How To Judge
Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6
Have you ever had a tough conversation with someone, only to hear them reply, "Don't judge me!" This is the attitude of many today, but is it biblical? Along a similar vein, many of us have seen someone quote the phrase, "Only God can judge me." Is this biblical? In both of these cases, many point to the very passage in front of us today in order to justify this attitude. The question, then, becomes whether or not this passage actually supports such an attitude. This is one of the things that we will examine in this post. As we examine it, we will discover that the ultimate question in regards to judgment is not whether or not we should judge. Rather, it is how we should judge. We, as Christians, cannot refrain from all judgment. Rather, we have to take care how we judge others. Let's take a look at what Jesus has to say on this topic.
The opening words of this passage are "Judge not." Many people stop here and do not continue any further. This is where the misconception about not judging anyone at all comes from. However, as we continue to examine the passage, it becomes even more clear that this is not what Jesus had in mind. Rather than seeing this passage as a command never to judge, we should view it as a warning about the weight our judgment holds for both us and for others. When given the opportunity to judge, it is better not to judge at all than to judge too harshly. However, it is ultimately impossible to live a life without judgment. Even those who tell others not to judge them are actually passing judgment on those who judged them. In other words, the statement, "Don't judge me," is a self-defeating proposition. It cannot be held logically and consistently by anyone. Thus, this could not have been the point that Jesus was making here. In fact, the rest of the passage gives us further context which shows that Jesus was banning hypocritical judgment, not judgment in general. This is also in keeping with the theme of the last few sections of the Sermon on the Mount, which have warned consistently against hypocrisy. Disciples are to be people of integrity, and hypocrisy is antithetical to the practice of integrity.
Jesus also makes the finer point that we are not to judge in a manner that we would not want to be judged by. If we do not want to be judged harshly, then we should not judge harshly. If we would not want to be judged unfairly, then we should not judge unfairly. And so on. It is one thing, for example, to say that someone should pay their bills. It is something entirely different if the person saying this is not paying their bills themselves. This is rank hypocrisy of the kind that Jesus is prohibiting here. This, again, is tied to the integrity of the disciples of Christ.
Jesus makes it clear that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. We are to examine our own lives before we start pointing out the faults in others. This does not require perfection on our part. However, it does require that we be intentional about living godly lives. We should not be telling others that they need to be involved in discipleship, for example, unless we are involved in discipleship ourselves. Again, this would not require us to be the perfect disciple, but it does mean that we need to be practicing what we preach. This is the entire point of examining ourselves before we examine others. One way to make sure that we are practicing what Jesus is teaching here is to ask ourselves whether or not we are practicing what we are commending others to implement in their own lives. Notice that Jesus commands us to remove the speck from our own eye before we remove the plank from someone else's eye. In saying this, Jesus is commanding us to take action to straighten out our own lives before we start trying to straighten out the lives of others. To fail to do so makes us the kind of hypocrite that Jesus warned against here.
To recap, what Jesus is getting at here is that we should not judge hypocritically. We should use Jesus as the standard by which we judge, but we should not judge in an unnecessarily harsh manner, nor should we judge in a manner that criticizes others while ignoring the problems that we have. The call of Jesus here is a call to integrity.