Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s “Judge not, and you will not be judged.”
These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”
“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.
But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.
So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus Himself said all along, if we read His quote in context. These words are from Matthew 7:1-6, and they famously begin as such:
1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.
2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”
After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge.
See, the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.
So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?
Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a
First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:
3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?
4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?
5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…”
If this passage is familiar to us, then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.
The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.
If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.
When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.
Judge Others Humbly | v5b
So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, He’s not.
In fact, His whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what He says in verse 5b:
5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.
If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.
The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.
Judge Critics Wisely | v6
This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:
6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!
They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.”
It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but He hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.
If we follow Him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.
A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.
Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.
On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.
This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.
Good and Bad Judgment
It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.
Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.
Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.
When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
And then we can judge with the honesty, wisdom and humility that He supplies.