I am sure you have heard the words “judge not” spoken many times. They are usually mentioned when there is news about something morally questionable, such as a pregnancy outside marriage or a divorce.
The idea behind these words when they are spoken often amounts to something like this: “Do not make any moral judgment on what this person has done. Look the other way. If you pass judgment, you will be doing something that Jesus does not want you to do.”
In Matthew 7:1–5, Jesus said:
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. 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.
On first reading, these words of Jesus seem to suggest that if you know that you are not perfect, then you should not pass moral judgment on others. The words almost seem to suggest that if you avoid making any moral judgments about other people, then God will not make any moral judgments about you. You can understand why people seem to like to hear and say these words.
We need to realize that Jesus is using the word judge as a synonym for condemn. He is warning against a censorious spirit. Those who have a hypercritical attitude often overlook their own faults while being very hard on others.
This is what Jesus means when He goes on to say, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (v. 2). Jesus is warning against being severe on others while being lenient on yourself.
This becomes even more evident when you consider the imagery that Jesus uses to illustrate His teaching. Jesus is obviously using hyperbolic language. Here you are, He is saying, content with a log in your eye, and yet you are making an issue of a speck in your brother’s eye.
Clearly, then, Jesus is not suggesting that you should not pass moral judgments on the actions of others. In fact, He is saying that you should begin by passing a moral judgment on yourself that leads to genuine repentance. Then you will be in a good position to judge others.
“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” (v. 5). Have you done that yet?