First, “judge not” means that we should measure others the way that we would want to be measured. No one wants weighted scales to be used against them, or an unfair measuring stick that is too short or too long. We all want to be evaluated fairly and consistently. This is the point Jesus makes in verse 2. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Don’t assume the worst about people because of their skin color, how they dress, where they live, or who their parents were. Don’t rush to judgment before hearing from all sides.
In an age of tribalization and trial by internet, one of the most powerful things we can do as Christians is to think about the measure we want for us and then use that measure for others. How do I want people to judge me? I want people to look at every angle and not be quick to believe the worst about me. I want people to deal with facts, not gossip or speculation. I want people to give me a fair hearing and be open to changing their minds. I want people to speak respectfully to me and of me. Isn’t that how you want people to measure you? Is that the measure that you and I are using for others?
Second, “judge not” means that we should examine ourselves first. Jesus isn’t forbidding us from correcting or speaking the truth. But He wants us first to correct our own hearts and speak the truth to ourselves (vv. 3–5). Moral and theological criticism can be warranted, so long as it is accompanied by a serious self-criticism. We tend to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize our own. As John Calvin put it, “There is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults.” Disparaging others is a cheap way of attaining moral superiority. We may see truth clearly, but what good is that insight into others if we don’t first apply it to our own lives?
Third, “judge not” means that we must remember who we are. Jesus would have us recall that He is the Judge and we are the judged. More than that, when it comes to Christians in the church, we are family. Notice the explicit language of “brother” in verse 3. Jesus is realistic about God’s family. There will be conflict. There will be specks to remove and logs too. Jesus says, in effect: “You will be tempted to get snippy with each other. But let Me show you a better way. Can you love as I have loved?”
Judge according to the Word of God, yes, but never indulge in self-righteous, hypocritical, hypercritical, prejudiced, merciless judgmentalism. That is never the way of Christ, and it should not be the way of Christians either.