The Verse the Culture Misquotes Most Regularly to Quiet Christians

Matthew 7:1

As a Christian, I’m often at odds with the culture around me. As our society embraces a growing number of unbiblical behaviors and attitudes, I find myself becoming more and more vocal in my opposition. I’m not alone; many other conservative Christians are also taking a stand for what the Bible teaches, particularly when it comes to moral behavior. Maybe that’s why I seem to hear Matthew 7:1 tossed around so frequently by those who want Christians to quiet down:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

 Whenever we, as Christians, speak out against something in the culture, one of two labels is immediately employed in an effort to silence us: we are either branded “intolerant” or “judgmental”. To make matters worse, the second label is often attached to the teaching of Jesus Himself. Are we Christians defying the words of our Master when we speak against the behaviors, attitudes or worldviews affirmed by others? Did Jesus command us to be silently nonjudgmental? This selective use of scripture by the opposition is perhaps the finest example of what we at Stand to Reason are addressing when we caution people to “never read a Bible verse.” Matthew 7:1, when read in isolation from the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to command a form of silent acceptance and tolerance advocated by the culture, but a closer examination of the verse reveals Jesus’ true intent. If Jesus was advocating some form of quiet tolerance, how do we explain the following statements?

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (verse 6).

 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (verses 13 and 14).

 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (verse 15).

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (verses 21, 22 and 23).

Wow, Jesus seems vocally judgmental in these passages. Some people are dogs and swine, unworthy of our efforts. Some people are wrong about the path they choose. Some people are false prophets. Some people are true disciples and some are not. Jesus sure seems comfortable making judgmental statements about people in these passages. How could Jesus say such things when he began this part of the sermon by saying, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”? Maybe we should revisit the first verses of Matthew 7:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For 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 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” (Matthew 7:1-5).

 It turns out that Jesus is not prohibiting vocal discernment in these passages, but is cautioning against a certain kind of unbecoming behavior: hypocritical judgmentalism. We are called to live differently so that we can effectively identify and address unbiblical behavior in our culture. I cannot be a practicing thief and effectively caution against thievery. I cannot be an active adulterer and effectively advocate monogamy. I’m going to have to “first” stop and assess my own behavior (take out my own “log”) before I can “then” caution others about their behavior (help them take the “speck” out of their eye). This is a “first / then” commandment. Both sides of the directive are important; Jesus is commanding two equally critical actions. First, we must change our behavior; become people of God who are above reproach. Second, we must actively engage others about their behavior. Some ideas are good and some are bad. Some prophets are true and some are false. Some people are right, some people are wrong. We are called to make statements about such things after we eliminate hypocrisy in these areas of our own lives. We, as Christians, are called to (1) live righteously, and (2) speak out about unrighteousness. We are less likely to do this, however, if we allow people to misquote Jesus in an effort to silence us.

 

J. Warner Wallaceis a Cold-Case DetectiveChristian Case Maker, senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of “Cold-Case Christianity,” “Cold-Case Christianity for Kids,” “God’s Crime Scene,” and “Forensic Faith.”

 

This article first appeared at J. Warner’s ColdCaseChristianity.com website.


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  • gladys1071

    i think Jesus is the only want that can judge fairly for he is holy and perfect. Human beings are not able to judge fairly because we are fallen. Besides Jesus is able to look into our hearts, we human beings cannot.

    I think we can judge an action being wrong or right, but we cannot judge another person’s heart, only God can do that.

    That is why i would rather stand under God’s jugement then man’s, God is fair and just, man is not.

    • Zarm

      Bravo- I think you hit the nail on the head, exactly!

  • Zarm

    I’m… not actually sure about this interpretation. And I’m likewise not sure that we’re actually called to be vocally proclaiming the standards of righteousness to unbelievers. Look, I may have my theology crossed- but it seems to me that we’re called to preach the Kingdom of God first and foremost- not the rules and regulations. Jesus didn’t go to dinner with tax collectors and sinners to tell them every way they were breaking the commandments. He went to tell them (as far as I can tell) the good news. Once they were in the Kingdom, once they were following Him, it was then that He told them His standards on how they were to live (and it was only then that those standards would mean anything to them, anyhow).

    It seems to me that we are called to speak to His sacrifice and salvation (and yes, invoking His standards is sometimes a necessary part of identifying the sin that we need to be saved from, and can be a part of that witness- but only in service to the witness, not as an end unto itself), and to speak His standards and ways to those who accept. To the world outside, they are foolishness, and I don’t think that is the Truth we are called to share.

    God’s standards apply to all men- but in practice, they are primarily of value to believers; to those who have a reason to care about God’s standards. yes, all scripture is God-breathed and useful for many things, including convicting, and I won’t deny that the truth about sin is a necessary part of the salvation message. But I don’t think ‘taking a stand’ to loudly proclaim God’s standards for His people is of any value to the world apart from that; it is only empty noise based on delusion to those whose eyes are closed.

    At the same time, I think there’s a very big difference between proclaiming God’s standards, and judging. That’s, to me, the crucial divide that this article misses entirely. to recognize what God calls sin and does not is not a judgement; it is merely a reporting and recounting of fact. To judge is far more in the heart- the attitude we have toward those practicing sin, what the fact that they have sin in their lives ‘means’ to us and how we look at them. And in that way, I do think the speck/plank analogy is far less an if/then commandment and far more a reminder of the unattainable goal… as we are also sinners, the only way we would be fit to judge our neighbors for being sinners (to think or believe that they are in some way worse than we are because of their sins), would be to remove the log from our own eyes, to be without sin ourselves, which we never can. So, judging our neighbors is never acceptable.

    But fortunately, recognizing God’s standards and identifying what is sinful and wrong doesn’t require judgement- only recognition of the standards He has already laid out.

    • gladys1071

      I don’t very often agree with you, but i do agree with your statement. All of us are sinners and have sin in our lives, so none of us can stand before God in our own righteousness, we can only Stand on Jesus perfect righteousness.

      That is why Jesus said “he that is without sin throw the first stone”

      Our relationship with God is not about rules, and if we preach rules and standards, we will get nowhere for nobody can meet them.

    • DCAdint

      Romans 7:7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless,
      I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I
      would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said,
      “You shall not covet.” – The law is part of the gospel of the Kingdom. The gospel says we are lost and need a savior. If we tell people they need to be saved but do not also tell them the law which shows how and why they are lost then they will respond back with “Saved from what?”

      • Zarm

        I agree. As I said, it can be an important part of witnessing to those who do not have a concept of themselves as already sinful.

        But preached by itself, the law is empty. That’s my point. If you are preaching about the kingdom of God and using His law to illustrate the sins we must be saved from, more power to you (so long as you know or genuinely believe it is the right approach for reaching whomever you’re talking to for the kingdom). But if you’re just standing up on the street-corner and proclaiming “The Bible says sex before marriage is wrong!” or “God’s word says that men lying with men as they would with women is a sin!”, then what good are you doing (unless God has convicted you as a prophet to specifically go out and declare such)? The law is not being preached in anything but furtherance of itself. Those who hear and do not believe will have no reason to give it weight; whom will it move even an inch closer to the Kingdom?

        That’s my point. The law in and of itself is folly to the perishing world. It is important in convicting, and in living as believers, and for those purposes should be preached. But to simply suggest that we are to go out and holler it at the secular world as a directive, apart from any witnessing, but merely as a self-contained admonishment… I don’t believe has any value. And I certainly don’t think that’s what the plank-speck passage is trying to communicate “First make sure you’re not involved in adultery. Then go out and start yelling at the culture about how bad adultery is” (which is what I’m getting from this article; a defense of going out and lecturing a secular culture on the law, once our own blatant sins in the area on which we’re expounding have been contained… which in and of itself wouldn’t be judging and isn’t applicable to the passage, but even if it were, isn’t at all what Jesus is commanding us to do (as far as I can tell), and very much wasting time on futile pursuits that can only alienate from the Kingdom of God, not further it.)

        Does that make sense? I don’t disagree with you, but you’re talking about sharing the law as a component of witnessing… and I don’t think this article is talking about that at all.

    • Dave

      If we don’t proclaim the standards of righteousness to unbelievers, how will they ever know that they have fallen short of God’s standard and need a Savior. It is impossible to evangelize without mentioning the sin that separates us from God and sentences us to death and hell. You cannot repent from violating a standard that you know nothing about.

      • Zarm

        Once again, I did *not* disagree with that point. As a part of witnessing, awareness of sin is an important tool.

        My point is rather that simply proclaiming those standards on their own, without being part of a witness, is counterproductive. Maybe the thought is “We’ll just get the awareness out there, so that when it comes witnessing time, they’ll already know what laws they’ve broken”? But it will also have no impact, no meaning. If we stand on the metaphorical street corner and simply shout at the world “God says this is bad! God says that is bad!”, what reason would they have to take heed? What reason would they have not to tune us out? What value is there in doing such a thing- such as the Pharisees did?

        If as part of a conversation, as part of the effort to reach someone- if, in love, we are sharing Christ and trying to reach someone with the truth that they have sinned and do need a savior, then by all means! But if we are not witnessing- if we are simply shouting out the law at the top of our lungs to let all around us know that God disapproves of what they’re doing- then of what use are we? When did Christ, or the Apostles, ever spread the good news thus?

        Proclaiming God’s standards and the ways we’ve broken them are a part of evangelism in most, if not all, circumstances. Proclaiming His standards as an exercise unto itself, simply letting the world know that being the world isn’t pleasing to Him (not as part of a witness, but simply as a stand-alone proclamation), is a very different matter… and not one that I think is glorifying Him or following His command on how we are to spread His word.

  • Just One Voice

    Oh my! You said the J word! Aaaahhhhh! You hater! You need to be silenced! It’s not our job to judge! *insert sarcasm here*

    Funny thing, how, as soon as you say the word “judge” people go into panic. I, for one, see nowhere in the article where he’s supporting and advocating a judgmental attitude towards non-believers. Nor is he saying that we go calling out other people’s sins, telling them how to live, etc. Indeed, we go out & share salvation with those who are willing to receive. Some will not be receptive of our efforts. So shake off the dust & move on, Matthew 10:14

    Just read the last part again: We are called to make statements about such things after we
    eliminate hypocrisy in these areas of our own lives. We, as Christians,
    are called to (1) live righteously, and (2) speak out about
    unrighteousness. We are less likely to do this, however, if we allow
    people to misquote Jesus in an effort to silence us.

    I would only add that, we are to speak out according to Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29, and 2 Timothy 4:1-5. All verses that talk about speech being seasoned with salt, graceful speech, patience & thoughtfulness in teaching, etc.

  • jereme garland

    A man on a wall, thanks J