"Judge Not" -- What Does It Mean?
"Judge not, that ye be not judged." This first verse of Matthew 7 has been used as a refuge for all types of sinners, digressives, and denominationalists in an attempt to stop gospel preachers from being plain in their condemnation of error. A preacher does not have to be very old before he has run across those who pervert this passage to "tone down" his attempts to uproot error. Since this verse is so often misapplied, it is imperative that gospel preachers continue to keep the true meaning of the passage in mind. There is no indication that Satan will ease up his attempt to soften gospel preaching. Since this is the case, God's servants must ever be aware of the weapons of the father of all liars, and to be ever ready to counteract these weapons with truth.
The Meaning Of Matthew 7:1
To get the true meaning of the first verse of the seventh chapter of Matthew, one must read the context. To stop short of verse five is to miss the true meaning of verse one. It is acknowledged that Christ is condemning judging, but notice the kind of judging under consideration. This passage, which to many means one cannot condemn the religious practices of others, implies the rebuking of a brother for his sin or error but condemns hypocritical judging. Notice the fifth verse. "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." The particle in the eye (either "mote" or "beam") signifies a sin or error in one's life. Christ does not say a man should not attempt to get the mote out of his brother's' eye, but on the contrary suggests the removing of the mote. Nevertheless, before one can remove the mote from his brother's eye, he must remove the "beam" from his own eye. Christ is condemning hypocritical judgment, and not all judgment. It is inconsistent to condemn a sin in a brother, if one is guilty of the same sin. As the apostle Paul says, "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same thing." (Rom. 2:1.) When one is doing the "same thing" he, by his act of judging, is condemning himself. It is this hypocritical judging Christ has in mind.
It is plain Matthew 7:1 is NOT condemning the practice of rebuking others for their sin. Let us not be guilty of perverting this passage, or allow others to soften our preaching by their perversion of these words of the Savior.
Rebuke Those In Darkness
A great many of the passages commanding the preaching of the word, demand "negative" preaching. The evangelist must condemn sin and error, and do it in a way that cannot be misunderstood. For example, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to "reprove" and "rebuke" as well as "exhort" those in error. (2 Tim. 4:2.) Preaching is not as God would have it, if reproving and rebuking are lacking. One cannot excuse himself from preaching on the negative side by a plea to Matthew 7:1, for Christ is speaking of hypocritical judgment and does not have the condemnation of error under consideration.
To my mind, there is no passage clearer on the fact that one is to condemn error, as well as live a positive life for Christ, than Ephesians 5:11. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." One must be very careful lest he find himself obeying only a part of this passage. It is not enough to refrain from associating and encouraging evil. One must also rebuke those committing the evil. The difficult part of Christianity is the living out of all this command.
There are two extremes among those who disobey this Christian obligation. First of all, there are those who fellowship darkness and then turn around and rebuke those in error. This was what Christ was speaking of in Matthew 7. It is hypocritical to condemn another of sin when you engage in the same practice. One is under obligation to live in light as well as rebuke those in darkness. It is a well known fact that men have been prevented from obeying the gospel because some will "say and do not." This danger is ever present and must be guarded against.
On the other side is a danger just as grave. That danger is the practice of living a life of purity, but refusing to "rebuke" those in darkness. It is this action that causes sectarians to think of the church as "just another denomination." One cannot be persuaded he is in error if the fact of his error is not brought to his attention. Christians with the attitude of "let well enough alone" toward sin and error, will cause the sinner to feel his error is being endorsed. Live Ephesians 5:11 out completely in your life. Avoid darkness, and rebuke those in sin — Christ commands both.
New Testament Examples
Those familiar with the testament of Christ should recognize the early Christians obeyed this command of rebuking those in error. The Spirit of God, through the apostle Peter, convicted a multitude of their sin. (Acts 2.) This was done, not by beating around the bush, but by naming the sin and giving a clear answer as to what must be done about it. Stephen not only enjoyed the blessing of being in the light, but was willing to "dispute" with those in darkness. (Acts 6:9.) Paul was not willing to "give place" to false brethren. (Gal. 2:5.) In Acts 17 we have a clear picture of his willingness to rebuke error. Many of the Athenians saw the error of their way, because of Paul's willingness to speak plainly about their "ignorant" worship.
Could anyone look back on these examples of preaching and say any violated Matthew 7:1? Did the Holy Spirit make a mistake in being so plain about "naming the sin"? Was Stephen too hard? Did Paul show a lack of understanding of Matthew 7:1? We would all do well to follow the examples of these men of God and rebuke those living in darkness. It was Jude who said the Christian must "contend for the faith" (Jude 3), and he gave his reason as follows — "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." (Jude 4.)
Christianity is a religion demanding not only purity of life, but also conviction in speech. May Christians always "have no fellowship in darkness" and "reprove them" in error. Don't be deceived by a misapplication of Matthew 7:1. God commands His children to "reprove and rebuke" those in darkness.