HomeOpinionDooley Noted: The Bible’s most abused verse

Dooley Noted: The Bible’s most abused verse

After preaching the Bible for over 20 years, I continue to be amazed by the transformative impact simply declaring the truth of Scripture can have on people’s lives. On a weekly basis, I witness firsthand how the Word of God is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16) for those who will simply yield to it.

Equally astounding, though, is the swift backlash that often comes from those who reject the plain meaning of Scripture in order to defend what is contrary to God’s commands. The mental gymnastics required to deny basic biblical realities would be entertaining if the stakes were not so high. Those who resent moral absolutes as toxic and oppressive fail to realize that they, according to Scripture, walk in the futility of their minds, alienated from God because of the hardness of their hearts (Eph. 4:17-18).

Yet, there is one verse of Scripture that even those who deride and scorn the Bible love to quote authoritatively as they defend all kinds of carnality. Making definitive truth claims will often be met with, “Ah, Ah, Ah! Judge not lest you be judged (Matt. 7:1)!” Think I’m exaggerating? Consider the following Christian claims:

  • Arrogance is a subtle form of idolatry that God will resist (James 4:6).
  • Lying is offensive to the God of truth and has its origin in hell (John 8:44).
  • Adultery is never justifiable because marriage is a picture of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33).
  • Abortion is murder because God weaves us together in the womb (Psa. 139:13-16).
  • Homosexuality is sinful because it violates God’s natural design (Rom. 1:24-27).
  • All religions are not the same. All roads do not lead to heaven (Matt. 7:13-14).
  • Jesus is not the best way of salvation; He is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12).

These ideas are not revolutionary. They are as old as Christianity itself. Yet, in a post-Christian world where the new religion is self-autonomy, assertions like these are often met with disgust and vitriol. Even more remarkable, though, is how many people will claim that these historical positions contradict the very Bible that revealed them. Sometimes those who reject most of what Jesus said are eager to quote Matthew 7:1 when they disagree with the moral assessment of another. Who are you to judge? Doesn’t the Bible say judge not?

Sadly, far too many Christians do not know how to respond when critics twist and mock the Bible for manipulative purposes. So great is our fear of being too judgmental that some have referred to Jesus’ words in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount as the eleventh commandment. Stripping this verse from its original context makes it the perfect crutch for those anxious to gaslight anyone brave enough to speak what is biblically accurate but unpopular. Ironically, those who cite Jesus’ warning are often the most judgmental toward those with whom they disagree!

Contrary to internet theologians eager to dismiss the Bible with the Bible, Jesus’ instruction about judging others is not a prohibition against discernment and moral accountability. Neither is He suggesting that Christians should never make judgment calls about the behaviors of others. Just a few verses later, Jesus Himself judges that some are like dogs who are resentful of what is holy, and others are like swine that are undeserving of pearls (Matt. 7:6). Later, in the same passage, Jesus warns that we should beware of false prophets, which is hardly possible apart from making judgment calls (Matt. 7:15). Next, He says, “You will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16, 20).” Again, insights like these are impractical if it is always wrong to issue any kind of moral verdict. Surely Jesus is not being hypocritical by disobeying His own command!

Instead, our Savior is admonishing us to judge carefully, realizing that the standards we impose on others will be the same criterion by which God evaluates us as well. His point is not that we should never judge, but that we should refuse to do so hypocritically. Thus, before judging others we should honestly evaluate ourselves. To help us grasp this understanding, Jesus provided a powerful analogy immediately after his precept. Imagine noticing a splinter in your brother’s eye but failing to see the log in your own (Matt. 7:3-4)! The solution is not, as many recklessly assume, to ignore the speck in another’s eye indefinitely, but to remove the 2X4 in your own eye first before seeking to help others (Matt. 7:5).

Clearly, Jesus is not suggesting that believers shy away from issues of right and wrong, or that we remain silent due to the ridicule of critics. In a world where the only rule is that there are no rules, Christians are called to be salt and light, which means we do not retreat from speaking what is true and we are just as deliberate to live what is true. May God give us the discernment and commitment to do so.

Dr. Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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