“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1)
That verse is quoted often. In fact, the verse has been used against most Christians to try to stop them from making any kind of judgment. Critics, skeptics, atheists, and even some Christians, use the verse to claim that Christians aren’t supposed to judge anything or anyone. But is that true? Are we not to judge? Some say we should only discern (perceive) things, but not judge things. But is that what Jesus taught? The answer is no. Discernment and judgment are both important. And Jesus taught that we are to do both. First, let’s read the verse in context to understand 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. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,“ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye
In this passage, Jesus said that we are to judge. However, He also said that we are to judge ourselves first and judge others fairly.
Discernment is perceiving. It is needed to see the plank in our own eye. And it is needed to see the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye. But judgment is necessary to determine the size (a plank and a speck) and that they need to be removed. So clearly, this teaching condones judgment. However, Jesus does not teach a hypocritical judgment of others. He actually condemns it, saying, that we are to judge ourselves first.
The “sawdust” and “plank” represent that which needs to be removed, something harmful. they are symbolic of sins, great and small. So it’s hypocritical for one to tell a brother of their sin (the speck of sawdust), and the need to remove it from their life, when one has a sin in his own life– an even greater sin (the plank).
Jesus Calls Us to Judge Rightly
Jesus condoned righteous judgment in Matthew 7 and here again in Luke 12:
Luke 12:57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?”
Jesus was telling them to judge in Luke 12:57, but in the previous verse, he called them hypocrites for not discerning or judging (interpreting):
Luke 12:56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
Paul Calls Us to Judge Rightly
1 Cor 2:15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.
1 Cor 6:1-3-5 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
Jesus and Paul both condoned judging of behavior. But, it is not judging the heart. Only God knows the heart (1 Sam 16:7).
Judging with Wisdom
Ecclesiastes tells that “…a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment,” (Eccl 8:5) And remember, Solomon asked for “…an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil [behavior]…” (1 Ki 3:9). Therefore, seek God for wisdom. He gave it to Solomon and He will give it to you. James reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) And “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
Judging Biblically and with Kindness
Judgment is to be biblical — with the wisdom of God, using facts and biblical truths to reveal what is true, right, and kind. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner [NIV: judge] of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
Judgment is to be kind — not with critical words to condemn, but with compassionate words to correct. We are to judge (examine) ourselves first, and then correct ourselves before we judge and correct others.
Jesus was not saying that His followers should not judge. Rather, He said that they should not judge with hypocrisy or with self-righteousness. We are called to discern and judge things so we can make wise choices. As Christians, we are to judge rightly by using the Word of God as our standard for judgment.
Furthermore, you should be less concerned about judging and more concerned with our duty and delight as ambassadors for Jesus. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim 4:2). If we endeavor to preach the word, share God’s truths about His will and ways, then the Word will judge others. And we can pray that they have ears to hear and hearts to understand.
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