“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).
There are some who think the preceding passage teaches that we should never judge or criticize another person in any way. It is not uncommon for this passage (or a portion of it) to be used in an attempt to justify conduct and behavior contrary to God’s word. The implication is that since no one is perfect, no one has the right to express an opinion about the conduct of anyone else. This claim is a gross misconception and perversion of this passage.
Jesus has dealt in the first part of this mountain sermon with the hypocrisy among the Pharisees. He points out how the love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men (Matt. 6:5), how when they pray they use vain repetitions thinking they will be heard for their many words (v. 7), and how when they fast they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting (v. 16). He now contrasts the judgments they pass on others with their own self-righteous estimation of themselves.
Jesus is not prohibiting the judgment of other men in the sense of discernment, or the use of our critical faculties. Such would render the commandment of verse six to not cast your pearls before swine impossible. How can we beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15) if we cannot judge men so? What Jesus says has nothing to do with redemptive warnings, issued in love, about the sinfulness of certain attitudes and actions and the consequences of such continued practice. In fact, Paul commands the spiritual to restore the brother overtaken by sin (Gal. 6:1, 2). And James says we are to convert the brother that errs from the truth (James 5:19, 20).
What Jesus does prohibit is harsh, unmerciful judgment and the attempt to play God. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). No judgment is to be made on the basis of discrimination. All judgment is to be righteous judgment (John 7:24). We need to remember that what seems to be right by appearance may be, in reality, a misconception. Things are not always as they appear. Just because you see a man come out of a bar does not necessarily mean he has been in there drinking alcohol. It’s possible he was in there trying to convert the bartender to Christ. To be sure we must not judge by our standard, but by the righteous standard of God.
We need to judge others as those who are ourselves to be judged. If we refuse mercy to our brother, we will receive no mercy from our Father. Jesus said, For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14, 15). The fact is, we are all subjects of judgment by the same criterion. God will use the same yardstick in the appraisal of all men the Word of the Lord (John 12:48). Man does not have the authority to make the sentence or pass it.
There is a sense in which Jesus is pointing out that we can expect the same kind of judgment from others that we have dished out ourselves. Notice the parallel passage in Luke 6:37-38: And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned . . . For with what measure ye mete it shall be measure to you again. Certainly God will judge us in the end. But people are judging us right now, and we receive from them exactly what we give. We reap what we have sown.
Jesus describes the way of the hypocrite, the disposition to take a harsh view of others and a charitable view of self. How easy it is to see the sin of others. How difficult it is to perceive our own sin! The Pharisees judged and criticized others to make themselves look good (Luke 18:9-12). But the Christian should be judging himself so he can help his brother look good. Jesus shows the purpose of self-judgment is to prepare us to serve others. Those that do not judge themselves hurt not only themselves, but those they could have helped overcome sin.
We are to look first at self. Jesus illustration of a man trying to see a spec of dust in the eye of another while he has a two-by-four stuck in his own eye vividly makes the point. If we do not deal with our own sins we cannot see clearly to help anyone else with their sin. The Pharisees saw the sins of other people, but they would not see their own sins.
Our business is redemption, not condemnation. Jesus is not condemning all judgment of other men. He is warning against judging others with bias and prejudice while ignoring our own shortcomings. We must constantly judge ourselves. Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves (2 Cor. 13:5). Such self-examination will enable us to help our brother overcome his sin. But any judgment of another is not to criticize for the purpose of destroying, but to help them go to heaven.