One of the most widely misquoted verses from the Bible will be the topic of this article, a lesson that I am going to teach to my staff this Wednesday as we continue digging down deep in to the Sermon on the Mount. Last week we covered the overview of Matthew 7.
Most church goers can quote parts of, if not all of John 3:16 yet it seems to me that every man on the street knows Matthew 7:1 by heart. They have no clue who is speaking and what the subject matter is, but they will be quick to quote Matthew 7:1, and way out of context, not to mention, not understanding what they are saying (meaning wise). As you can see from the title of the article, when Jesus says “do not judge” He does not mean that we cannot confront sin. How do we know this, you may ask? The rule of context is, context rules. Obviously Jesus does not mean that we cannot call a sin a sin or a sinner a sinner because a few verses later, He calls some people dogs and some pigs. He is making a judgment and telling us to do the same. He confronts sin and tells us to do the same.
This teaching is very important because we live in an age of relativism. Each person is taught that his truth is truth for him, even if it is not truth for you and that you have no right to judge another person’s actions, ideas, attitudes etc., no matter how absurd they may be. That is not what Jesus had in mind when He said “do not judge others”. Let’s discover what He actually had in mind when He said, “do not judge others.”.
I. When to confront (judge) others
Matthew 7:1 has a context and the context tells us when we can confront others. Please read Matthew 7:1-6. According to the context, you are able to confront the sin of others, first, when you have examined yourself and discovered that you are not committing the same sin that you are confronting the person about. A man who is addicted to porn is not going to be a good candidate to confront another man who is living with his girlfriend or cheating on his wife. Secondly, I can confront sin when I am not practicing a habitual sin in my own life. Thirdly, I can confront when I am doing it for the good of the person stuck in open sin. I must do it because I care about him or her and want that person to experience the freedom that Jesus offers to those who follow Him. If I am not doing it to help, to build the person up then according to Jesus, I should not be doing it. Finally, when I confront others, I must do it according to the standard set out clearly in the Word of God. I do not confront based on what I think, feel, or believe. I must confront based on God’s standards. Another aspect would be having a clear action, word, or attitude instead of assuming or judging the intentions, which we do not know. Confronting someone for looking at porn or having sex outside of marriage is not being judgmental because the Word of God calls looking at porn a sin as well as sex outside of marriage. In John 8:15-16, Jesus tells us not to judge according to the flesh (our own standards) but instead, to judge according to God’s standards because that is what He does. When Jesus says, “do not judge” according to the context, “incorrectly” is implied. There is a proper way to confront and then there is a wrong way. I would like to examine some other Scriptures, cross references, to see what else we can learn on the subject of when to confront sin.
- Acts 4:19 – when someone asks you to do something contrary to the Word of God, that person must be confronted, with love and respect.
- Acts 13:44-47 – when people openly contradict the Word of God.
- I Corinthians 10:15 – here, we are encouraged to discern if what people are teaching from the Word is accurate or not. The same word that Jesus used in Matthew 7:1 is used here by Paul.
- James 4:6-11 – when a person is supposedly a brother in Christ yet is full of pride, a brother in Christ is double-minded (double spirited, one foot with the Lord and one with the world, a person trying to be a carnal Christian). Also, when one believer is speaking against another believer and you hear it, you are obligated to confront for the good of both, the one sinning and the one being sinned against.
- I Corinthians 5 – when a believer is openly living in sin and everyone knows about it. When a believer is unrepentant about open sin.
When you confront, you must do so with the Word of God, not to attack the person but, instead, to share the Truth and let the Word do Its work. Hebrews 4:12 tells us what the Word is able to do.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
God’s Word is what does the judging. Our job is to present the Truth to the person living in sin and let the Word of God work. The question that arises is, when can I not confront others? God’s Word gives us the answer.
II. When not to confront others
According to Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, we cannot judge or confront others about a certain sin when we are practicing the same sin. Paul further explains this truth to a Jewish audience in Romans 2:1-6. After Paul’s explanation in Romans 1 about those who have rejected God, you could almost hear the Jewish audience screaming, “preach it brother, those dirty pagans need to heart it“. Paul hears it too and then turns to them and says, in essence, “why are you cheering for their judgment? You practice the same things and it is worse for you because you have the Law and know that what you are doing is wrong, unlike the ignorant pagans.” Another reason for not being able to confront is if my motives are wrong. If I am confronting the person in order to tear him down and make myself look better, then I cannot do it. If I do, I will end up judging incorrectly, like Christ tells us not to do. Luke gives us some insight that Matthew does not.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged ; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned ; pardon, and you will be pardoned. (Luke 6)
If you are confronting the person to condemn him or her then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. In fact, you do not have the right to condemn another person, that is God’s job. You are allowed to confront them with God’s Word and warn of the condemnation but not actually condemn. If you confront to condemn then you end up being just as wrong as the person who is practicing sin openly. Finally, Jesus does not allow us to confront if we are confronting based on our own standards instead of the standards laid out in the Word of God. If there is no clear breaking of God’s Law then I do not need to confront. I cannot confront a person’s motives or intentions. What are the results of confronting sin? Are they all negative or can there be positive ones too?
III. The results of confronting others the right way
Jesus gives us two examples of results in Matthew 7:1-6. The first result is that you are able to take the plank out of your own eye (you are constantly examining your own life) and you also help your brother remove the sin from his own life. Both of us benefit and our walks with the Lord are improved. We help each other the way that God intended. The other reaction could be a negative one. In chapter 5, Jesus lets us know that we will be persecuted for living according to His righteousness. In chapter 7, He says that those who are confronted and do not receive God’s discipline via confrontation, they are dogs and swine who will turn on you and try to tear you to pieces. Another result would be that the person whom you confront actually calls you out for doing it the wrong way. How are you going to respond? Will you receive that confrontation and rebuke or will you turn on the one who rebuked you? In John 7, Jesus was persecuted by the people whom He confronted. In Acts 4, the apostles were persecuted by the ones whom they confronted. In Acts 13, people who refuse to receive the rebuking in the form of confrontation end up marking themselves for condemnation because they reject the Gospel. In I Corinthians 5, the person who is confronted comes to his senses, repents, and comes back into fellowship with the rest of the church. If the brother living in open sin is not confronted, his sin will spread to everyone else and all will suffer from it. Another result would be that he begins to persecute you by spreading rumors about you to others because you confronted him. In I Corinthians 10:15, when people’s messages are verified in the light of the Word of God, false prophets will be marked and people will be less likely to be led astray by them. Finally, in James, those who are confronted will get to experience the grace of God by humbling themselves, drawing near to God, and submitting to His working in their lives.
As you can see, Jesus does not tell us not to judge or confront sin. He does tell us to do it the right way and explains how in His Word. I hope that you have noticed that indifference to the sin’s of others is not an option. Not confronting sin and confronting it the wrong way are both wrong because in both cases, you leave the person negatively impacting either by your direct actions or sin’s destructive consequences. As believers, God has called us to confront sin, in our own lives and in the lives of others, for our own good and for the good of others. May God bless you as you continue to apply His Word to your life and learn to walk with Him moment by moment, day by day.