Jerry C. Brewer
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were experts at finding what they perceived as “loopholes” in God’s Law in order to rationalize their own sins and entrap the Lord. They attempted this in questioning Him about plucking grain on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8), the washing of hands as a religious rite (Matt. 15:1-9), marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:3-9), His authority (Matt. 21:23-46), civil government (Matt. 22:16-21), the resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33), the “greatest commandment” of the Law of Moses (Matt. 22:34-40), et al. “There is no new thing under the sun.” Modern proteges of those ancient Pharisees still rationalize their own sins by appealing to what they believe are “loopholes” in the New Testament.
“Don’t Judge Me”
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 the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye: and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1-5).
Other than John 3:16, this passage may be the only one in the entire Bible that most people know, and it is a favorite to hurl in the face of those who preach the Truth and condemn sin in men’s lives. The retort is usually, “Don’t judge me! The Bible says, ‘Judge not.’” Let’s take a close look at this “rationale” for men’s sins in our day.
If Jesus had stopped at the end of verse one and never said anything else, the rationale would be valid. But He didn’t. A consideration of the context indicates that He does not condemn all judgment, only hypocritical judgment. In so doing, He used a hyperbole to illustrate the hypocrisy of the kind of judging He meant.
He asked, “…why beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considereth the beam that is in thine own eye?” A “mote” is, “a dry twig, or straw,” and a “beam” is from a Greek word with a primary meaning of “holding up; a stick of timber: – beam” (James Strong, Greek Dictionary of The New Testament). There is a vast distinction between the two. The mote is a tiny particle. The beam is as we describe a huge piece of timber today, holding up a wall or ceiling. Thus, Jesus uses hyperbole (exaggeration) to teach a lesson. A person with a 6 by 6 beam of wood protruding from his eye approaches his brother and, with his eyesight weakened by it, says, “let me get that splinter out of your eye.” That, Jesus said, is hypocritical.
But, He continues, saying, “first cast the beam out of thine own eye: and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” He does not condemn the man with the beam in his eye for seeing the mote in his brother’s eye. He only condemns the hypocrisy of trying to correct another when a like—or larger—problem afflicts the one doing the correcting. It is not wrong, or hypocritical, to correct another. Jesus was not dealing with judgment on the part of men. He dealt with hypocrisy in judgment. In fact, he commanded “righteous judgment” in another passage: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). These passages in Matthew and John require judgment. They do not condemn it.
What constitutes hypocritical judgment? Does one have to live a sinless life in order to preach the judgment of God on sinners? When hypocrisy is understood, the answer is a resounding no. The word “hypocrite” means, “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (Strong). Actors are literally hypocrites, and hypocrites are literally actors. They are real persons who “pretend” to be someone else in their performances. James Stewart was not really George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. He was James Stewart, he but portrayed someone else. The person with a beam in his eye portrays a person with clear eyesight, but he is not. That makes him a hypocrite. But Jesus did not prohibit him from removing the mote from his brother’s eye. He commanded that he first remove the beam from his own eye and then he would no longer be a hypocrite, pretending he was righteous. A person may commit adultery and try to correct that sin in others’ lives. He is hypocritical (an actor) only if he is still an adulterer. If he has repented and been forgiven of that sin, he is not a hypocrite, and has every right to preach against adultery in others’ lives. Matthew 7:1-5 does not prohibit one from passing any judgment; only that which is hypocritical.