Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. Matthew 7:1-2
We hiss through gritted teeth whenever we hear some liberal fool misinterpret the most over-quoted and least understood admonishment from the mouth of our Lord: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It is Matthew 7:1, and usually it is used to dodge guilt over some sexual sin or the temptation to do away with the natural consequence thereof. You don’t tend to hear people use it to shield from the sting of moral disapproval those such as the following: Ponzi-scheming Wall Street swindlers, racists, violent gay-bashing mobs, serial rapists/murderers especially of women and more especially of young children (at least those who have already been expelled from their mother’s wombs). Certain sins, and certain classes of sinners, get a pass, and others do not. Moral indignation can be very selective, even when it is moral indignation at someone else’s moral indignation. But is it not a tacit admission that something is wrong when someone can muster no defense of the thing except to leap to pretending to take the bald-facedly incoherent position that holding people to any moral standards of behavior at all is somehow itself immoral?
If we were not supposed to judge people’s actions — that is, if that is what our Lord meant by “Judge not” — would there be Ten Commandments? Would we be called to obey them? Would there be juridical laws to discipline against the violation of these laws? If we were not called to hold people to moral standards, wouldn’t there simply not have been any?
As is always the case, the absurdity of the interpretation of Matthew 7:1-2 that would see it as a divine endorsement of amoralism and anarchism (selective amoralism and anarchism as I have pointed out above) becomes evident when we put that passage back in its context and interpret it in the light of the rest of scripture.
There is a parallel passage in Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” But you cannot forgive someone unless you have already judged them to have wronged you. You do not forgive people for things you believe were good for you and which you enjoyed. When someone asks for forgiveness for something good they have done for us, if we know and agree that it was good, we say, “There is nothing to forgive.” But doesn’t that mean we judged the action? We had to have. We judged it and said to ourselves that was a good thing he did. Not all judgement is blame. We judge in order to praise as well, and we judge in order to forgive.
In both passages we read of the plank in our own eye and the mote in the other’s, and our Lord does not say that when we remove the plank in our own eye we will see clearly that we should ignore the mote in our brother’s. He says our own moral clarity will better enable us to remove the mote from our brother’s eye. He has more to say that would make no sense if He were declaring all moral judgement to be out of bounds. He warns us against casting pearls before swine, giving what is holy to dogs (bubble-bursting time – Our Lord is speaking metaphorically: dogs and swine are actually bad people). He tells us to judge a tree by its fruit, and makes it clear that he is talking about good men and evil men (the trees), who we are judge by their actions (the fruit). That’s from Luke 6:43-45.
Probably the clearest passage that makes it obvious that judging people isn’t merely not sinful, it is an imperative, a duty (with a sacred responsibility to carry it out correctly) is John 7:24, another scripture where we read our Lord saying “Judge not”:
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.