Today we’re looking at the challenge, Jesus said, “Judge not.” How many times a day does this get thrown in our faces? Whenever Christians do anything perceived as judgmental, someone inevitably quote Jesus from Matthew chapter 7.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Matthew 7:1 ESV

This has become one of the most quoted verses of the Bible in today’s culture. It seems pretty straightforward, but we are left with a few problems to respond to.

Did Jesus Judge?

If we take the verse at face value, it raises a lot of questions. If we are never supposed to judge, what are we supposed to make of all the times Jesus openly judged? Jesus called people “brood of vipers” and “white-washed tombs.” He condemned hypocrisy, stubbornness, and disbelief. And of course, who could forget his more physical judgment in clearing the temple of the animals and money changers. Unless this is a command exclusively for us, and did not apply to Jesus himself, we may be misunderstanding his command.

Everyone Judges

The fact is we all judge. I judged that it might be a good idea to get up and go to work this morning, as much as I may have not wanted to. I judged it might not be a good idea to drive through a stop-light, even though it would have saved me some time. Judgment is often just a matter of making choices, and is a natural and necessary part of human life.

While it may be Jesus was referring specifically to moral judgments on other people, we can’t just take the statement at face value and do away with all kinds of judgment, bias, or decisions. But there may be a bigger problem here.

Context is King

The easiest way to misread any Bible verse is to read it in isolation. If we take a sentence out of context, the Bible can be cited as saying just about anything. But by simply checking the context of a verse, we can easily discern what it means. In Matthew 7, just by going to the next verse, you see what Jesus was referring to. But just to be safe, let’s examine the whole paragraph.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 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? 4 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? 5 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.”

Matthew 7:1-5 ESV
Even the Simpsons are messing this up. Personally I’m shocked.

And just like that, the picture becomes clear. Jesus is not saying we will be punished if we ever judge someone. He is warning against hypocritical judgment. Far from commanding us not to judge, Jesus is giving instruction on how to judge. Sure, stop cheating on your spouse before judging your brother for doing the same thing. But that doesn’t let us off the hook from cleaning out our brother’s eye.

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