What kind of “judging” is Jesus talking about? As in all cases, the context is a great help in understanding what Jesus is getting at. This text is in the Sermon on the Mount, which demonstrates the nature of true righteousness versus superficial religion. In this text, Jesus is concerned about the hypocrisy of the double standard.
Few texts are more misunderstood in our day than Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” It often comes up in conversations when one dares to make a moral assessment of another person that rubs the hearer the wrong way. “Who are you to judge?” comes the retort.
What kind of “judging” is Jesus talking about? As in all cases, the context is a great help in understanding what Jesus is getting at. This text is in the Sermon on the Mount, which demonstrates the nature of true righteousness versus superficial religion. In this text, Jesus is concerned about the hypocrisy of the double standard. The proof of His point is in the illustration that follows in verses 3–5:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
The language is even more vivid in the Greek text, in which the “log” is equivalent to a large beam that would have been used as a joist in a building. The picture of someone with a beam in his eye trying to take a speck of dust out of another person’s eye must have brought a chuckle to His listeners. The hypocrite, therefore, is someone who condemns another person while practicing, or even being worse in, the very same behavior. Some of Jesus’ listeners were the scribes and Pharisees, who were experts at this type of hypocrisy. They were eager to condemn others while practicing the same things. This is the wrong kind of judging.
But is there ever a time when people are justified in “judging” or in making a moral assessment of another person? Absolutely. In fact, the Scriptures require us to do so.
Elsewhere, Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). What does this “right judgment” look like? A little later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches that a person should speak directly to another person who has sinned against him (Matt. 18:15). There are several important points that this text teaches us about “right judgment.”