Q. Please explain Matthew 7:1 in relation to our need to exercise discernment.
A. The familiar verse is, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” It is often used to silence those who attempt to bring truth to bear on something or someone, to understand what is right and what is wrong. But believers are commanded to exercise discernment, to understand and use the truth (see as examples Proverbs 2:1–6; Matthew 10:16; 1 Corinthians 2:11–16; Philippians 1:9, 10; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 4:11, 12; 5:14; 1 John 4:1). Since Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, Matthew 7:1 has to be seen in its proper context. In the context of spiritual discernment, judging is right.
The Gospels often cite the scribes and Pharisees as judging others. They passed sentence on people based on their own false self-righteousness and standards. So it isn’t surprising that the Lord addressed this problem as He closed the Sermon on the Mount. These people were religious, but they did not belong to God. Scripture identifies them as hypocrites, and thus their faulty judging would be judged. So the idea conveyed here is that people must not judge others while they are hypocrites themselves. Verses 2 and 3 underscore this truth: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged. . . . And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” If one is going to judge, he or she must not be a hypocrite.
In verse 6, Jesus said that His followers need to exercise discernment, to judge: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
Believers recognize that whether they exercise legitimate discernment or, in contrast, practice the sin of judging hypocritically depends on their spiritual status at the moment. Believers who are in fellowship with the Lord will not carry their evaluations or discernment too far and begin to wrongly and unfairly judge (pass sentence on) people. But believers who are carnal or out of fellowship can easily fall into the sin of maligning. Their sin nature has taken over their thoughts and speech. They have sin in their lives, so they are therefore hypocrites when they judge others.
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