Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye (Matt. 7:1-5).
This text is one of the more abused texts in the Bible. One can expect to hear it quoted when a state executes a murderer, a church exercises discipline, and a preacher condemns false religion. These abuses of the text, however, do not change the fact that it is teaching that a certain kind of judging is sinful. We need to learn what kinds of judgment are wrong and what kinds are right.
The Bible Does Not Condemn All Judging
The word "judge" occurs 191 times in the Bible and its cognates increase the number to over 500. Though the judgment under discussion is occasionally God's judgment, there are human judgments which are commanded of men. In whatever understanding of Matthew 7:1-6 we reach, we must not interpret these verses to condemn those actions elsewhere commanded. Here are some judgments commanded of men:
A church judging differences between brethren. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Paul commanded the church to appoint judges to decide differences between brethren so that brethren would not take their differences before unbelievers.
Church discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul condemned the church at Corinth for not withdrawing from the fornicator who had taken his father's wife to be his wife. Whatever we understand Matthew 7 to teach, it cannot condemn the judgments which are essential in withdrawing from the impenitent wicked.
Judging men to be false prophets. John commanded that Christians "try the spirits" to see whether or not they were from God. He gave the criteria for making the determination. Even in Matthew 7, Jesus warned of the danger false prophets pose to his children (7:15). Hence, this passage cannot condemn the judgments made in ascertaining that a man is a false teacher.
Condemning sin. The work of a gospel preacher necessitates that he "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" (2 Tim. 4:1-2). In so doing, he will label certain kinds of conduct as "works of the flesh" which keep a person out of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21). Matthew 7 is not condemning the judgments necessary to condemn sin. The preacher only reports God's judgment about sin; he is not merely expressing his own judgments.
A state punishing a criminal. Romans 13 instructs civil courts to administer God's vengeance upon the criminal. Paul stated that the civil government did not "bear the sword in vain." When a state punishes a criminal, even in the death penalty, it is only doing what God commanded. Its actions are not a violation of Matthew 7.
Jesus' words in Matthew 7 were not designed to make men blind to the facts about us, ignore the information gathered by our senses, or make us tolerant of sinful conduct.
The Bible Condemns Sinful Judgments
There are some sinful kinds of judgment which we must avoid. Here are some of them:
1. Censoriousness. Some are hypercritical, fault finders and nit pickers. This passage condemns this kind of judgment.
Evil surmising (1 Tim. 6.4). This kind of judgment at-tributes bad motives to one's fellow man without evidence to conclude that it is there. People who gossip usually at-tribute evil motives to other's actions. This evil surmising is grounded in hatred for that person.
Self-righteousness (cf. Lk. 18:9-14). Some manifest a "holier-than-thou" disposition when they condemn the con-duct of others. Jesus forbade that self-righteous disposition in the parable of the Pharisee and publican who prayed in the Temple.
Hypocritical. In the text before us, Jesus exposed the sinful conduct of hypocritical judgments. He compared hypocritical judgment to the man who was trying to remove a speck of sawdust from another's eye, while having a telephone pole in his own eye.
Fruits of Sinful Judgment
There are some things which sinful kinds of judgment pro-duce. Knowing its fruits should motivate us to avoid committing sinful kinds of judgment.
Sinful judgment obscures our moral vision. The hypocrite minimizes his own sin and maximizes the faults which are in others. He does not have clear moral vision. The censorious person has no even-handed balance in his assessment of other's conduct.
Sinful judgment creates animosity toward oneself. Jesus warned that the same judgment we use on others will be used on us. Sinful judgments create animosity, hatred, and bitterness. We need to recognize that sinful judgments destroy the peace and harmony of a family and church.
How To Make Proper Judgments
Get all the facts. Jesus said, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (Jn. 7:24). Sometimes judgments are formed without knowing all of the facts and unrighteous judgments are made.
Use the right standard. The word of God is the only standard fitted to be used for judgment. My personal whims should not be used as a standard by which to measure others. If sin has not been committed, I would be best served by keeping my mouth shut and not condemning the person for his actions.
Look for contributing circumstances. Sin is sin. It is always wrong. However, sometimes the circumstances under which a sin is committed make for a gentler judgment of my fellow man. A dose of the Indian adage about walking a mile in my brother's shoes would do each of us good.
Have the proper attitude. When sin is condemned and exposed, it should be done with meekness (Gal. 6:1) and love (Eph. 4:15). Arrogant, self-righteousness will embitter men.
Let us resolve to avoid sinful judgments and to manifest the right spirit in expressing God's judgment against sin.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 5, p. 2