In our readings today, we come to the end of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? – Matthew 7:1-3

This is sometimes called the most well-known verse in the Bible. It is often quoted by non-believers against the Church when it witnesses to God’s character and will in the civil realm. In some cases, it is used by Christians against other Christians to discourage them from speaking about what God has revealed by the light of nature and by His express word. The claim is “You being a hypocrite because Jesus told you not to judge. And you have your own sins so you can’t judge rightly.”

Is that what Jesus is saying? Let’s examine this text more fully.

Christ is not forbidding all judgment. Indeed, He cannot. As Paul tells us later, the Church triumphant in heaven shall judge the angels; so how much more shall we make judgments in everyday controversies and disputes (1 Cor. 6:3). William Perkins, Elizabethan Puritan, in his Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, distinguished between four kinds of lawful judgement, and one unlawful.

Lawful Judgments 

  1. Public, civil judgment. This is the role of the civil authority who judge according to “good positive laws of the country”.**
  2. Public, ecclesiastical judgment. This belongs to the Church and by the preaching and teaching of the Word is the means by which men’s sins are judged. See 1 Cor 14:24; Heb 11:7.
  3. Private admonition. This is the judgment made by a Christian in a loving way, reprehending another Christian for his sins and pleading for his repentance.
  4. Dispraise. This when the “gross faults of notorious persons are reproved and condemned for this end alone, that others may take warning thereby.”

Lawful judgment was not the subject of Christ’s command to “judge not”. It was unlawful judgment.

What is unlawful judgment? It is a rash judgment. It is focusing on the small faults of others while neglecting the greater sins of oneself (v.3). Moreover, it is a judgment made with evil intent. We love ourselves more than our neighbor and seek to break him down. We pry into his live and behavior. We make such judgments not out of a calling to do so or out of an urgent necessity that our brothers and sisters be restored. Finally, we make such judgments not to admonish them for their reformation nor to dispraise them so others may take warning. No, rather we do so out of a spirit of hatred, to delight ourselves in their mistakes, and to defame their character.

Perkins answers the question of what we ought to do if asked of our opinion of another. He says we must do so according to the following: 1) If you have good to speak of that person, you are obliged to do so; if you can cover a fault, you are obliged to do so as well (1 Pet 4:8). 2) In giving dispraise of a person (which we noted above is a lawful judgment), do you do so out of a heart of malice? If you do, then anything you say is to a wrong end.

Even in such cases where nothing but true accounting of events is spoken, Perkins notes that ascribing an evil end to a man’s actions unnecessarily is also a rash judgment.

We should cast off these judgments for they are a poison to our souls. In all that you do, seek the good of others and expect the good from them. Thus, you shall fight against the sin of rash judgment. Cast off such judgments as Christ has commanded. Love you brothers and sisters and think good of them. Consider others first. For all of this was the example and witness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In this post, I was greatly helped by the work of William Perkins, his exposition of these passages may be found here.

**A footnote here about Perkins and his use of “good positive laws”. It was a common opinion amongst many Puritans that the laws of a nation (“positive laws”) were lawful insofar as they did not violate God’s moral law. In other words, a law is “good” – ethically speaking – if it is not contrary to God’s law and it contributes to the good and orderly conduct of a nation. This position is contrasted with others in the Reformed tradition who state that a law is unlawful unless we see it express in the Mosaic law. I take Perkins view; if a law does not violate God’s law – even if we may disagree with its practicality or benefit – we ought to respect it.

I am a Reformed Presbyterian. I offer all content as my own personal reflections. I am not a licensed minister.