How often is it heard is it heard when preachers and teachers of God’s Word condemns sinful acts or to expose false doctrine: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). Men who know virtually nothing else about the word of God have this one verse embedded in their memory. It is on the tip of their tongue and they are prepared to invoke it any time their life or teaching is called into question. This they use in defense of their sinful lives__”Don’t judge me”! They believe we are in error for judging them to be guilty; yet they have no qualms whatever about judging us to be guilty of violating Matt. 7:1. As the demons asked of Jesus, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29) Seemingly, sinners believe that exposing their acts as sinful equate to torment.
It is obvious from a study of New Testament teaching that those who thus use this verse are guilty of grossly perverting its true meaning. The judging of which Jesus warned in Matt. 7:1 is not merely the recognition, reproving, and rebuking of sin. This is obvious from the fact that judging in the sense of discerning sin and rebuking it is commanded rather than forbidden.
Judging Which Is Commanded
There is a kind of judging which is commanded by God’s Word. Jesus very plainly commanded, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Unless one takes the position that Matt. 7:1 and John 7:24 contradict each other (and Bible believers know this is impossible with God _2 Cor 1:18), he must admit that the kind of judging discussed in Matt. 7:1 is of a different nature than that which is discussed in John 7:24. It is obvious, therefore, that there is a kind of judging which is right, and there is a kind of judging which is wrong. I believe the context of John 7:24 proves that the judging of that passage entails the fair examination of a man’s practice in the light of the scripture to determine whether or not his practice is in harmony with the scripture. Thus, when I discern by a study of God’s word that a man is clearly violating His word, I am obeying the command to judge righteous judgment.
Many other passages prove that in Matt. 7:1 Jesus did not have reference to the recognition, reproof, and rebuke of sin. This kind of judging is demanded time and again in the scriptures. In fact, just a few verses down in the same chapter, Jesus demanded that we beware of false teachers (Matt. 7:15-20). We cannot beware of false teachers unless we are able to determine which teachers are false teachers, and Jesus said that such a judgment can be formed on the basis of their fruit. Further, in Phil. 3:2 Paul warned Christians to beware of dogs and evil workers, thus clearly implying that we have the ability to recognize spiritual dogs and evil workers. Another passage which demands this type of judging is Rom. 16:17-18. In order to mark and avoid the false teachers referred to in the passage, we must be able to discern that these men are indeed false teachers. Additionally, there are a number of passages instructing Christians to reprove and rebuke sin (2 Tim. 4:2 ff; Eph. 5:11; Lk. 17:3).
Having shown the kind of judging that is not under discussion in Matt. 7:11, it behooves us to consider the kind of judging to which Jesus did refer. He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” His point was that our judgment invites judgment upon ourselves. In verse 2 He explained the reason for this warning: we can expect to receive judgment in accordance with the judgment that we mete out. Thus, verse 2 makes it evident that the kind of judging Jesus was warning against is the kind of judging which we would not want to receive ourselves. If we do not want to receive a particular kind of judgment, we had better not mete it out, for we shall receive judgment commensurate with that which we mete out. Thus, Jesus’ warning is directed against harsh, severe, uncharitable judgment-such judgment as we would not want to receive. If we condemn without mercy, being unwilling to forgive, we can expect like treatment (Jam 2:12 ff; 2 Sam. 22:25-26; Matt. 6:14-15). Note the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35). The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day held certain ones in such low esteem that they considered them to be worthless; they judged them to be so despicable that they could not possibly be the objects of God’s loving concern and had no chance of being saved (Lk. 5:30 cf; 7:39). By such harsh, uncharitable judgment, they invited the same kind of judgment.
The warning in Matt. 7:1-2 does not disturb faithful men who reprove and rebuke those who violate God’s word. They are not bothered by the warning that they will be judged in accordance with the judgment they mete out; for they do not fear receiving the kind of judgment they mete out, but desire it and appreciate it, for they know they need it. Jesus’ warning was against judgment such as we would not want to receive ourselves.
Jesus went on (verses 3-5) to condemn hypocritical judgment. By the illustration of the mote and the beam, Jesus demonstrated that before trying to correct the sins of others, we must first correct our own sins (Rom. 2:13). He did not condemn our trying to get the mote out of our brother’s eye, as some have imagined; rather, He commanded that we do so. He simply taught that we must get the beam out of our own eye first or as the old saying goes: “Sweep around your own front door before you try to sweep around mine!”
In Romans 14 Paul discussed another kind of sinful judging. Some were evidently condemning brethren who had not violated God’s law, hence were not condemned by God. Note especially verses 3-4, 10. Paul argued that it is Christ before Whom men must stand; hence if Christ has not condemned one’s actions, we have no right to do so. Certainly it is sinful to set up our own standards of right and wrong, and judge men based on those standards. Romans 14 stresses that my brother is not my servant; he is the servant of Christ. Therefore, it is Christ, not I, that he must please; and as long as he pleases Christ, I must not condemn him. The only time I have aright to reprove and rebuke a brother is when I discern from the scriptures that he is not living so as to please Christ; this is righteous “judgment (John 7:24).