Stop, Look, Listen: Critical Judgments and Matthew 7

Stop, Look, Listen: Critical Judgments and Matthew 7
Written by: Pete McClanathan

A Christian man who loves sports is challenged harshly by a non-sports-loving friend. The rebuke centers around accusations of the man’s misplaced priorities before God.

A woman regularly criticizes her husband to her women’s small group. After a few weeks another woman in the group believes she has the calling to confront the husband about his failures, and does so.

A group of church members begins meeting to discuss the failures of a pastor. Other people in the church hear of the group and begin to voice their own criticisms.

It comes to the attention of the elder board of a church that a couple is experiencing painful marital conflict. The board threatens expulsion from the church and votes to ban both spouses from service in the church until they get it resolved.

In another church a similar situation is met by the board’s indifference and refusal to become involved.

A spouse packages marital disappointments and frustration into a formula of Bible verses which are used to justify anger and withdrawal.

Persons in a church speak to each other critically about events and behaviors in the lives of other persons. Often it takes place at group meetings and is covered with Bible verses and an urging to pray for the ones involved.

What do these situations have in common? Many things:

  1. In each case judgments are being made.
  2. Conclusions are reached based on incomplete information and spotty biblical wisdom.
  3. People defend their judgmental behavior as fulfilling what they have defined as their Christian responsibilities.
  4. The hard work of entering biblically into other persons’ lives is seldom understood or embraced.
  5. Complex matters are reduced to black and white understanding and are approached simplistically.
  6. Little is usually accomplished in the way of helping or healing. Often, added pain and misunderstanding are created.

Life can be complex, as we know. There is something in each of us that seeks to simplify our worlds. When we observe others acting in ways that we deem wrong or hurtful, our impulse is to try to bring the world into focus, to make it right and clear. Unfortunately the first tool we usually employ is to find fault in another person or group, and to seek other persons to hear our lament and agree with us. And barriers arise between people who, in the body of Christ, are called to encourage, to bear burdens, to support, to forgive, to love.

Life may be complex, but so can be the task of finding wisdom. Clearly there is a large body of biblical instruction to believers and church leaders on these types of matters. And there is a time when confrontation of sin is appropriate, even necessary (Gal. 6:1). The challenge we face is to find decision-making wisdom in the swamp of our own personal issues, limited Bible understanding, and the toxic cultural messages we live amongst.

It can be tempting to walk away from the search for wisdom and to fall back upon our reactions and impulses. To those inclined to take that course, consider these observations:

  • Your feelings are understandable to a point. No one naturally enjoys difficult people or troubled situations.
  • How has the approach of criticism been going for you and those around you?

  • Does the call to live lives set apart from the world and to be salt and light, if taken seriously, require we equip ourselves with broader biblical understanding and obedience?

  • If so . . . and this is a crucial question . . . are we willing to face the cost of denying ourselves and following Christ and His Word?  

The Bible is filled with wisdom and direction on relational matters and the believer’s conduct. Often these can be overlooked, rejected, or misunderstood. And they can be confusing, sometimes appearing to conflict with each other.

Let’s look closely at one such case where an instruction appears simple at first read, but on further study is shown to contain a broader and deeper message.

Most of us are familiar with these words from Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Solemn teaching. Unfortunately the message is commonly misunderstood and misused.

Matthew 7:1 has been called the unbeliever’s favorite Bible verse (“see there, God is not a God of judgment”). But it regularly is used incorrectly in the body of Christ as well (“the church has no place telling people how to live”). As we move into the rich material of Matthew 7 and related scriptures, we first need to deal with Mt. 7:1, exploring what it is and what it is not.

We can eliminate the simplistic conclusion that God opposes judgment as a whole. The Bible deals with judgment in every book. Judgment of sinful mankind, of sinful cities and nations, of His own people, of the earth.

We also find plentiful instructions regarding human behavior and the believer’s responsibilities. They all contain a form of judging . . . the call to act or refrain from acting in a certain way can only mean that there are both an approved and a disapproved way (assuming we follow the presupposition that the Bible is the infallible source of truth). So what do we make of Mt. 7:1?

A valuable tool of Bible study, one which we shall use continually, is to examine a teaching of scripture as part of its surrounding verses, looking for currents of ideas and themes. With that in mind let’s walk further in Matthew 7:

Verse 7:2 builds on the message of 7:1:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Too often I’ve backed away from verse 2. It appears so harsh and threatening. Aren’t Christian believers saved from judgment?

The biblical answer is yes, and no. Let’s be clear . . . believers in Christ will not be judged according to their sins. Jesus has paid the price once for all who believe. Romans 8:1 is unequivocal about this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

However, the Bible also makes it clear that there is a form of judgment for believers:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” -(2 Cor. 5:10).

This teaching of the judgment seat of Christ in 2 Cor. 5:10 relates closely to and provides explanation of Mt. 7:2. It seems we are being warned that since we believers will face this judgment, we ought to be concerned about its nature and severity.

And Mt. 7:1-2 warns us that we ought to be very careful with when and how we make judgments. For we can expect a similar form of judgment: “with the judgment you pronounce” and “with the measure you use." -(Mt. 7:1-2).

Romans 14:10 states it plainly: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”

Something important is being told to us. It appears that God is more interested in how we think about and relate to people than we often are willing to admit, or follow. We can also conclude that this matter was a significant issue in the early church.

Each person over the course of his or her life develops habits of reacting to life and people. Because we are born with a sinful nature and grow up into a world of sinful people, each of us is infected. Fault-finding and criticism are prominent fruits of a heart that demands its way and protection.

If we are serious about the goals of a believer’s life being to glorify God, to serve others, and to witness a transformed life in Christ, it becomes important that we recognize things that work against those goals. Much of the New Testament deals with such matters. We’re finding one crucial part in this discussion.

There is much further to learn in Matthew 7. Some things that may seem confusing or contradictory ought to become clearer as we move forward.

For now let’s consider some questions to ask ourselves when we’re inclined to be critical:

  • What may be behind my impulse to criticize? Pride, jealousy, and fear are among the worst offenders. And they can hide themselves disguised in thoughts of superior wisdom, experience, motive, and duty.

  • What am I seeking to accomplish? Those same dangers can lurk undiscovered in our hearts and pollute our goals.

  • Do my attitudes and my words bring glory and pleasure to God?

  • In what way am I serving the other person or persons?

  • Do my attitudes and words demonstrate a heart transformed by Christ and a desire to imitate Him?

  • Is it truly my role before God to become involved or share opinions in this situation? What are the biblical truths that shape that answer?

  • If I am to become involved, what role do criticism and judgement have?

  • Do I truly wish to glorify God, serve other persons, and be a witness of Christ’s transformation and healing power? Really?

  • If I believe so, what changes might He require in my attitudes, words, and behavior?

We resume with Mt. 7:3 next. It may feel as if we’re leaving many thoughts unresolved. Hopefully, as we journey further in Matthew 7, we will find some surprising clarity.

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