“Jesus said not to judge others,” didn’t He? We are often reminded of this because in today’s culture, one thing is made very clear: we aren’t supposed to judge anyone! Of course, sometimes what’s missed here is that those who say this are, in fact, being highly judgmental against those whom they are rebuking. This type of irony is common. More to the point, however, is that we do need to pay attention to what Jesus actually said about this, so let’s think more about it:
“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. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:1-6)
First, notice that Jesus did not say, “Do not judge,” as if that the end of the matter. He warned about making certain kinds of judgments, bad judgments, not about making any judgments. To say that no judgments can ever be made is untenable and impossible to live with consistently. There is no way to deal with others without making some kind of judgments. Further, verse 6 shows that sometimes we must make judgments about casting our metaphorical pearls before swine. Jesus, then, is warning about judging unfairly, judging hypocritically, and judging hyper-critically. He is warning that whatever standard of judgment we use against others will be used against us. If we are not merciful, we cannot expect mercy. If we are unwilling to give the benefit of the doubt, we cannot expect to receive that from others. If we are not willing to forgive, we cannot expect forgiveness. It is in this same context in which Jesus also made the statement, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matt. 7:12). If we judge with this in mind, our method and manner of judgment will be greatly affected.
After Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, some were seeking to take His life. He ended His exchanged by saying, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus refers to “righteous judgment.” The problem, again, isn’t with making judgments per se. The problem is the kind of judgments we make and the way we make them. How then do we properly judge? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Judge fairly. Don’t just look at the outward issues (cf. also 1 Sam. 16:6-7). Jesus was misjudged because His opponents only saw the superficial aspects of who He was. Had they looked deeper, they could have known and appreciated Him as they should have. Sadly, their own prejudices blinded them to the truth. Can this happen to us? The wise man tells us, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). When we fail to look deeply, fail to listen, or fail to think before we pronounce, we are engaging in folly, not fairness.
2. Maintain pure motives. Make sure your own heart is right before making judgments about others. The great motive is love, and we should always seek what is best for others (Phil. 2:3-5). This includes giving the benefit of any doubt to others, for love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Since “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10), we will strive to act in a way consistent with showing proper respect toward all.
3. Show a spirit of forgiveness and mercy. Avoid the carnal “gotcha” mentality of this tabloid-frenzied world. God’s people are to be kind and tenderhearted. Jesus taught, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11:25). “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15). Can we afford to be judgmental without also having a merciful spirit? “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).
4. Be cautious about your own problems. Don’t use hypocritical, double standards. This is the point about removing the log from your own eye before trying to remove a speck from another’s. Paul wrote, “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2:1). He further taught, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). We recognize that no one is flawless. However, we need to be careful about being so critical of others that we cannot see our own problems. The same standard of judgment applies to all equally.
5. Stay humble. This is the only way to see clearly. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). The fact that we all have stumbled should keep us humble as we seek grace both for ourselves and others. Arrogant judgment is to be avoided as a sin, but humble judgment in line with God’s will is to be commended.
We can avoid the erroneous judgments Jesus warned against, and instead learn to judge appropriately. Judgments should not be based on personal preference, as if such preferences are the standard for all. Rather, judgments need to be made righteously, which can only happen within the boundaries of God’s standard. The measuring stick is not “me,” but God and His word. The goal is always to conform ourselves to the image of our Lord and seek His glory.