He goes on to illustrate His point by warning us about seeing the speck in our neighbor's eye while ignoring the log in our own. Before you dare remove the speck from someone else, remove the log that's obscuring your own vision, Jesus is telling us.
This passage is often seen as a command from Jesus for His followers to remain placidly indifferent to the behaviors of others. (Or even of ourselves.) When we try to warn friends or family members of the destructiveness of their behaviors--behaviors destructive either to themselves, to others, or to their relationship with God--the first line of defense is usually, "Don't judge me" or, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."
Some Christians clearly have a bad habit of being judgmental, harshly judging the behaviors or motives of others while regarding themselves as models of purity for whom sin is a past reality. In doing so, they disregard the Bible they claim is important to them. Jesus' words here have direct application to them...and to me, when I fall into such judgmental patterns.
But does Jesus want us to avoid making any judgments?
Here, the interpretive principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture becomes important.
In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns Christians about false prophets, people who come to us "in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Inherent in that admonition is the call on Christians to make some judgments about questions like:
- Does this person speaking in Christ's name seem to be speaking the truth based on God's truth source, the Bible?
- Though no human being not conceived by the Holy Spirit (everyone but Jesus, in other words) is sinless or perfectly consistent in matching their words and values with their actions and lives, do the differences between this person's words and actions scream hypocrisy?
- Is this person advocating teachings or actions that are at odds with the Bible, God's revealed Word?
Later, in Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus lays out a process for conflict resolution within His Church for those who feel that another Christian believer has sinned against them. Is the person who forms the opinion that another has sinned against them always wrong? Are they always being judgmental? Apparently not. Otherwise, Jesus wouldn't have established this process.
And so long as the person who deems themselves sinned against is willing to be told they've made a wrong judgment by submitting to the judgment of the Church, Jesus doesn't condemn their judging the fellow believer's behavior as sin.
So, is Jesus talking out of both sides of His mouth? Is He saying, "Don't judge, but judge"?
As I thought about these questions, my mind was drawn to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.In other words, God's Word is the yardstick by which God calls us to match our walk with our talk.
The first and the main person whose life we need to measure against the teachings of Scripture is ourselves, daily submitting ourselves to the daily judgments of the gracious God we know in Jesus Christ. Like David, we pray, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
We also need to judge whether the behaviors to which our own inner voices are calling us are the right way, right not only in terms of what seems pleasing to God, but also in accord with the wisdom of God.
And there may be times when we sense God calling us to discuss with fellow believers who we sense are walking away from God, speaking to them with Christian compassion and concern. Such discussions will be preceded by "judgments."
The footnote in the Life Application Bible is helpful as it explains Matthew 7:1-5:
Jesus' statement 'Do not judge' is against the kind of hypercritical, judgmental attitude that tears others down in order to build oneself up. It is not a blanket statement against all critical thinking, but a call to be discerning rather than negative...I think that has it right. There is a difference between judging and discerning. As is usually the case in the Christian life, the key issue is motive:
Is the critical thing I'm about to say or that I feel toward another rooted in God's Word and the concern God calls me to have for others? Or is it born more of my critical attitude, my own desire to feel important or superior?The key question to ask ourselves before we make a critical statement or harbor a critical attitude may be this:
Is this from God or is this from me?God teach me to ask these questions before I open my trap or entertain judgmental thoughts about others. In Jesus' name. Amen