Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:1b “. . .that ye be not judged.”
We may judge people’s words and deeds (7:15a,16a), but must do so without harshness (6:34c). If we pass these three limits, we overstep our rightful place, and violate God. “He who usurps the bench, shall be called to the bar” (Henry).
We have no right to judge what we cannot hear or see. We cross the line if we go beyond speech and behavior, and start trying to judge hearts and motives.
No human being has jurisdiction over someone else’s heart. We cannot determine another person’s exact state before God. Only Jesus can try the heart, and we must not usurp His authority. He alone knows all the facts and mitigating circumstances that are pressing on a person’s heart. John Wesley once harbored ill will for years toward a man who made good money. Wesley deemed him stingy, because he gave little to God’s work. Eventually, Wesley criticized the man to his face. The man responded by saying he lived on only vegetables (parsnips) and water. Wesley later wrote in his journal, “This he constantly did, although he then had an adequate income, in order that he might pay the debt he had contracted before he knew God. And this was the man that I had thought to be covetous.”
“Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 SM 16:7). We can evaluate the outside; only God can see the heart. A good example is found in those responsible for Jesus’ death. Jesus said of the soldiers, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (LK 23:34); to Pilate, “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (JN 19:11); to the religious leaders, “Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven” (MT 12:32); of Judas Iscariot, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (MT 26:24). All four of these were, on the surface, equally responsible for the death of Jesus, but our Lord, who sees the heart, detected vast differences in their level of guilt.
God sees, hears, and knows much we cannot see, hear, and know. Thus, stay out of other people’s hearts. Do not go there. Otherwise, we tread on God.
We sin if we violate God’s prerogative of judging the heart, and also if we judge a person’s motives and inner intent. It is a serious crime to ascribe bad motives to people’s conduct. We cannot know all the motives behind a word or deed.
Try to avoid attributing motives. God bragged on Job as “a blameless and upright man” (JB 1:8). The devil responded by attacking motives, “Hast Thou not made a hedge about him. . . .Put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face” (see JB 1:8-11). It is satanic to attack motives.
David sent servants to comfort the king of Ammon, when the latter’s father died (2 SM 10). The Ammonite nobles convinced their king that David’s servants were spies on an evil mission. The result was a terrible war. Ahimelech the priest innocently gave Goliath’s sword to David. Doeg saw it and accused Ahimelech of treachery against King Saul (1 SM 21-22). As a result, 85 priests were massacred.
We cause many pains among our own family and friends by attributing bad motives to deeds. We say things like, “I know why you’re doing this, I know what you are thinking, I know what you are trying to do, I know what your motive is.” We bring misery down on our own heads by seeking to pry into people’s motives.
We are allowed to judge only words and deeds. Avoid hearts and motives. Also avoid harshness, as our next verse again reminds us.
Matt. 7:2 “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with
what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
Be careful how we judge. It boomerangs. We can in a sense set the mood for our own judgment. The spirit of a judicial hearing affects the whole dynamic. Harsh judgment judicially recoils on us. A severe attitude is disastrous when applied to self. The more rigidly we judge others, the more rigidly God judges us.
We do not need to complicate God’s judging of us. It is sobering enough to know He always watches, and listens to, us. He tests us with three-fold judgment.
At physical death we stand before God in judgment to have our everlasting destiny determined. This verdict is rendered according to what we did with Jesus in this lifetime. All who received Him enter Heaven, all who rejected enter Hell.
At the end of time we shall all be judged by our works. This judgment will not determine our everlasting destiny, but will in some way settle all accounts. A part of living by faith is believing when all is said and done, no one will ever be able to accuse God of having been unfair. I heard recently of an elderly lady in Israel who lost all her family in the holocaust. “I believe in God,” she said, “but I can not forgive Him.” I grieve with her, but she is wrong. God always does right.
The third judgment is the ongoing one we face daily in this life. Our harsh judgments do not always await the final judgment to be settled. Many people are punished in kind here and now, able in this lifetime to “read their sin in their punishment” (Henry). In his conquests, King Adonibezek cut off the thumbs and big toes of 70 kings. When the same was done to him, he confessed, “As I have done, so God has repaid me” (JG 1:7 NAS). “They hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai” (ES 7:10 NAS). Jezebel sent a letter, ordering the death of Naboth; Jehu sent a letter, ordering the death of Jezebel’s sons (1 K 21:8; 2 K 10:1). Against the sins of Babylon the great, judgment was pronounced, “Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her” (RV 18:6 NAS).
We are all being, and shall be, judged. We are by our own dealings with others determining the spirit of that judgment. Avoid a condemning spirit. Be as merciful as possible. Never take joy in the failures of others. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it and be displeased” (PR 24:17-18a NAS).
With absolute brokenness, let us pity the weak. God pities us, offering us His forgiveness and strength. What are we doing to try to help the fallen? We talk and assess, but how are we helping? In judgment I want forgiveness and help. We all do. Thus, it behooves us to display these traits in our dealings with others.