It’s pretty common to hear someone quote or paraphrase Matthew 7:1, in which Jesus says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (KJV). Often the person quoting the passage is objecting to being criticized for his behavior. His implication is that Jesus’ statement forbids anyone from labeling anyone else’s behavior sinful. Is that how Jesus would have us apply this passage, though?
Not really. Keep in mind, the Bible elsewhere tells people to rebuke others (Luke 17:3; 2 Timothy 4:2). In some cases, churches are to discipline, or “judge” members (1 Corinthians 5:11–13). Jesus even lays out a discipline/restoration process in Matthew 18:15–17 that requires an offended party to go to his offender privately and “tell him his fault” (KJV).
Matthew 7:1 has a context, of course—a context that people may leave out of their quote. The verses following Matthew 7:1 show that Jesus did not mean to prohibit us from calling a spade a spade, but from doing so aggressively and without proper humility. It is out of line to criticize others without seeing one’s own faults.
God is the true judge (James 4:12), so any person who judges must do so only according to the standards God has set. In practices where God has allowed for individual liberty, people should avoid passing judgment (Romans 14:1–13).
To sum it up: it’s proper and necessary for us to judge others at times, but we must do so humbly, judging according to God’s standards and not our own preferences.
How have you seen this passage applied or misapplied?
Beau Stanley and his wife, Stacey, both grew up in the Columbus area and have been part of Grace Polaris Church for most of their lives. Beau joined the Grace staff in 2007 after theology studies in the Chicago area and in Phoenix (Phoenix Seminary). Prior to that, he studied commerce (University of Virginia) and worked in the financial industry, including a role as an investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York City. Beau is a fitness enthusiast and also enjoys music and learning about diverse topics. Beau and Stacey have two young boys.