The most popular Bible verse among the churched and unchurched alike is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Or, more realistically, it’s usually quoted as, “Don’t judge.”
In contrast, Jesus tells us that we are to judge, but gives His guidelines by which we are to do so.
Anytime a Christian begins to suggest that there is a proper morality, or ethical approach to life, they are hit with “Don’t judge!”
This two-word phrase has become a mantra for the irreligiously pious and it has been repeated so often that, for many, it’s now simply a way of life...
"Don’t judge others who believe differently than you."
"Don’t judge the family member that is embracing homosexuality."
"Don’t judge the friend who is thinking of leaving the church."
" Don’t judge those who self-harm."
" Don’t judge those who use drugs."
Why? Because you don’t know what their life is like.
The question is, - since this directly connects to a verse from Scripture (and this is largely what is said to support its flagrant use), is that what Jesus meant? Are Christians commanded to not judge others?
If we were to stop at those first two words, we could make Matthew 7:1 say anything. In fact, if that were all that Jesus said on the matter, then we could possibly infer that this is exactly what he meant. Thankfully, there is more to the story.
Always place Jesus words in their Biblical context.
Before going further in Matthew, take a brief detour into the Gospel according to John, specifically John 7:24:
“Do not judge according to outward appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Here, is from from Jesus a clear statement that doesn’t say NOT to judge, but that WHEN you judge, you should judge with righteous judgment. In the context of John 7, Jesus is speaking at the feast of tabernacles and the Jews are opposing him, because he has been healing on the Sabbath. Others have accused him of being possessed by a demon. In response, Jesus is telling them, that they are judging him on the basis of actions and outward appearances and not on the basis of his teaching.
This is where v.24 comes in.
So, what’s the point?
The point is that when Jesus responds to them in v. 24 he uses an imperative, i.e. a command. He is literally telling the people that they ARE to judge, but to judge righteously. Now, if this is the case in John, how does that affect the passage in Matthew? Well, there are only two options: 1). Jesus is contradicting himself,
or 2). Matthew 7 hasn’t been properly understood.
Return to Matthew 7, and look at the first two verses,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
If we just continue reading beyond the favored “Don’t judge” line, clarification is already provided. Jesus is not telling us not to judge, but, much like John 7:24, that we need to be aware of the way in which we judge, for that is the way in which judgment will return upon us.
How do I know this?
If it’s not clear in English (which I believe that it is) each active verb in the Greek of this passage is connected linguistically to a passive. In essence, the action of the individual is awaiting an equal reaction from God.
Verses 3-4 provide the hyperbolic image of a person trying to tell a friend that they have a piece of lint in their eye, while the individual “judging” has a 2×4 stuck in their own eye! This imagery proves the point rather bluntly, “You can’t presume to judge someone else with your own problems in the way!” But as clearly as this point is conveyed, it is often still applied incorrectly, for once again we must let scripture interpret scripture in what Jesus has said in John 7.
For many, the “log-in-the-eye” analogy only further proves the practice of never judging the actions of anyone, - because we can’t see clearly enough to do so, but again, that would only work if there was nothing else said within the passage.
Verse 5 continues the guidance,
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
You see, Jesus still isn’t saying, “don’t judge your neighbor.” Rather, he’s saying that before you judge your neighbor you must deal with your own issues. By considering the instruction of John 7:24 alongside Matthew 7:1-5, the summary is:
“Before you can judge another person rightly, you must first address the state of your own unrighteousness.”
How do we do that? We cannot make ourselves righteous but can receive the imputed righteousness of Christ. Only through the lens of His righteousness and His word can anyone judge another rightly.
Recognize that many people who espouse the “Don’t judge” doctrine, do so precisely because they feel they were unfairly judged, usually within the context of a church. - But the misuse of a text by one group does not preclude its proper use by another.
A helpful guide to maneuvering this minefield is found in the closing statement of v.5. When you are able to see clearly, then you can remove the lint from your friend. Notice that the analogy for judging rightly is one that helps the other person.
For most, when who hear the term “judging” think in legal terms, and picture a judge in a courtroom pronouncing a sentence with a gavel. If ever on the receiving end of that form of judging, there is a rightly recoil from the experience, and if that is the image carried forward when delivering a judgment, the end result will always hurt rather than help.
Enter into the operation to glorify God, never to belittle or humiliate another, to speak truth, but to speak truth in love. It is to judge in such a way that maintains respect for other individuals, for the analogy of Jesus in Matthew 7, is to judge someone else in an act of compassion, not in violence.
Judgment is not an inherently negative action if it is carried out in accordance within biblical parameters. The doctrine of “Don’t judge!” sounds loving at face value, but, if it is allowed to extend to its natural extreme, it will leave others unwarned, and in vulnerable positions that can be destructive and even deadly to them.
Nowhere in Scripture does the Bible tell Christians not to judge. To say it does is to twist the truth into an error that sounds just true enough to deceive multitudes of people.
In contrast, Jesus tells us that we are to judge, but gives the guidelines by which we are to do so. If you are in a situation wherein you are unsure if casting judgment is the appropriate action, retreat and examine those guidelines, be in prayer about your intentions so that there are no “beams” in your eye, then proceed with humility and the desire to help, not hurt.
God, working through you, can save a life.
Clark Bates, http://www.exejesus.com