There’s not a more often quoted or well-known Bible verse in our culture today than, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1, KJV). In a culture where the air we breathe is relative morality (“it’s right if it seems right to me”), that verse has been elevated to a universal motto – “you can’t judge me!” This kind of thinking is so pervasive that many of us have bought into it. The problem is that by buying into the “you can’t judge me” motto, we have essentially crippled our ability to minister to others and be ministered to.
On the one hand, our ministry to others has been crippled because many of us have gotten the idea that it is wrong to ever say that what someone is doing is sin. Thus there is a palpable pressure on us to never speak with frankness to others about their sin. And on the other hand, we have lost one of the most crucial components in the fight against sin in our own lives because the rest of our Christian friends feel no freedom to help us with our sin for fear of how we might react. But is this crippling concept of “you can’t judge me” really what the Bible means when it says “judge not?” Or could it be that “you can’t judge me” is actually a cultural construct with only a thin biblical coating?
After looking at the context of “judge not” in Matthew 7, I think it’s safe to say that we have blown this verse way out of proportion and made it say much more than it means to say. Let’s look at Matthew 7:5. It says that once you take the log out of your own eye, “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So Jesus is assuming that we will be involved in taking the speck (sin) out of our brother’s eye (life). This necessarily implies a discernment of what is right and wrong, what needs to stay in someone’s life and what needs to be taken out.
Given the fact that Jesus had no problem at all pointing out sin in the lives of his disciples, we are forced to admit that this verse isn’t saying what we so often think it is. Using godly judgment to discern between what is right and wrong, what is holy and sinful, is a necessary component of growing in Christlikeness and ministry to others.
Next, let’s look at the broader context of Matthew. Matthew 6 deals a lot with hypocrisy. Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t be hypocrites who put on airs that we are super-Christians, pretending to be spiritually superior to others with no sin in our lives. In other words, when Jesus says “judge not,” he is prohibiting prideful condemnations of others. Writing people off with undo harshness and condemnation in our attitude is a sin and a huge sign that we haven’t realized our own desperate need for the grace of God. Jesus’ main concern is a kind of judging that doesn’t acknowledge that we are sinners too and have big sin struggles (logs) we are facing in our own lives.
So “judge not” means this: we should be careful that when we judge, we are doing so with an attitude of humility that readily admits that we are sinners in no way above the sin that we are trying to help someone else with. Hopefully we are beginning to see the radical difference between Jesus’ message of “judge not” and our culture’s motto of “you can’t judge me!”
But Jesus adds an important caution. Notice that when we judge rightly, we are to be involved in taking the speck out. This means that we shouldn’t point out sin in someone’s life unless there’s a willingness and commitment on our part to walk alongside them as they fight against this sin. Pointing out sin is never declarative in purpose (“you are in sin!”) but always restorative in purpose (“let’s fight this together!”). For the sake of the beauty and holiness of the church that sin seeks to destroy, let’s readily employ humble judgment while not becoming pridefully judgmental.