I love discussing God’s will for our lives, even when someone disagrees with me about it. Conversations can get real tense real quick though—especially when we’re talking about controversial issues. It’s never fun to tell someone that you think they’re wrong. So I try to be careful with my words, and simply point to what God says, rather than my own opinions. Like clockwork, though, at some point during the conversation, they’ll pull out the trump card: “But doesn’t the Bible also say not to judge? You conveniently skipped over that verse, huh?” It never fails.
In Matthew 7 Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Even those of us who’ve never read the Bible can quote this part of his sermon word for word. This may be the most well known Bible verse in our day. And it may also be the most misunderstood
Misunderstanding this verse means we misunderstand how we’re supposed to love one another. So it’s important that we ask the question: What does Jesus mean when he tells us not to judge?
What He Doesn’t Mean
Last weekend, my wife and I attended a marriage workshop at our church. As we walked through every nook and cranny of our marriage, we had to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly. We had numerous chances to encourage each other, but we also had chances to point out shortcomings. During our discussions, my wife helped me to see areas where I’m falling short, where I’m not being as loving as I should be. Was she disobeying Jesus’ command not to judge me? I don’t think so.
Jesus can’t mean that it’s wrong to make any moral judgments. Just a few verses later, Jesus tells his listeners to make judgments about who they share the truth with. And in verse 15 of the same chapter, Jesus instructs them to judge those who claim to be prophets, to see if they genuinely speak from God or if they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not to mention the numerous other passages in Scripture that command us to make varying types of moral judgments. Jesus doesn’t mean to say all judgment is wrong. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t mean that either.
Many people insist that you should never judge anyone, but they don’t really believe that. They don’t think it’s wrong to call the cops on the drug dealers selling dope in front of their house. And they certainly don’t think it’s wrong to turn off the TV when that greedy preacher starts begging for their money. Then there’s the irony. When you call someone out for judging, you’re actually making a moral judgment about that person. In each of these cases, judgments are being made about the actions of others.
Yet, when judgment hits anywhere close to home, it’s automatically wrong. Who are we to make judgments about others? Let’s think about what Jesus does mean when he tells us not to judge.
What He Does Mean
We use the word judge in a lot of different ways. We could be talking about judging a talent show or judging a court case. It can mean a lot of different things. Similarly, the Greek word Jesus uses for “judge” doesn’t always mean the same thing. So we have to look at the rest of this passage and the rest of the Bible if we want to understand what he meant.
As you continue reading the passage, it becomes clear that Jesus is attacking a specific type of judgment. He uses a hilarious image of a man who notices a speck of sawdust in someone’s eye, but ignores the fact that he has a gigantic log in his own. That’s like a naked man criticizing the hole in your jeans. Jesus isn’t condemning any type of judgment; He’s condemning self-righteous, hypocritical judgments.
In verse 5 he says, “You hypocrite, first take the log our of your own eye.” Before we attempt to judge others, we must judge ourselves. Hypocrites hold people to standards that they themselves ignore. And while self-righteous people have a special gift for pointing out your flaws, they’re oblivious to their own. Jesus says that’s a problem. And he tells us God will judge us in return.
It’s ridiculous to harshly condemn others and to stand over them as if your life is perfect. God is the only judge with clean hands. The rest of us are dirty people, pointing each other to the shower.
You notice he never says, “Take the log out, and don’t worry about other people’s eyes.” He actually says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye.” He’s telling us to examine ourselves, and then to help the brother out.
It’s unloving for me to notice something harmful in your life, but to ignore it like it’s not there. Why would I let someone I love continue to live in a destructive manner? If I love you, I’ll tell you the truth even when it hurts. But it must be based on God’s standard, not my own. And I have to do it from a humble posture that recognizes I need the same grace you do.
Please do obey Matthew 7:1. But don’t forget about Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” We need each other.