All of humanity has two things in common. First, we don’t like to be told how to live. Second, we like to tell others how to live. Try to disagree and you end up in category one. Jesus knew this when He said the words captured in Matthew 7:1-2. However, His words have been twisted by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Either we like to twist this verse because we don’t want others telling us what to do, or because we can tell others what to do—to stop being so judgmental! Either way, we’re adding our intentions into the Scripture, not drawing His truth out of it.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 NIV
If we could never judge others, our world would lack Christian leadership in some pretty important areas: the judicial system, policing, management, and parenting, just to name a few. So what’s Jesus saying? Let’s get some context from Matthew, chapter six. Jesus spent the first half of the chapter teaching how to give, pray, and fast without hypocrisy. He wanted us to do these things for God’s eyes rather than man’s.
So, is Matthew 7:1-2 a command never to judge—or never to judge hypocritically? The next three verses describe the silliness of pointing out sawdust in your brother’s eye through the clouded vision of a plank in your own. Sounds like Jesus is continuing the hypocrisy theme from chapter six into chapter seven. Scholars believe the book of Matthew was first written to the Jews in order to show Jesus as their Messiah. One repetitive theme is Jesus’ confrontation with Jewish leaders (Pharisees) who had become zealous enforcers of a set of 613 religious laws. Jesus’ words would have threatened their strictly legal brand of hypocritical worship.
Matthew may have included chapter 7:1-2 with his Jewish friends in mind, but let’s not miss what Jesus is saying to us today. The New Testament is full of lessons on judgment to varying audiences. In John 7:24 NIV, Jesus told us, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” The Apostle Paul mirrors Jesus in his reminder to Christians in Rome to avoid hypocrisy (Romans 2:1-4). In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, Paul asked the Corinthian church to stop trying to judge people outside of the church because, as He explained in verse 13, that’s God’s job. This reminds us of Jesus’ targeted judgment at church leaders. So can we just let judgments fly within the church? Galatians 6:1 suggests the opposite: gentle restoration through relationship.
So should Christians judge people? We must first accept the judgment of Christ. He pointed out to hypocritical Pharisees—and to us—our failure to live by the law. Let’s not get so bent out of shape when non-Christians don’t live according to Christian morals. We can’t expect people who don’t know Jesus to live their lives trying to follow His ways. Finally, we need to restore those who share our faith with humility, gentleness, and relationship. But wait, “I want to tell people how to live.” We’re humans. Of course we do. Instead, let’s show people how to love.
This was adapted from day three of the Twisted Bible Plan.