“Judge Not Lest You Be Judged,” has to be one of the most well known and misquoted verses in the Bible. Somehow we’ve gotten into our heads that it is unchristian to judge others. YES, the phrase “Judge Not Lest You Be Judged,” is in the Bible, but you have to look at it in context. The passage is found in Matthew chapter seven and is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 7:1–5 (NKJV) 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Notice Jesus’ never says don’t take the speck out of your brother’s eye. He says, “First remove the plank from your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” There’s no way you can remove a speck out of a person’s eye without executing a little judgment. There’s a reason why Jesus uses the illustration of an eye. The eye is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. One of the points Jesus was making is that we need to be careful.
The question we need to wrestle with is what’s the “plank” Jesus is talking about? I believe the plank involves judging a person’s heart. Warren Wiersbe writes…
When Jesus said, “Judge Not Lest You Be Judged,” he was talking about the kind of judging in which you look down on a person and question their motives. A classic example is the time Jesus was walking through a wheat field with His disciples. They got so hungry they plucked off a few heads of wheat. The Pharisees saw it and immediately said, “It is unlawful to harvest on the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:1-8) Which leads me to ask, What were the Pharisees doing out in the wheat field? I have a feeling they were there trying to catch Him messing up. I can just see them hiding behind the bushes spying on Him hoping to catch Him at something!
It’s THAT type of judging Jesus condemns in Matthew chapter seven. Jesus was speaking to the religious people who were not only looking for sin in people’s lives… they were wanting people to sin! They wanted people to sin so that they could jump out of the bushes and go, “Gotcha!” THAT’S THE PLANK THAT JESUS WAS TALKING ABOUT.
Jesus wasn’t saying don’t judge because just a few verses later in the chapter He says, “Beware of False Prophets who will come to you as lambs but are ravenous as wolves,” and then He tells us, “You will know them by their FRUIT.” How can you beware of false prophets if you don’t exercise a little judgment?
Systematic Theology (big word) is balancing theology with itself. In order to do that you’ve got to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. It’s very dangerous to take a single verse such as Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest you be judged,” and build a whole theology around it. The question is what does the rest of the Bible say about the subject?
In 1 Corinthians chapter 5 Paul writes to the church in Corinth about a man that was sleeping with his father’s wife. He writes that such a sin was scandalous to even those outside the church. Yet the church in Corinth not only looked the other way, but actually seemed to celebrate its tolerance to such a sin. In verse 3 Paul writes, “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” He then tells them that they are not to judge those outside the church, but they have a responsibility to judge those inside the church. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
Remember, we are not to judge wanting or hoping to catch people mess up. Quite frankly, judging ought to be a heart wrenching experience in which we do everything possible to help that other person get back on track. The whole process ought to be bathed with tears. Paul writes in Galatians 6:1 NLT, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.”
The bottom line is that we are called to bring out the best in one another and in order to do that we need to be able to be willing to speak the truth in love.