This has got to be one of the most controversial things that Jesus said. It’s one of those scriptures that many quote, but few truly understand. Even the secular world quotes these verses, often as they judge Christians for being judgmental. So what exactly does Jesus mean when He speaks those words?
Look at this closely. It’s really important for us to know and understand. You see, we need to look at the words of Jesus and all scripture in its context. Therefore, in order to gain understanding, we need to look at the whole paragraph as we answer these questions…
- Who was Jesus talking to?
- What was He saying to them?
- When did He say this?
- Where did He say it?
- Why did He say this?
Now that we’re armed with these questions, let’s look at the whole paragraph:
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)
- The answer to the first question, (Who was Jesus talking to?) is found in verse 5. He was talking to hypocrites in the crowd, who were judging their brothers, without first judging themselves.
- The second question that we need to answer is, What was He saying to them? The answer to this question is found in the whole text, but I’m going to paraphrase it. Jesus was telling them not to judge others for committing the same sins they were guilty of committing. He was telling them to straighten out their own lives before they condemn others, because they were going to be judged in the same way they were judging their brothers.
- The third question we need to answer is, When did Jesus say this? To answer that question, we need to go back to Matthew 5. 1 Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2 and He began to teach them, saying: (Matthew 5:1-2 NIV) Jesus spoke these words on the day He gave what many call His “Sermon on the Mount”
- The answer to the fourth question is also found in Matthew 5:1. Where was Jesus when He said this? While the name of the mountain isn’t given, we do know that He sat on a mountain and taught the crowds.
- The final question, Why did Jesus say this?, is found in the entirety of the paragraph. There were hypocritical people who, in the midst of their own sins, were passing judgment on others who had committed the same sins, and Jesus cautioned them, saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV)
So you see, Jesus wasn’t telling people not to judge. Rather, He was telling them not to
judge unjustly and without mercy.
There are many places in scripture that tell us that we are to judge:
- But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:15 NKJV)
- When you have something against another Christian, why do you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter, instead of taking it to other Christians to decide who is right? Don’t you know that someday we Christians are going to judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we Christians will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disagreements here on earth. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why do you go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these arguments? (1 Corinthians 6:1-5 NLT)
There are other scriptures which talk about judging in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, also. Just think about it for a moment. What would this world be like if there were no judgments against sin and against evil people?
Since there wouldn’t be any judgment, people would be free to do as they please. If someone was offended by something you said or did, they could kill or maim you without fearing any consequences, because consequences and penalties only come with judgment. Crimes such as robbery, rape and murder would no longer be crimes, because there would be no judgments outlawing such actions.
One thing I’ve learned since I became a Christian is that when the world quotes that scripture to me, “Judge not, that you be not judged…” it is usually they who are judging me.
The Lord does not call us to be tolerant of sin. He hates sin. Remember, it was sin that
nailed Him to the cross. He hates sin, because sin kills. It destroys lives. It condemns people to eternal damnation. He hates sin and calls for us to cry out against it boldly.
However, when we cry out against sin and evildoers, it is equally important for us to remember that although Jesus hates sin, He loves sinners. That’s why Peter says, The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise to return, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so He is giving more time for everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9 NLT) It’s also why Paul cautioned all believers to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
The Lord wants us to cry out against sin for the sake of a lost and dying world. Remember, He commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations. We are called to be watchmen on the wall. “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from Me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. If you warn them and they keep on sinning and refuse to repent, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved your life because you did what you were told to do. If good people turn bad and don’t listen to My warning, they will die. If you did not warn them of the consequences, then they will die in their sins. Their previous good deeds won’t help them, and I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. But if you warn them and they repent, they will live, and you will have saved your own life, too.” (Ezekiel 3:17-21 NLT)
Brothers and sisters, it’s extremely important for us to judge sin and to cry out against it. Just make sure that you’re not committing the same sins you’re crying out against, and make sure you extend the same mercy toward sinners that you want God to give to you.
Cheryl A. Showers
- Judge me not? (hopeofglory.typepad.com)
- Christian perspectives on judging others (sermonx.wordpress.com)
- Jesus in the Spin Zone (trinityspeaks.wordpress.com)