Do not Judge. – Matt 7:1
It is difficult to think of a verse more misused than this one. The number of times it has been used to censor Godly reproof would be impossible to count. If you are in the habit of reading the Word of God and upholding Godly standards, then you have most likely had this verse thrown your way while commenting on some behavior or trend of which God does not approve.
This verse, to many people, means that no one is ever allowed reprove or correct someone’s behavior or beliefs. If you speak, even in love, against things like sexual deviancy, drunkenness or false religious beliefs, then according to these people, you are a judgmental Pharisee. Of course, this is a judgment they are making about you, which means if their interpretation of this verse is correct, then they are also judgemental in their reproof. After all, if they believe that telling people they are wrong is intolerant, they should stop telling judgmental people it is wrong to judge.
With only a small amount of exegesis, we will see that Christ is not saying that it is always inappropriate to reprove someone with the word of God. In fact, this is something we are commanded to do, and it is something for which the Word of God is intended. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” So what then is Christ telling us? He is telling us of a difference between those who think they are above the law and those who see themselves as under the same standard as the person they are correcting. We are all under the same requirements, and we should not act as if we are exempt from the rules we apply to others. This understanding of judging is seen in the following verses when Christ tells us to remove the plank in our eye before looking at someone else’s speck.
There are a few different ways we can approach someone who is in sin. First, we could act as if all standards of conduct are relative, and not correct anyone except those who try to correct others. This self-refuting judgment, of course, is hypocrisy at its finest. Second, we could act as if the moral law does not apply to us and condemn anyone who violates it, but his type of condemnation is the actual definition of judging. Or finally, we could look at our own shortcomings under the moral law and approach the one who is erring by saying, there is a standard which God wants us to follow because of His love for us, and neither of us is above that standard. Along with both of us being under this standard together, we both fall short so let’s work on our shortcomings together. After all, His standards are an expression of His love.
When we think of a judgmental person, we also tend to think of their attitude as much as we think of their actions. This judgmental attitude is often seen in the first two approaches as well. The first person, the one who thinks that it is always wrong to reprove, usually ends up with a judgmental attitude, because as they criticize, they are acting as if they are allowed to rebuke when the person they are reproving is not. Hence, they are proudly unaware that there is a plank in their eye. The second person also tends to succumb to a judgmental attitude because they too fail to see their own guilt in these matters. Both will have tendencies toward harshness. Only the third person, the one who believes God’s moral standards can be known, that they themselves are not above the struggles with sin, and believes that a reproof is an act of love, will be able to avoid the judging that Christ is speaking of in this passage.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. – 2 Tim. 2:24 – 26