“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log 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
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” We tend to throw that verse around a lot, but do we really know what Jesus was talking about when He said that? What did He mean? Is there ever a time when people should “judge” others? Are there right ways to judge and wrong ways to judge? Just what is the proper application of this passage?
When you read the context of Matthew 7:1, specifically verses 1-5, it becomes very clear that Jesus is not prohibiting all kinds of judgment. In verse 5 He tells us what we need to do first so that we can help another person with their problem. Elsewhere, He makes it clear that we do have a responsibility to exercise judgment. On another occasion Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). His brother James pointed out the importance of bringing back one who has “strayed from the truth” (James 5:19-20). Obviously, a judgment call would be required in order to determine whether one has strayed from the truth. In another place Jesus told us, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). This also would required a judgment call. So we see that the Bible simply does not promote this mistaken notion that some have that it is a sin to judge.
So what kind of judgments are prohibited?
First, self-righteous judgments. This was the problem Jesus was addressing in Matthew 7:1-5. We judge self-righteously when we magnify the faults of others while minimizing or ignoring our own. Jesus condemned the self-righteous Pharisee who put himself on a higher plane than the sinful tax collector (Luke 18:11-14). The Bible says of such people: “...when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Christ is the standard, not us.
Secondly, the Bible prohibits imposing our own opinions and preferences on others. Romans 14 talks about what to do with matters which God has not covered in the Bible, but about which people still have their own opinions. On such things, we are not to judge others. God is quite capable of making His own legislation, thank you very much. If a thing is required or prohibited, He made sure to tell us in the Bible. He has not asked for nor does He need your help or mine. We are commanded not to speak evil about each other or judge each other over these kinds of matters (James 4:11-12).
Thirdly, the Bible prohibits a merciless judgment. Even when the matter at hand is shown in God’s Word to be sin, there must be forgiveness if repentance is shown (Luke 17:3). Even when repentance is not shown and forgiveness is not obligated by us, we are still required to show love to others (Matthew 5:43-48). God promises that He will not extend mercy and forgiveness to us if we do not extend the same to others (Matthew 6:14-15; James 2:13). Kind of makes you wake up and smell the coffee, doesn’t it?
If someone we know has sinned, let’s make sure we love them enough to go to them and help them out of it with the proper attitude (Galatians 6:1-2). Let’s first apply God’s correction to ourselves before we apply it to others. Above all, let’s make sure everything is done in love because “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).