Are you quick to see (and talk about) ways others fail while overlooking failures and sins in your own life and family?
A survey of 20 somethings indicates that 9 out of 10 think of Christians as judgmental. Although surveys like this are often inaccurate (and a result of cultural aversions to truth), the perception is widespread.
Jesus’ warning against judging must be heard often in the Church.
But what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” These are among the most well-known words of Jesus.
Some use these words to keep people from making moral judgments about others. Others use them to excuse themselves from making judgments. “Who am I to judge?” they ask. “After all, Jesus did say, ‘Judge not…’”
So what did Jesus mean? Was he advocating a mind your own business policy? Was he forbidding all judgments about the actions of others?
Does Jesus ask us to “…suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to avoid all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil?” (John R. W. Stott)
- “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. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?’ 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. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).
Jesus is not renouncing all judging
If we stopped at 7:1, we might conclude that all forms of judging are wrong. But the context as well as verses 15 and following, indicates a clear need for judging. Hypocritical or self-righteous judgment is what our Lord condemns.
Jesus’ warning seems unexpected
“The graphic language of Jesus teaching so far (5:3-6:34) challenges its hearers to a radical personal commitment to God’s kingdom and righteousness that should scare them into attending to themselves. But just in case the hearers had been too obtuse to grasp that point, Matthew renders it explicit in 7:1-5.” (C. S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 240).
- Jesus forbids hypocritical judgments by insisting that we get the sin out of our own lives first.
- Jesus actually encouraged involvement in other people’s lives, but only after careful self-examination and self-correction.
- Jesus is not telling us we cannot speak to others about sin in their lives. This would contradict Matthew 18:15-17.
- He is telling us that we are not to be hypocrites. We are not to operate with a double standard.
- Those who judge their own sin will approach others with a different spirit because they will know and cherish grace and forgiveness from God.
- Those who don’t think they have any sin to deal with will approach others in a self-righteous judgmental way. Those who deal honestly with their sin first will approach others with love, mercy, grace, and patience – as God has been gracious to them.
- Jesus’ words could be used to make some people feel that they are always inadequate to speak into the lives of others. But our Lord is not offering a reason to remain aloof in our concern for others but to simply deal with ourselves first so that we might see clearly to help our fellow believer.
- In verse 6, Jesus is obviously teaching a need for judgments that will help us use discretion in ministry to others (see my post: Don’t waste your ministry on dogs and pigs).
Hear these words: “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” (Matthew 7:5).
- “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).
- “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:4,10).
Jesus warned about a reciprocal principle in the way we make judgments – (measure for measure – v. 2) (see also: 6:14-15; 7:12; 18:21-35).
- “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13).
- “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1-2).
- “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
Watching or Watching out for?
If we honor the distinction between watching others and watching out for them, we’ll be far better equipped to avoid wrongful judging.
- Watching others is prideful and pharisaic.
- Watching out for others is humble care for the wellbeing of others.
Let’s live and teach this distinction to ensure we obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Of course, we cannot watch out for each other if we have plank eye disease.