Matthew 7 begins with a stern warning from Jesus about making judgements.
“Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:1-2)
Now on face value this appears to be a commandment forbidding all judgment of others. I know in my own experience countless people have thrown this text up at me whenever I have made a judgment about the behavior of another person. It seems to me to be a universally used text against even forming an opinion about whether something or someone is good or evil.
But is this really what Jesus had in mind?
I think not.
Consider Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus lays down the method for Church Discipline. He says that when your brother sins against you, confront that person. Well, how can you confront someone unless you’ve made a judgment about what they’ve done? You can’t confront sin without identifying it and to identify it, you must make a judgment.
So, since Jesus is implying the need to make judgments in Matthew 18, then is it really wrong to judge? Jesus would not instruct us against making judgments in Matthew 7 and then say it is ok to do so in Matthew 18. Right?
So what is Jesus really saying here in Matthew 7?
Well, the passage is not making a case against judgment per se. It is, rather, making a case against judgment which is condemning.
Keep in mind that Jesus was addressing a crowd which contained many Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day. These religious leaders did little else but condemn the behavior of others.
Note also, the passage speaks about being hypocritical (v. 5) and about being cognizant of your own faults first (vv. 3-4).
Rather than a command not to judge, Jesus is merely saying that we should always do so in a way that:
- recognizes our own sin and
- is restorative rather than destructive.
In other words, we should remember what Paul told the Galatians when we judge others:
“Brothers if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)