One of the Bible’s most misquoted verses is Matthew 7:1,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Some people turn it on believers if they dare uphold Christian theology or ethics: Jesus as the only Saviour, the sanctity of human life, etc. “Don’t you go judging me!” We even use Jesus’ words among ourselves to resist a view we find uncomfy.
Of course, we live in a judgmental age. People accuse others of being woke, or racist, or phobic all the time. Cancel culture means censoring those who express views that we judge as unacceptable.
But it’s sad that people are satisfied to use one short bit of Scripture in a shallow way. So what does Jesus mean? The old saying is that a text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.
Here the context shows Jesus cannot be banning disciples from making any kind of judgment at all about people’s belief or conduct. Matt 7:5 speaks of removing the speck from your brother’s eye, once you’ve got your own vision corrected. Removing a speck implies a problem. You’ve assessed that something is wrong with the person.
In v6, Jesus says not to throw your “pearls before pigs”. Now if that’s not a character judgment, I don’t know what is! Then in vv15-16, Jesus says to watch out for false prophets and to recognise them by their fruit, i.e. conduct.
This reminds me of another principle of sound Bible-reading: Don’t read one part of Scripture so as to contradict another. Do you think Jesus is so silly as to repeatedly contradict himself in the space of 16 verses? Of course not!
V2 shows Jesus’ teaching in v1 is all about an attitude:
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Are you generous or harsh in assessing others? Then you can expect that from God. A critic unable to see his or her own faults suffers from the worst kind of blindness.
Actually, these verses say there is no way of escaping God’s judgment. Everyone will give an account for their lives at God’s judgment seat at the end. So wouldn’t you want to be judged with mercy? Thank God for Jesus – his attitude and his sacrifice on the cross.
So I summarise Jesus’ judgment principle this way: Don’t be harshly judgmental. Here are some Scriptural cross-references to assist.
Proverbs 18:17 says,
“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”
James 1:19-20 adds:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Warmly in Christ,