If there is a verse that people who do not believe the Bible like to quote, it’s Matthew 7:1. Jesus says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” When accused of sin, the person sputters with newfound righteous indignation, “You can’t judge me!”
Jesus never intended that we would ignore the difference between right and wrong. In fact, He requires us to be discerning and discriminating.
In the same passage, Jesus says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (7:15–16). Jesus warns us to distinguish between right and wrong actions, and to use these clues to judge the worthiness of a teacher’s words.
Jesus says that we are to consider the rightness or wrongness of our own actions. “Test yourselves, to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5). Every “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” of the Bible says that we must recognize and avoid sin.
Moreover, we are to be courageous enough to point out sin when we see it in others, and to recommend the ways of God. James says, “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19–20). Paul says, “even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1). This, too, requires making a judgment. In fact, Paul says there will be occasions when we have to remove a person from a congregation, if he refuses to change his practices (1 Cor. 5:1-3, 12).
The whole, “You can’t judge me!” thing is just a silly knee-jerk defense mechanism with no basis in the truth of God’s word.
Do Not Judge
But now, if we’ve described what Jesus does not mean, we have not described what He does mean. The context will help us figure it out.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at 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,” and behold, the log is 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 (Matt. 7:1-5).
Jesus tells us to avoid harsh judgments, mindful of the fact that we ourselves will stand before God. If we hope to receive mercy (which we will most certainly need) then we should be merciful and understanding toward others’ struggles with sin. Some day we might find ourselves victims of the same sins.
Jesus tells us to avoid hypocritical judgments. It is especially ridiculous when someone picks on a friend for a minor trespass, when he is involved in far greater crimes. How hypocritical to grumble about a person’s ability to lead the congregation in singing, when he hasn’t even made it to the last three worship services. How hypocritical to frown at a parent whose child is fidgety, when he conveniently forgets the messes his children have made.
Jesus is not telling us to avoid judgment. He is telling us to avoid unfair judgments. When we remove the log from our own eyes, we provide a valuable service to others in pointing out their specks and helping them remove them. There have been many grains of sand and flakes of sawdust that I have been unable to get out of my own eye, without someone’s help. I depend on—even appreciate—your efforts to correct me.
Before expressing a judgment, there are two more things to remember:
First, only God has the power to pass eternal judgment. James 4:12 says “there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” Only He admits to Heaven or casts into Hell. Only He is wise enough, just enough, and powerful enough to do that. Anyone else would mess it up. All humans judge with partiality, but God plays no favorites. God is righteous yet merciful, and whatever He decides on Judgment Day, it is the right decision.
Second, only God reads the heart (2 Chron. 28:9). We cannot discern secrets or motives. Even the holiest exterior can hide horrible things. —John Guzzetta