“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 KJV)
When confronted about sin, many Christians quote this verse from the Bible. They use it to avoid admitting their wrongdoing or to shy away from an embarrassing situation. Even non-Christians use this verse and then feel free to continue sinning. But did Jesus mean that we shouldn’t judge anyone at all? Or is there more to this verse than most people think?
#1 Did Jesus Forbid Judgment?
First, let’s try to understand if Jesus forbade his followers from judging others. In the same chapter 7 from Matthew, Jesus warned His disciples about false prophets and how to identify them (Matthew 7:15-23). But how are we supposed to identify false prophets without judging their fruit (Matthew 7:16) and determining whether they are good or bad (Matthew 7:17)?
In another situation, Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24 KJV). He is clearly telling His disciples that they should exercise judgment. He was teaching them the kind of judgment He expects from his followers: righteous, fair judgment.
Did Jesus change His mind about judging others at some point? No, He didn’t. Those texts indicate that if someone reads Matthew 7:1 out of context and affirms that Jesus completely forbade judgment, then they are making a terrible mistake.
There are many other examples throughout the Bible. The Bible tells us to judge what is right (Luke 12:57). Paul wrote that the Church must judge its members (1 Corinthians 5:12-13 and 1 Corinthians 6:5) and the prophecies (1 Corinthians 14:29). Paul even told the Corinthians to judge his words (1 Corinthians 10:15). And he gave an example when he publicly confronted Peter with his wrongful behavior towards the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). These are just a few examples.
So, in Matthew 7:1, Jesus didn’t mean to forbid His disciples to judge, that is, to discern between right and wrong and to identify sin and confront it. Instead, He was beginning to teach them how serious judgment is and the right way to do it.
#2 A Warning About Hypocritical Judgment
After Jesus said the words recorded in Matthew 7:1, He shared an illustration to make His point clearer. He described a person that sees a speck of dust (a “mote” in KJV translation) in their brother’s eye and wants to remove it. However, that same person ignored a plank (a “beam” in KJV translation) in their own eye. He calls such a person a hypocrite (Matthew 7:5). That person wants to demand certain behavior from their brother that they don’t follow (Romans 2:1). They ignore their sin to point the finger at their brother’s sin.
But note that Jesus didn’t want those two characters to continue as they were. Otherwise, He could have told the disciples to leave their brother alone with the tiny speck in his eye. But that’s not what Jesus did.
Instead, Jesus said, “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 KJV). The point is that we need to deal with our sin first. We need to acknowledge it and fight against it. We need to be aware of our failures and not forget that we are sinners, too (1 John 1:8).
That’s when we will be able to “see clearly” as Jesus wanted us to. It’s when we can see how much we depend upon the Lord’s mercy and grace. Then, we will be able to help our brothers and sisters with their sins because we know we are no better, no matter the size of the speck or the plank in their eyes.
#3 How We Should Judge
Reading the entire verse 2, Jesus said, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2 KJV). This sentence is the direct complement of verse 1. It gives us a quick rule of thumb to help us understand how we should judge others.
We should ask ourselves, “How would I like to be judged by God?” If the answer is, “I hope God will judge me with love, mercy, and grace,” then that’s how we should judge others. And God will judge us the same way. If He were to judge us with harshness, unmercifully, treating us as enemies, what would become of us? Therefore, if we don’t want that for ourselves, we must not act like that towards others.
We need to be extra careful when it comes to judging. It is easy to look at other people and note their failures, shortcomings, and sins. It is much harder to look at ourselves and do something about our own sins. But that’s what Jesus wants us to do – focus on our own lives. If we think we are good enough to judge others, if we have a sense of superiority towards other people, that’s when we need to stop and remove that plank that is making us blind to our reality. If we judge, it must be out of love for the other person and the desire to bring them closer to Jesus.
A misunderstanding of such a well-known Bible verse has allowed many people to avoid being confronted with their sin. But judging other people is not something that we can do while feeling superior to them or while ignoring our own sin. We need to keep in mind the so-called “golden rule,” that says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12 KJV). And we need to live it.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.