One verse that we often hear quoted by those who really don’t hold Christian values is Matthew 7:1 where Jesus says, “Do not judge…” People use this verse against Christians whenever they feel their actions or the actions of others (of which they probably approve) are called into question. Their assumption is that Jesus taught that all forms of judgment are off limits, and therefore their morality should not be called into question. Are they correct?
No, they misunderstand Jesus on this point. The Bible recognizes at least three different kinds of judgments, two of which are not only legitimate, they are commanded. The first kind of judgments are those made by people who are in appropriate position to judge–like judges. They have a responsibility to uphold the law and to hold us accountable when we break it. The second kind of judgments that the Bible commands might better be termed “assessments.” For example, the Bible commands us to depart from evil and to do good (Psalm 34:14). Obviously that requires us to make an assessment of what is evil and what is good. We are to shun the first and embrace the second. Furthermore the Bible commands us to make assessments of others. For example 1 Timothy 2:24-25 says,
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.
How can you correct someone unless you have judged them to be in error? What kind of judgment then does Jesus prohibit? A close reading of the broader context of Matthew 7:1 reveals the answer.
1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 “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? 4 “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? 5 “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.
The kind of judging Jesus condemns is a hypocritical, self-righteous judgment–the kind made by people who are themselves guilty of the very evil they are condemning in others. It is this kind of judging that Jesus condemns. In fact, Jesus says that if we take the log out of our own eye, that is, if we clean up our act, then and only then will we be in a position to help someone else with their moral flaws. So Jesus isn’t condemning making moral assessments of others actions or behavior. He is condemning judgments that flow from a self-righteous, hypocritical heart. This we must conscientiously avoid. I hope this helps clear up Jesus’ teaching on judging others.