Understanding Matthew 7:1-2: Judge Not

“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

~Matthew 7:1-2

I’ve wanted to write about this passage for a while because I believe it is so important to get this passage right.

 

Do not judge according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgment

~John 7:24

 

Jesus wants us to judge with righteous judgment.

 

SAINT AUGUSTINE

The following is written by Saint Augustine regarding Matthew 7:1-2;

59. … He [Jesus] has seasonably added in this passage (Matthew 7:1-2)…  In this passage, I am of opinion that we are taught nothing else, but that in the case of those actions respecting which it is doubtful with what intention they are done, we are to put the better construction on them. For when it is written, By their fruits you shall know them, the statement has reference to things which manifestly cannot be done with a good intention; such as debaucheries, or blasphemies, or thefts, or drunkenness, and all such things, of which we are permitted to judge, according to the apostle’s statement: “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?” But concerning the kind of food, because every kind of human food can be taken indiscriminately with a good intention and a single heart, without the vice of concupiscence, the same apostle forbids that they who ate flesh and drank wine be judged by those who abstained from such kinds of sustenance: “Let not him that eats,” says he, “despise him that eats not; and let not him which eats not, judge him that eats.” There also he says: “Who are you that judges another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” For in reference to such matters as can be done with a good and single and noble intention, although they may also be done with an intention the reverse of good, those parties wished, howbeit they were [mere] men, to pronounce judgment upon the secrets of the heart, of which God alone is Judge.

60. To this category belongs also what he says in another passage: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the thoughts of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”  There are therefore certain ambiguous actions, respecting which we are ignorant with what intention they are performed, because they may be done both with a good or with an evil one, of which it is rash to judge, especially for the purpose of condemning. Now the time will come for these to be judged, when the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. In another passage also the same apostle says: “Some men’s aims are manifest beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after”. He calls those sins manifest, with regard to which it is clear with what intention they are done; these go before to judgment, because if a judgment shall follow, it is not rash. But those which are concealed follow, because neither shall they remain hid in their own time. So we must understand with respect to good works also. For he adds to this effect: Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid. Let us judge, therefore, with respect to those which are manifest; but respecting those which are concealed, let us leave the judgment to God: for they also cannot be hid, whether they be good or evil, when the time shall come for them to be manifested.” (Fathers of the Church, On the Sermon on the Mount (Augustine), Book II, Chapter 18)

Augustine made an astute observation from the text that rendering judgment on uncertain matters before their time will incur judgment upon the one who rises up against the Lord’s servants with unrighteous judgment according to the appearance of a matter.  Augustine references 1st Corinthians 5:12,  1st Corinthians 4:5, and 1st Timothy 5:24 in his exegesis of this passage.

Jesus’ teaching devastates mortal pride; in matters of our own thoughts and opinions that are separate from the clear judgments of Scripture, we are to bind no law on any man!

Augustine concludes,

61. There are two things, moreover, in which we ought to beware of rash judgment; when it is uncertain with what intention anything is done; or when it is uncertain what sort of a person he is going to be, who at preset is manifestly either good or bad. If, therefore, any one, for example, complaining of his stomach, would not fast, and you, not believing this, were to attribute it to the vice of gluttony, you would judge rashly. Likewise, if you were to come to know the gluttony and drunkenness as being manifest, and were so to administer reproof as if the man could never be amended and changed, you would nevertheless judge rashly. Let us not therefore reprove those things about which we do not know with what intention they are done; nor let us so reprove those things which are manifest, as that we should despair of a return to a right state of mind; and thus we shall avoid the judgment of which in the present instance it is said, Judge not, that you be not judged.

HYPOCRITICAL AND MERCILESS JUDGMENT

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?  But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will ‘render to each person according to his deeds.'”

~Romans 2:3,5-6

Jesus is also warning against another kind of unrighteous judgment: hypocritical judgment.

God offers no encouraging word to the hypocrite outside of His offer for repentance.  To the hypocrite who judges by the law, while breaking the law, only condemnation and judgment is promised for the Day of Reckoning.

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

~James 2:13

But I believe the central purpose that dominates Jesus’ message against unrighteous judgment pertains to merciless judgment.  Jesus said, “For with what measure you use, it will be measured again for you”.  Whatever person hears these words and does not pause with caution to examine his or her own actions is foolish and does not yet grasp the reality of judgment that will meet the world before the Great White Throne.

Judgment that is without mercy is not more spiritual or more righteous, it is foolhearty and contrary to the Spirit of Christ.

 

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