Judge not. It’s become the anthem of liberal ‘Christianity’, and the excuse to accept anything and everything into their ‘churches’. More concerning than the fatuous pieties of heretics, this idea that Christians shouldn’t judge anyone or anything has crept into the actual church. It’s easy to see why; not judging sounds nice. Furthermore, He does seem to say that at first glance in Matthew 7:1.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
If you never read anything else, you would indeed conclude that Jesus doesn’t want us to judge. If we look closer, however, we’ll see that this supposedly ironclad argument… isn’t. It’s not even close. When you think about it, it’s a self defeating statement. Saying that people shouldn’t judge is, in itself, a judgement, which means we shouldn’t say not to judge, because that’s judging, which isn’t okay, because we’ve judged it not to be, which we shouldn’t do because judging is bad, which is judging, which is bad…
Yeah, doesn’t make much sense, does it? That answers the question of what Jesus didn’t mean, but what did He mean when He said not to judge?
The first thing to understand is that the chapter and verse divisions weren’t there originally. Chapter divisions were added in the early 13th century, while verse divisions are a 16th-century innovation. The purpose of these additions was to make it easier to navigate the text and find the passage one is looking for. They shouldn’t be taken as a division intended by the author. As Greg Koukle says, ‘Never read a bible verse.’ Every verse has a larger context, so what is the context of Matthew 7:1?
Matthew 7:1 comes towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Matthew 5:1 and continues through Matthew 7:27. It is intellectually dishonest to try to divorce Matthew 7:1 from its context, which is the rest of the sermon. The way the sermon is structured is as a series of ‘mini-lessons’ which go together to form the main lesson, which is how Jesus’ followers are to live. The entire mini-lesson is in Matthew 7:1-5, which reads:
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.
His point isn’t that judging is bad, but rather that you will be judged (by others) the way you judge other people. He cites this principle in Luke 6:37-38, in a different sermon. It’s a principle that we all know, and He uses it as a springboard into his main point which is to condemn hypocrisy. His illustration of trying to pick sawdust out of someone’s eye when you’ve got a two by four sticking out of your own eye is a humorous way of showing the absurdity of hypocritical judgement. It shows how ridiculous it is to judge someone for a sin that you yourself wilfully commit. As he says himself, it is hypocrisy; condemning a sin in others that you don’t condemn in yourself.
Even then, Jesus doesn’t say never to judge, but rather to deal with that sin in your own life first, then help others to deal with the sin in their life. A modern analogy would be oxygen masks on an airplane. In the event of an emergency, you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. It’s the same principle here. It’s unloving not to (lovingly) call out someone’s sin to help them deal with it to be more like Christ, but that is what don’t-judge-ism encourages. Jesus condemned hypocritical judgement, not loving correction; which he commanded.
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