“Judge not, lest you be judged.” Matthew 7:1

Perhaps the most popular verse in all of Scripture, this sentence is used by people of all backgrounds, all lifestyles, all walks of faith, and even by a few atheists.  It easily comes off the lips and seems to fix all arguments, all divisiveness, and even all sinful problems.  However, often we are content to stop with one sentence in the Bible thinking we have effectively settled all issues when there is much, much more to consider.  The next time this phrase pops into your mind, consider a couple of things before using it.

First, in simply letting these words come out of your mouth, you are defeating your own argument.  To tell someone not to judge is effectively judging them.  How can you tell a person they are even judging you without first judging yourself that they are judging?  Yes, I know this sounds a bit circular, but if you think about it, you will realize it is a valid argument.  Since Jesus was never circular in His reasoning, we must believe He meant more than this.

Second, “We may justify our actions, but deep down, we know when we’ve done something wrong.”  This is a sentence that I pulled out of a book about Christ’s inexhaustible love.  The book is dripping with grace for believers, but if you only read this one sentence, you would never, ever get the point of the whole book, the chapter, or even the context of this one sentence.  The biggest problem that comes with using the “Judge not” argument is that sometimes this is the only verse people even know in the Bible…so very few could tell you what comes after it or in what context Jesus was speaking.  Do you know that three or four verses down from this passage Jesus says “Do not cast your pearls before swine or give what is holy to the dogs.”  What?  How in the world do we determine swine and dogs without making a judgment call?  He also follows that up with “Beware of false prophets”.  If I can only examine my own life, keeping my eyes on my own paper so to speak, how would I ever avoid false prophets?  The bottom line is that EVERY DAY we are required to judge people.  From the stranger who knocks at your door while you are home alone with your kids…to the salesmen over the phone who is asking for your debit card information…to your spouse who just seems a bit “off” lately.  There is good in judging.

Third, Jesus was talking about hypocritical comparison judging.  He was talking about the kind of judgment that says “Stop stealing” but then turns in more mileage than you actually drove.  The kind that looks at someone else and says “Well, at least I don’t do THOSE things.”  The kind that says “Look at what they are doing!” when we are hiding the same things in their heart.  He was actually talking about a wrong state of heart.  If you read the rest of the first paragraph of Matthew 7, it is fairly obvious this is the case.

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.” 

Paul says it like this in Romans 2.

“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 patiencenot realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment<will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”

Yes, it is fairly obvious that Jesus wants us to examine our own heart first, but to say that there is never a time when we can correct another in love and for their own good would be to say that having a police force, a justice system, and a government is unbiblical and that is just not true.  To repeat what God has already said (in the way that He said it, not in a hateful, ugly way that thinks it is better than anyone else) is not judging others, it is trying to save their eternal life.

By the way, as a side note, the judgment you receive by judging someone is the kind that holds you to the same standard you are holding them to.  So if we are pointing out that someone is late to work every day, we better be on time for work every day pulling that log out of our own eye…and the way we point it out to them may come back to bite us the first time we are late.  If we are going to correct our children for yelling at each other, we better not be yelling at them (preaching to myself now).

All that to say, it is definitely necessary for us to all consider our heart attitudes when we are forming an opinion about any sins of others.  It IS wrong for us to point out sin for selfish ambition or vain conceit…to make us feel better about ourselves.  It is not wrong, however, to repeat what God has said about sin in the interest of saving others.  It is not wrong, to encourage others to partner with the Holy Spirit to be rid of the sin that easily besets them.  It is not wrong to stand on God’s side when the world is making you choose a side.

If you feel that someone is judging you or is judging someone else, it is probably best to ignore them.  If you really feel like you need to point out that they are judging, it is probably best to correct them privately and to use this verse in its context…because to use it any other way is really contradicting ourselves.