Lately I’ve been hearing people say “You can’t judge me. Only God can judge me” as if to say my opinion doesn’t matter and they have the right to behave in a certain way. Yes, God is the ultimate Judge (1 Corinthians 4:3-5); however, I don’t think people truly understand when Jesus says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). To paraphrase Inigo Montoya from the The Princess Bride, you keep using that phrase, I do not think it means what you think it means. Many people quote verse 1 and forget the 4 following verses.
First, Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judge. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Jesus is telling us to examine our own motives and conduct instead of judging others. The traits that bothers us in others are often the habits we dislike in ourselves. Romans 2:1 warns us about judging others in this way. Paul writes “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” It is a warning against rash, hypocritical and unjust judgments. In Luke 6:37, Jesus says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Therefore, we are to judge ourselves first. Do we deserve the same criticism? If so, come clean before God and then lovingly approach others about their behaviors or sins.
Second, Jesus continues in verses 3-5, “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 eyes? 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 judge” is against the kind of hypocritical, judgmental attitude that tears others down in order to build oneself up. It is also not a blanket statement against all critical thinking. This is how many people are using it. However, it is a call to be discerning rather than negative. To be discerning is to have and show good judgment. Jesus said to expose false teachers (Matthew 7:15-23) and Paul writes that we are to exercise church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). So how are we to do this without judgment? With God’s guidance.
Third, in verse 6, Jesus says “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 then turn and tear you to pieces.” In Jewish tradition, pigs are unclean animals, according to God’s law (Deuteronomy 14:8). When Jesus uses the illustration of pigs trampling pearls under their feet, he is saying we should not entrust holy teaching to unholy or unclean people. It is futile to try to teach holy concepts to people who don’t want to listen and will only tear apart what we day. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop giving God’s Word to unbelievers. It means we should be wise and discerning in what we teach to whom, so that we will not be wasting our time.” It also means that we should be careful to whom we dispense advice to because someone who doesn’t want to listen will tear apart your advice.
Therefore, what does this all mean? People use verse 1 as a way to shut others up about what they would deem to be intolerance by giving it a meaning that was never intended. When Jesus says to “judge not” he does not mean that Christians do not deal with sin in each other. It does not mean we are not to correct with respect to God’s Word. If you see someone behaving in direct violation of God’s Word, are you just supposed to let it slide? No. It also does not mean that we cannot make value judgment or assessments on situations. The verses do mean that we are to be careful not to become a fault finder and to eliminate the spirit of criticism. We are to look for the best in people while lovingly correct when correction is warranted. And again, recognize that God is the ultimate Judge and he assesses the motives of the heart that we cannot see.
In conclusion, we have become a society where being judgmental has become a negative word. Yes, many people will form an opinion or view of someone based on very little information. And that is wrong. However, bottom line: when we judge, we need to do so in truth and love. If we judge in the spirit of jealousy or hatred or an overall critical spirit, we are being judgmental and need to seek God’s guidance before continuing. Jesus loved people enough to call people out on what was wrong and speak the truth. The difference between judging someone and being judgmental is love.