does not refer so much to size, as it does to singularity. There is one and only one way into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus even said in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” There are not many doors into God’s house; there is only one, and Jesus says He is that door.

If there were many ways to God, don’t you think Jesus would have been smart enough to just point out one of those other ways and save Himself the agony of dying on the cross? No, the truth is, Jesus is the only door—and that is why He had to die for you and me.

Next, Jesus warns of false teachers in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” They look harmless, but they have an appetite for lamb.

Now we often think of a false teacher here dressed up to look like a sheep. But I do not think that is the idea at all. The shepherd wore wool clothing that came from the sheep. The false teacher is not trying to look like one of the sheep; he is trying to look like one of the shepherds so he can lead the sheep astray.

Well, how do you spot false shepherds? Jesus answers here in verse 16: “You will recognize them by their fruits”—by what they produce. They are going to enrich their own lives even if the flock suffers financially. They are going to mistreat the flock—this could be sexual mistreatment or physical mistreatment. They are going to point the sheep to themselves, rather than to Christ, the Chief Shepherd. Frankly, they are not interested in feeding the flock; they want to fleece the flock, for their own gain.

And Jesus says that one day when they stand before Him, He will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (verse 23).

Finally, in verses 24-25 Jesus illustrates the stability of a life that is built on the rock-solid truth of God’s Word:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

So, are you making wise judgments today? Are you building your life on the truth of Scripture? If you are, let the rains fall and the floods come, for you are anchored to the true Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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