“America’s Verse” — “Judge Not” (Matthew 7:1-5 sermon)

If each of us in our church shared our favorite football teams this morning, I’d think the Carolina Panthers might be at the top of the list. We also have a few die hard Washington Redskins fans, like Josh Peterson and Chuck Riddle! But there is one team that has had such a national following for so many years, that they came to be called “America’s Team” — the Dallas Cowboys (Cliff Spicer’s team!). Like them or not, over the years they have been more popular than any other team, and have sold more merchandise than any other, so they have come to be known as “America’s Team.”

There are some things like that, which are so popular in our country, that you can call them “America’s” something or other: McDonalds is probably America’s restaurant. Baseball is America’s pastime. And I believe that there is a verse, which, for better or for worse (and I would submit to you that it is generally for worse) has become “America’s verse.” And that is the verse which opens Matthew 7, where Jesus tells His disciples: “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.” I have heard these words quoted SO often — and I imagine that you have too — that I think you can make a pretty good case that this just may be America’s favorite verse. For some people, it’s like the only verse they know and quote: “Judge not!” “We’re not supposed to judge!” But unfortunately, when many Americans quote this verse, they misapply it, because they don’t really know what it means. Let’s look together at what “America’s verse” does and does NOT mean:Romans


I. What this verse does NOT mean.

This verse is SO often misunderstood today. When Jesus said here “Do not judge, so that will not be judged,” He does NOT mean that we cannot make judgment calls on things that the Bible clearly teaches us are right and wrong. Neither in this verse nor anywhere else in scripture, does the Bible say that we are to put up our “moral compass” and never decide that anything is right or wrong.

Unfortunately, that is how many people take this verse.

Earlier this year, there was a journalist who was interviewing former President Jimmy Carter. And this man told the former president that he didn’t have faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but he liked some of His teachings, and asked him, did he think that he was he a Christian? And former President Carter told him, “I do not judge whether someone else is a Christian. Jesus said, ‘Judge not.’” (christiannews.net, April 29, 2017)

This is a total distortion of what Jesus meant here. The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15 that the heart of the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised again on the 3rd day according to the scriptures.” Believing that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, and that He rose from the dead to be your living Savior & Lord is the heart of the gospel. If you cannot say that you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then you are not in any sense a Christian! “Judge not” does not mean that we are to suspend our ability to discern even the most basic judgments on things that are clearly taught in scripture!

Then one day last week I read where they had arrested a group of priests who were involved in a drug-filled orgy in Rome, Italy, but a man who was commenting on the situation said, “I can’t judge them.” Are you kidding me?!

But see, this is the way a lot of people apply Matthew 7:1. They think it means you shouldn’t make a decision about whether virtually anything is right or wrong. And it’s basically the idea: “You don’t tell me that what I’m doing is wrong; and I won’t tell you that what you’re doing is wrong; and then we can all just keep doing whatever we want to do, and nobody will ever tell us it’s wrong; and we’ll all feel good about it!” ONLY THAT’S NOT WHAT GOD’S WORD CLEARLY TEACHES. Jesus never intended for Matthew 7:1 to be used to mean that we cannot discriminate between basic right or wrong, or to be used to say that we can never call anything a sin. This is a total distortion of the word of God.

First of all,Jesus HIMSELF called things sinful:
— He told the adulterous woman in John 8, “Now go and SIN NO MORE.” He forgave her, but then he clearly called what she did “sin”, and told her don’t do this any more!
— When He healed the sick man at the pool of Bethesda He told him in John 5:14 “Do not SIN any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” He clearly called this man’s actions “sin.”
— Matthew, Mark, & Luke all three tell us that when Jesus saw the paralyzed man, the first things He said to him was, “My son, your SINS are forgiven you.” So Jesus Himself was not averse to calling things “sins” — and we clearly see in His word that He intended for us to as well:

— In Ezekiel 16:2 God commanded His preacher: “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations.”
— He commanded Isaiah in 58:1, “Declare to my people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins.”
It is the role of God’s prophets, preachers, and teachers, to declare sin. If we do not preach against sin we are not fulfilling God’s commission to us, and woe to us if we do not!
— And it didn’t change in the New Testament either; the message “repent” is found dozens of times, from John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, & Paul.
This means there IS such a thing as “sin”, and that those who proclaim God’s word are to call people away from them. Jesus never indicated that “Don’t judge” meant “don’t call anything a ‘sin.’”

In fact, one of the most neglected commands in the New Testament is where Jesus commanded us in Matthew 18, “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” By giving us this command, Jesus implies first of all, that we know what sin IS when we see it; and second, that we can indeed make judgments regarding sin in others. He goes on to say if they don’t repent when you confront their sin, take another with you, and if they don’t listen to the two of you, take it to the church — and if they don’t listen to the church, then let them be to you as a Gentile or a tax-gatherer! All of this presupposes that we are able to discern that what the person is doing in their life, is “SIN” and we can and should confront them about it.

And as we see in I Corinthians 5, Paul actually called out the church at Corinth for NOT doing this. He addresses a situation in there to which many people today would WRONGLY apply this verse, “Do not judge”:
— In :1 Paul said that a man in that church was living in immorality with his father’s wife.
— Paul rebuked the church in :2, and said they were just accepting this in their church — indeed they were even proud of how “tolerant” they were — when he said they should have mourned over this sin, and removed the one who was doing this from their congregation!
— Then he says in :3 “For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, HAVE ALREADY JUDGED HIM who has so committed this, as though I were present.” Do you hear what he is saying? “I have already judged him”! So “do not judge” does NOT mean that you never make a judgment call on whether a clear-cut sin is right or wrong! Paul clearly calls this a sin; he clearly “judges” it — the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 7! — and he calls for this man to be put out of the church.

Then he quotes Deuteronomy in :12, and he says “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” He makes it very clear here: WE ARE to judge those who are in our church. “Judge not” does NOT mean that we cannot make a judgment call on what is clearly right and wrong on moral issues, and it does not mean that we are not to hold each other accountable in our local church.

Then in the next chapter, he talks about those in the church who were going to court against each other, and he says in :2, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? (:3) Do you not know that we will judge angels? HOW MUCH MORE MATTERS OF THIS LIFE?” Again, he clearly teaches here that we ARE to judge “matters of this life.” “Judge not” does not mean that Christians are never to decide matters of right and wrong.

The word of God clearly teaches us that the popular “America’s verse” interpretation of “judge not” is wrong. Jesus never intended to say that we cannot make a judgment call about something the Bible clearly teaches is right or wrong. In fact the Apostle Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for NOT doing that. And I tell you today that the same Lord Jesus Christ who “walked among the candlesticks” of His churches in Revelation with holy, purifying fire, still walks in the midst of His churches in our country today and His word to us has not changed: “Repent!” “Now go and sin no more!” “Judge not” does NOT mean that we never confront blatant sin in our midst. It is not a sin to say that something is wrong; in fact He tells us it is a sin NOT to!


II. What this verse DOES mean?

A. FIRST of all, it means that we are not to judge hypocritically, or self-righteously. As always, the first thing that we should do to interpret this verse rightly, is to keep it in CONTEXT. We keep saying that, but that is because it is so important. Don’t just lift one verse out of where God placed it in scripture, but look at what He placed around it to explain it. And Jesus DOES explain this, in the very next verses.

Yes, He says “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged” — and then He adds: “FOR (in other words, here is what this means) in the way you judge, you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how you can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Here Jesus explains His warning against judging by saying that He is talking about HYPOCRITICAL judging. He’s saying, don’t condemn someone for something, when you yourself are doing the same thing — or maybe even something WORSE, yourself! Don’t judge hypocritically.

Romans 2:1-3 says this same thing: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgement, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?”

Again there, He’s saying, don’t judge hypocritically. A lot of us are really bad about this in many areas of our lives. We’re a lot harder on other people than we are on ourselves. You know what I mean. We sit in front of the tv set, watching the football game, and just lambast the quarterback: “He can’t hit the broad side of a barn, get him out of there!” — when we didn’t even hit the trash can with the wrapper of the candy bar we just ate! Really? None of us even come close to being able to do what these men do. We don’t have any right to harshly judge them.
And the same thing applies in other, more serious areas of our lives too.

There is a kind of person who comes to church basically just to judge what is going on: how did Jim do today? Was the pastor’s message too long? Was the special music up to your taste? Well nobody spoke to me today … it’s almost as if some of us think that the church is some kind of performance, and God has appointed us to be the critic. Let me tell you something: God has not appointed you as His judge of the church. HE is the Judge of the church, not us! Paul wrote in Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” (Now again, this doesn’t mean we can’t call someone out if they get out of line in doctrine or morality, but He’s saying, we are not to pick at God’s servants.)

Let me just give you an example. Brother Jim may just have the hardest job in the church, right? ‘Cause I know what music I like. And you know what music you like too, right? And you know what? You & I may have completely different tastes. But you know what else — it is not just you & me, it’s you & me and 300 of our closest friends — all different ages, all different musical tastes, all different preferences, all different upbringing and backgrounds — and Jim’s got to select 3 songs that are going to make us ALL happy on ONE DAY? It cannot humanly be done; it is impossible. We should not criticize this man for his song selections; we should PRAY for him!

And it’s not just Jim; it’s everyone in the church. It’s all our staff; it’s all our leadership; it’s all our people. Don’t say: “So and so didn’t smile or talk to me today” — well you don’t know what they may be thinking about. You don’t know what’s going on in their life; some burden they are carrying. Maybe you didn’t know that they lost a loved one this week, or they have a straying child — and they are just hoping that by coming worship today it will somehow lift their spirits up — and here you are judging them because they don’t have a silly grin on their face, and fawn all over YOU?! Do you see how self-serving and judgmental that is?

See, here’s the thing: we want people to give us the benefit of the doubt, right? You want them to overlook things in your life, ‘cause you’re not perfect, and God’s working on you, right? And that IS right. Well as Jesus says later in this chapter, “Do unto others as you would have others do to you” — give these other people the same benefit of the doubt that YOU want from THEM! Think: they’ve probably got something weighing on their mind; they might not have had a good night’s sleep last night; maybe God’s working on them. I Peter 4:8 says “love covers a multitude of sins.” See, when you love somebody, you don’t pick at them; you look for excuses FOR them, because you want to believe the best about them. And God commands us: “Beloved, let us love one another.” Let your love for other people in the church, cover their sins. Let your love for them cause you to give them the benefit of the doubt. Let it keep you from picking at them. Let it keep you from judging them, in a harsher way than you want other people judging YOU. See, that’s just hypocritical; and that’s the first thing Jesus tells us that He means here: don’t judge hypocritically.

And there are several other scriptures in the New Testament which also shed light on what this verse really means:


B. Second, “Judge not” means that we are not to judge things which we are incapable of judging.

There are things that we have the ability to judge: when the Bible clearly says something is wrong, and someone is clearly doing it; then we have the ability — and in fact, Jesus tells us, in the church we have the responsibility — to call that out.

But there are also things we are totally incapable of judging. We see several instances of that in the New Testament:

— In John 7:24 Jesus said: “Do not judge according to APPEARANCE, but judge with righteous judgment.” See,, God is not concerned with outward appearance; He is concerned with our hearts. He said in Jeremiah 17:9 “I the Lord search the heart.” But the heart is exactly what you & I have no ability to judge at all!

I enjoy Kurt Hensley; he & I have a similar sense of humor. Sometimes 🙂 But one day after a service in which Kurt had gone down to the altar to pray, as he often does, I went over and told him, “I appreciate your heart.” But Kurt looked mournfully at me and said, “You don’t know what’s in my heart.” And I thought, you know, he’s right; I really don’t. Now, we can tell to some extent, because Jesus said a man speaks from that which fills his heart. But really, as far as what’s hidden in the depths of a person’s heart, we don’t know what is there! Only God does. And as we saw from Jeremiah, the heart is what really matters to Him. Therefore, you & I are totally incapable of judging the most important there is to judge — a person’s heart.

So we are very limited in what we can judge. We cannot judge a person’s motives. We cannot judge a person’s heart. We cannot judge a person’s thoughts.

And even going beyond the heart, there are so many of the facts, even of a person’s life and actions that we just cannot know without being them 24 hours a day.
— That’s why I Timothy 5:24-25 says “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” In other words, he is saying we are going to find out some things about people later on, that we do not know now. All the facts are not in, and we don’t know them.
— That’s why I Corinthians 4:5 says: “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
This verse gives us two good reasons why we can’t accurately judge people:
— first, because there are things that are “hidden in the darkness.” We aren’t with people all the time, and we don’t know what they are doing. We only see them a couple of hours a week, in public. They may be doing all kinds of things that we don’t know about — good or bad — we just don’t know! So we can’t judge. We don’t have all the information.
— then secondly, not only do we not know WHAT people are doing, we don’t know WHY they are doing it — which makes all the difference to God. It’s not just what we do; but why we do it that matters to Him. And you & I don’t know that. So we need to be very careful about judging — either for good or for bad — first of all because we don’t know everything they are doing, and secondly because we don’t know what is hidden in their heart, and why they are doing it.


C. And third, we should not judge each other about matters that are not clearly taught in scripture, but which are just matters of personal conviction.

Romans 14 has a HUGE section dedicated to this topic of judging. The occasion was the differing opinions in the Church at Corinth about whether they should eat meat (which often had been sacrificed to idols beforehand and then sold in the marketplace) or just eat vegetables (:2).
In :3-4 there Paul says “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another?”

So he says don’t judge each other; don’t be harsh with each other, on things that are not clearly detailed in scripture, on which good Christians may disagree.

In our “Discovering the Ridge” class Session 2, on the Baptist Faith & Message, we talk about how everything that we believe is important, but not everything is of the same level of importance. There are some things we must believe to be a Christian, like the Trinity, or the death & resurrection of Jesus for our sins. But then there are other things that good Christians disagree on, like the timing of the Lord’s return, or what you do on Sunday after you’ve been to worship. Good people will disagree on these. And the New Testament indicates that we shouldn’t judge each other on these non-essential, secondary issues.

— one person thinks Jesus will return and rapture the church out before the Tribulation; another thinks He will come in the middle, or after the Tribulation.
— one person thinks Sunday’s the Sabbath, and you shouldn’t even watch a football game on it; another thinks if you’ve been to worship, it’s ok to watch a game later
— one person prefers a certain translation of the Bible, but another likes a different one better.
— one person thinks the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft and has a conviction against them; another sees it just as lighthearted entertainment, and sees Christian symbolism in it.

And on and on. There are a TON of secondary issues like this that some of us are going to agree on, and others of us will not. The New Testament says DON’T judge each other about these secondary things. We are going too differ on a multitude of things. That’s ok. Romans 14:5 says “Let each person be convinced in his own mind.” These things are not important enough for us to break fellowship over. Now again, that does NOT mean that we don’t make judgments on central theological issues, or on sins that are clearly prohibited in scripture. But leave it at those. Don’t judge each other on minor issues that good Christians disagree on.

So of all these things especially Jesus is saying “Do not judge”:
— Don’t judge on things that good Christians disagree on
— Don’t judge people’s hearts and motives (which you have no idea about);
— Don’t judge a person’s life incompletely (because you don’t know what all they do or have done)
— And especially don’t judge hypocritically; when you are doing virtually the same thing or worse.


Really, :3-5 tell us that the “big message” here is: don’t focus your attention on the “specks” in the eyes of other people around you. Focus on the log in your own eye. In other words, the bottom line is this: don’t come to church to look around and judge other people; come to church to work on YOURSELF! If we all came to church just to work on ourselves, probably 90% of our problems would be eliminated! Stop spending your time criticizing other people, and ask God to work on YOU!

You know, each of us has enough trouble of our own. If you’re saved, you’re saved because you have admitted that you are a sinner, and that you need the grace of God to save you in Jesus Christ. So who are you to look down your nose on ANYONE? We’ve got our hands full working on our own sanctification; we don’t need to go around looking to judge other people. Now, that doesn’t mean that we use this like “America’s Verse”, and that we never say that anything is a sin; and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t adhere to the doctrinal and moral standards that Jesus commanded us to have. But He also commands us here: you focus mostly on YOURSELF. You’ve got enough trouble of your own!


About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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