“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 unto you. 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 cast out the mote out of thine eye;’
and lo, the beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
Much ink has been spilled over the past two millennia over what Jesus means when He speaks of “judging” here in Matthew 7:1-5. Many take what Jesus says to one extreme and believe that He condemns any kind of judgment for any reason. This is especially true if someone tells them something they do not want to hear: any type of rebuke for inappropriate behavior or criticism in life is seen as “judging,” and that is automatically understood as being “wrong.”
On the other side of the spectrum, many seek to rob Jesus’ words of any power, and strive to interpret the idea of not judging so narrowly as to make the command almost irrelevant in life. The idea of the same standard of judgment is emphasized– if you are going to judge, recognize that you will be judged by the same standard, and if you are living according to that standard, well and good.
Is this dispute really what Jesus had in mind when He spoke these words before the disciples and Jews so many years ago? Is it a matter of not making any form of judgment? Is it a matter of just being consistent in judgment? Or does Jesus have something entirely different in mind?
The idea that Jesus condemns every form of judgment is not consistent with what is revealed in the Scriptures. Ten verses later Jesus establishes that false teachers will be known by their fruits– to recognize such requires discernment, which is a form of judgment (cf. Matthew 7:15-20). John tells the brethren to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). Jesus commends the Ephesians for putting false apostles to the test and recognizing that they are false (Revelation 2:2). Paul is quite explicit about the need to “judge” those who are inside (1 Corinthians 5).
Yet the Scriptures also reveal that salvation or condemnation is not in our hands– it is in God’s (James 4:11-12). We do not have the right to pass judgment on anyone’s eternal condition for good or evil, since each of us will have to stand individually before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10-12).
Perhaps Jesus’ great concern does not involve the nature of judgment, but instead the results of judgment– how do we compose ourselves among others based upon what we discern? Do we discern the nature of people in order to condemn them or in order to show them the love of Christ?
Shall we think that Jesus engaged in no judgment whatsoever? Was He unaware of Zacchaeus and his sinful ways (Luke 19:1-10)? Did He not know that those who ate with Him were prostitutes and sinners (Matthew 9:10-13)? Did He not tell the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more (cf. John 8:1-11)? All of these circumstances required discernment and thus judgment. Yet Jesus did not judge them in order to condemn them, even though He would have been in the right to do so. Instead, He discerned the way they were so that He could show them the way of God. He came to seek and save the lost, not to condemn them (Luke 19:10).
And yet look at what Jesus says about the Pharisees. The praying Pharisee was certainly judging everyone around him (Luke 18:10-14). They also knew that those with whom Jesus ate were sinners (Matthew 9:10-14). They knew the Scriptures, they knew what was right and wrong, and they were more than willing to point out the sins of others. Yet Jesus condemns them. Why? Because they judged? No, not because they discerned the nature of people, but because they despised others and exalted themselves (cf. Matthew 23, Luke 18:10-14)!
As human beings, we must discern the ways of others. We cannot understand anyone without making some decisions about whom they are and what they are doing and how that relates to us and to what God has revealed in the Scriptures. But we are also to be humble servants of God, recognizing that we are no better than anyone else, but sinners who have obtained mercy (Titus 3:3-8). When we look at others in sin, we are not to judge them as deserving of hell– we, after all, deserve the same fate! We must have mercy and compassion on them, recognizing that it is only by the grace of God that we are not in the same condition, and that same grace can free them also! We can always find ways to look down on others and to exalt ourselves based upon race, class, socioeconomic factors, quality of decision making, and so on and so forth, but in so doing we condemn ourselves– we miss our own beam by focusing on the mote of others. There is nothing hard or fast that keeps us from being in the same condition as those whom we would despise for whatever reason.
When we see a fellow human being– a homosexual, a liberal, a Muslim, a conservative, a Baptist, a brother in Christ– we must remember that we are not inherently better or worse than they. Jesus loves each and every one of us (John 3:16). Jesus would have each and every one of us learn of Him and be saved (John 20:31). Each and every one of us requires God’s love, mercy, and kindness if we are to be saved– and if we cannot show love, mercy, and kindness in return, are we really of God, or have we returned to the evil one?
Let us discern the nature of others, being open to the possibility that we have erred in our judgments, and above all, to seek to show God’s love, mercy, and compassion based upon our discernment!