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.
Ironically, the biblical command not to judge in Matthew 7:1 has been under much judgment. Sadly, Christ’s words “Do not judge,” have been misapplied by many within and outside church. They’ve been misapplied because they’ve been misunderstood and they’ve been misunderstood because they haven’t been read in their context. Indeed, there are a number of statements in the Sermon on the Mount that, when taken out of the context, can lead to a brand of outrageous living that Christ never intended for his people. Imagine taking the following statements from Christ’s lengthiest recorded sermon out of their context:
If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it in front of you.Matthew 5:29
Take these words out of context, and my ophthalmologist would have no Christian patients.
Make no oath at all.Matthew 5:34
Take this quote out of context, and forget wedding vows.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.Matthew 5:40
Take Jesus’ statement out of context, and your home must be stripped of all its locks.
Christian living, as described in Matthew 5-7, was meant to be radical, but not stupid. Christ doesn’t expect us to physically disconnect our retinas from our optic nerves. Nor does he expect us never to say the words “I promise.” Nor does he expect us to give all of our possessions to thieves when they break in. And, in the same light, Christ doesn’t expect us to abstain from making all judgment calls, thereby resulting in amorality (which inevitably leads to immorality). Reading Jesus’ command, “Do not judge” in its context reveals that he is instructing us to not hold people to a standard that we are unwilling to be held to. In other words, Jesus is leveling a rebuke against hypocritically judging others, as was characteristic of the religious leaders in Christ’s day.
Let’s read Jesus statement, “Do not judge,” in its context:
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 out the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:1-5
There’s a way that Christians today judge that is not only permitted, but biblically mandated. Contrary to what many claim, Jesus did not say that we should never tell people that what they’re doing is wrong. Just a few verses later, Jesus instructs his disciples to beware of false prophets and discern them by their fruits (Matt 7:15-20). Later in Matthew, Christ institutes the church discipline process the first step of which is conducted by one believer rebuking a fellow believer who is in sin (Matt 18:15). The Bible is full of instruction on how Christians should judge, and how to do so righteously. Jesus says elsewhere, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
What Christ is saying in Matthew 7:1 can be interpreted as follows: “Don’t judge or criticize people in a manner that you yourself don’t desire or aren’t ready to be judged.” The standard by which you measure others will end up being the standard by which you are measured. It’s as simple as that.
So, if you don’t want to be harshly or unfairly criticized, then don’t harshly or unfairly criticize others. And if you do choose to scrutinize people beyond how God has called you to do so in his Word, then quit whining when you are scrutinized by others in the same way. If you don’t want others to unfairly shine a spotlight on your faults, then don’t unfairly shine the spotlight on the faults of others. If you decide to point out the speck in the eyes of all those around you, be prepared for all of them to point out the sequoia tree in yours.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I vividly recall an incident when I was listening cynically to a a lesson taught by someone in church. As I typed a transcript of the message, I nit-picked every word and every detail with the intent of looking for mistakes, after which I proceeded to find as many faults as I could and then communicated them to the pastors.
Sadly, this was my general attitude for a while, both towards the things people taught and the way they lived. I felt like it was my duty to do so as a “guardian of spiritual truth” and to “protect the saints from harmful influences.” What was missing, however, was the grace and a willingness to receive the same kind of treatment. You can imagine how flabbergasted I was when, in the following months, I received several of complaints by members regarding both some of my own lessons that I had taught on different occasions as well as counsel I had given.
I was tempted to feel embittered towards those saints who harshly criticized me until I realized that the critical, nit-picking attitude they demonstrated towards me was the same attitude that I had exhibited towards a number of different teachers and speakers. It was a painful experience when the standard by which I had critically measured others became the standard by which I myself was measured. But such was both providential and proverbial. Instead of trying to “clarify things” with those who had criticized me or “correct them for their arrogant attitude,” I simply made a commitment to abstain from judging another brother or sister in the manner that I had previously done.
When in doubt, be gracious. By default, be gracious, and only evaluate people in the way that you would want them to evaluate you.