Perhaps the most well-known, most quoted, and most taken out of context scripture: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). When a judgment is made against another, if a person knows any little bit about the Bible, often this verse will be the response: “The Bible says to not judge me.” How dare you question me or suggest that I am wrong! Thus, this verse is used to teach that zero judgments should be made about others. Is this what Jesus meant? Does Jesus mean that we all should leave each other alone and not make any judgments regarding sin in the lives of others?
I would like us to see that this interpretation of Jesus’ words is absolutely impossible. Listen to what the rest of the New Testament teaches us to do.
The spiritual person judges all things. (1 Corinthians 2:15 ESV)
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. (1 Corinthians 5:12–13 ESV)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8 ESV)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 ESV)
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (Galatians 2:11 ESV)
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15 ESV)
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24 ESV)
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15–16 ESV)
The scriptures are clear that we are make judgments. In fact, in this very text Jesus is commanding judgment because we are determining if our brother or sister in Christ has a speck in their eye. So this must not saying that there can never be any judgment made. So we must determine what Jesus does mean so that we are not violating this command. So let us read the whole paragraph and then we can draw the proper interpretation of this command.
The Reason Not To Judge (7:2-4)
Jesus taught to not judge others because “with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” This explanation shows that Jesus is not speaking about right, godly judgments. Jesus is speaking about human judgments, unrighteous judgments, and unreasonable judgments. The command should make us want to be fair with others. Do you want God to judge you fairly and mercifully? Then judge others fairly and mercifully.
Verses 3-4 helps us understand the problem Jesus is dealing with. Jesus pictures a person who is able to see everyone else’s faults but is unable to see his own. How easy it is to judge other people but have no desire to judge ourselves by the same measurement! The illustration Jesus uses is intended to be humorous because it is hyperbole. You see the speck (literally a splinter of wood or chaff) in the eye of another person. You are able to look so closely at others and examine their lives to the finest detail that you are able to see the splinter of wood that is in a person’s eye. But you do not notice the log (literally a large beam of wood used in roof construction or to bar a door) in your own eye. You see the splinter in another person but you do not see the wood truss coming out of your own eye! Now we need to consider how this happens? How is it possible for a person to not see the glaring plank of wood coming out of one’s own eye? The reason why is that we fail to pay attention to ourselves. We fail to look at ourselves. We are so interested in looking at the problems and issues of others that we do not see the enormous failures and glaring shortcomings in our own lives.
This is the very nature of self-righteousness. We condemn others but justify ourselves for the same activity. Have you ever done this? You pass judgment on another person for something that they are doing but when it comes to you and you do the same action, you have a good reason for doing so. You have an excuse as to why it is okay for you and not for others. We apply to others what we are unwilling to apply to ourselves. You judge others without understanding or compassion. James gave us a warning for not seeing ourselves for who we really are.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22–24 ESV)
We do not look in the mirror and see ourselves for who we are and what we have done. This causes self-righteousness and arrogance. How sad it is when we do look into the spiritual mirror and we still cannot see ourselves for who we are! We judge others but do not see ourselves and judge ourselves.
The Solution (7:5)
Jesus calls us hypocrites when we engage in this behavior. When we judge others in a way that we would not judge ourselves, we are hypocrites. When we hold other people to a different standard than we hold ourselves to, we are hypocrites. So what is the solution? Look at yourself before you look at others. Think about your own sin and your own failing before you confront another with their shortcomings. First judge your life by the same judgment you are about to judge another.
Now we can properly understand the first two verses of this chapter. Do not judge with hypocritical judgment! Do you want people to be fault finders in your life? Do you want someone to bring up every mistake you make? Do you want to be nitpicked for every shortcoming in our lives? No! Look at yourself first. If you don’t want others doing that to you, then why do you do this with others? Measure yourself by the same judgment that you are going to measure others. This will make us not be so fast with our judgments. This will keep us from making false judgments on others. Paul Earnhart summed up the idea well:
“Our own accurate understanding of kingdom righteousness should not produce in us a spirit of harsh, censorious judgment toward those who are having a struggle of it. Men need to be helped to see the nature of true righteousness, but not by an uncaring and self-righteous hypocrite who is more concerned with the sins of others than his own. If the sermon is first applied rigorously at home, we will easily find the compassion and humility to treat the sins of others.”
Making Proper Judgments (7:6)
Now we may come to verse 6 and think that this just does not fit what Jesus has been talking about regarding hypocritical judgment. But we are seeing that Jesus is not saying that we should never judge or make evaluations about others. The point is that we would make proper, godly evaluations and judgments of others.
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7:6 ESV)
We must be warned to not waste our time on those who have no interest in the gospel or in the discipleship of Jesus. Pigs were counted as unclean in the Law of Moses and dogs were wild and nasty savages. In the illustration, the pigs and dogs want the scraps of food. They do not want what is good.
We are called to identify who are dogs and pigs. This is not a characterization about the person but understanding how they treat the gospel message. This is describing their spiritual condition. They will not appreciate the message. They are antagonist to the gospel and are not going to respond to it. I think an appropriate illustration matching the idea that Jesus is saying is this: Don’t take your children to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse because they will not appreciate it. Your kids are happy at McDonalds so you do not take them to a fine dining restaurant. They will not appreciate what they are receiving. The scriptures often give us this kind of warning.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9 NASB)
The apostle Paul practiced this teaching of Jesus.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:44–46 ESV)
At some point we have to make a determination of when our efforts in righteousness are not fruitful. There is a point where we say that we have done all that we know to do. There is no use in continuing to bring about repentance. There is no use in continuing to call a person’s heart to God. Our efforts are in vain. You have said what needed to be said. You have done what needed to be done. Do not cast the pearls of the gospel to those who will have none of it. They are casting off that which is holy as foolishness and garbage.
We must not be self-righteous, judging others inappropriately. Consider if you are using a judgment that you would want applied to yourself before you apply it to others. Do not be hypocritical in your teaching or application of God’s word to others. This should be the nature of our teaching and preaching. We are able to say these important words of God to others because we have first let these very words of God hit our hearts first.
But this does not mean that we do not make any spiritual judgments. We are required to make righteous judgments (John 7:24). We are not naive about what we are doing. We know that there are people who are not going to listen. We know that there are people who do not want to hear and will not respond. There are people who will show contempt for God. We shake the dust off of our feet and work with those who are responsive to the gospel message of repentance and salvation.