In Matthew 7:1 Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Second only to John 3:16, this might be the most well-known verse in Scripture, and the most misunderstood. There are people who have never opened a Bible, but if they’re corrected they’re going to respond with Jesus’ words and criticize you for judging them.
When Jessica Simpson received criticism from the Christian community she said:
It didn’t really surprise me because I grew up with a lot of that backlash. That’s why I didn’t end up going into the Christian music industry. I think that if they’re really good Christians the judgment wouldn’t be there.popdirt.com: Jessica Simpson Not Surprised By ‘Dukes’ Backlash
That pretty much sums up the attitude of many people. This is the mentality in the world, and unfortunately it can even be a mentality that creeps into the church.
Some people love to throw out Matthew 7:1 as though you can never say anything is wrong. But there is a real inconsistency – and even hypocrisy – with these people. Those who condemn others for judging do plenty of it themselves. If you asked some of these people, “Is it wrong to murder, abuse children, or steal from others?” unless there is something wrong with them, they’re going to say, “Yes.” In answering in the affirmative they are doing what they condemn.
You might be quick to say, “They’re only judging the action, not the person and that’s different!” Then imagine asking, “What do you think of Hitler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Charles Manson?” Are they going to say, “Who am I to judge? They were just following their hearts. I can’t say what they did was wrong. They were simply doing what they thought was right!” Again, they’re going to recognize the wicked actions of these people. The real irony is people who claim we shouldn’t judge are doing what upsets them. They are judging people for judging.
People who criticize others for judging do plenty of judging themselves.
A Sign of Maturity
Mature believers have the discernment to distinguish – or judge – between good and evil. Immature believers or unbelievers do not have the maturity to discern – or judge – between good and evil:
The mature…have their senses trained to discern good and evil.Hebrews 5:14
Mature Christians can discern – or judge – between good and evil.
Those who are spiritual judge all things.1 Corinthians 2:15
The word “spiritual” is synonymous with “mature.” These people evaluate everything around them:
- How many fathers wouldn’t judge a young man interested in their daughter?
- What parents don’t judge the actions of their children’s friends to determine if they should let their children play with them?
- Who doesn’t judge the behavior of people around them to determine whether they’re trustworthy?
And when we judge something is sin, we have a responsibility to correct that person.
Commanded in Scripture
A few verses after Matthew 7:1, in Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus discussed good and bad trees that represent people. Twice He says “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20). The fruit represents the “produce” from a person’s life. The process of looking at fruit to determine whether it is good or bad is judging.
Consider these verses:
- Eight times in Matthew 23:13-29 Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees.” Each time this was followed by a condemnation – or judgment – of their actions.
- In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Judge with righteous judgment.”
- Philippians 3:2 says, “Beware of dogs [and] evil workers!” We can only obey this verse if we have judged some people to be dogs and evil workers.
- Titus 3:10 says, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.” The only way a divisive man can be rejected is if his actions have been judged as divisive.
- 1 Corinthians 5 discusses a man who was in gross sexual immorality. In verse 3 Paul said, “[I] have already judged [the one] who has done this deed.” Paul had no problem telling the entire church he judged the man’s actions.
We Will Be Judged with the Same Standard We Use with Others
If Matthew 7:1 is not saying judging is wrong, what is it saying? The primary rule for interpreting Scripture is to look at context. Let the Bible be the commentary on the Bible. Let’s look at the context:
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.Matthew 7:2
If you judge someone for doing something, you better make sure you don’t do it. If you rebuke people for:
- Lying, you better not lie
- Losing their tempers, you better not lose your temper
- Being late late, you better be on time
- Watching or listening to things they shouldn’t, you better not watch or listen to anything compromising
- Gossiping, you better not gossip
- Not serving, you better be a servant
There’s nothing wrong with saying something is sin, but there is something wrong with saying something is sin while committing the same sin yourself. It’s similar to Romans 2:1:
You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
If wejudge something to be sin in someone else’s life we’re showing we know it to be wrong, and therefore we’re without excuse if we commit that same sin. If you think something is wrong for someone else, you better think it’s wrong for you.
The Issue is Hypocrisy, not Judging
Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:3-5
These verses reveal what Jesus is condemning.
How can you be concerned about a speck in someone else’s life when something as bad (or worse) is in your own life? That is the height of hypocrisy. It wouldn’t be too much to say these verses are not primarily about judging. They are primarily about hypocrisy. There is nothing wrong with saying that something is wrong. But there is something wrong with saying something is wrong while doing it yourself.
An example takes place with David before he repented of his sins of adultery and murder. Nathan the prophet shared a story with David about a rich man who stole a lamb from a poor man, then:
David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”2 Samuel 12:5-7
Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!”
Remove the Speck, but Be Sure to Remove the Plank First
Jesus didn’t say not to judge, i.e. he didn’t say not to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. But He did say to make sure you have judged yourself first, i.e. removed the sin from your own life before trying to remove it from someone else’s life.
Why is this so important? When we confront others their flesh will flare up and they’ll want to find sin in our life. They’ll want to say something like, “Oh yeah, well what about you…” Jesus’ words allow us to have the credibility we need confronting someone else.
- Have there been times when you judged people and they turned the tables and pointed out something in your life?
- Have there been times when people judged you and that’s how you responded?