by Steven Chan
The above-captioned phrase is commonly quoted by bible believers as well as non-believers. It is often quoted to mean that one is not to judge any action of anyone. So, no one is permitted to say that a person’s action is wrong or bad. But was that what Jesus meant when He made that statement in Matt 7:1-5? Let’s consider the immediate context of the statement and then the wider total context of the bible so that we can be sure of the accuracy of our understanding on the subject of judging the action of another person.
The immediate context of the statement is as follows in Matt 7:1-5:-
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
The teaching of Jesus is as follows:-
- The command is that one should not be a judgemental person or have a condemning spirit. Being judgmental is a problem with some people. A judgmental person is one who is always harshly critical of the actions of others – being intolerant of the action of others and while seemingly unaware or unconcerned that he or she is guilty of similar actions.
So, the Bible teaches that one should learn to “forbear” or “put up” with one another. Eph 4:2-3: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”(NASB).
So, when correcting a person, one should exercise the appropriate attitude and approach: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”(Gal 6:1)
One should also realize that there is room of differences in personal preferences. If God has given one liberty to choose whatever one prefers (i.e. where He has not made it a required or forbidden matter), such as preference for a different diet or preferance to do a certain thing in his own way in the liberty given to him by God, then one should not “judge” or “condemn” the other person just because he chose a different option or course of action from us: “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”( Rom 14:10)
- We should be careful about “judging the action of another person” because others will use the same standard or measure of judgement on your actions. The tendency is for one to be very critical of another person’s action and then to get very upset when others are equally critical of our own actions. So, the advice is to exercise caution or to forbear when one gets stirred up to want to judge the action of another.
This does not mean that we should not judge any action to be right or otherwise. In fact, after His warning against being judgemental of others, He went on to instruct us to judge those who are false prophets by their fruits: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”( Matt 7:15-20)
On another occasion, the apostle Paul wrote thus: “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Cor 5:12-13) So, there is a clear injunction to judge one who is evil, and to discipline him. Paul went on to write thus:
”Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?”( 1 Cor 6:2-5)
- The warning to exercise caution in judging another is also because one oftentimes overlooks or is unaware of one’s own failings or incorrect actions, while being critical of another person’s action. Jesus said that one needs to first correct oneself before one seeks to correct the action of another. It is only after we have examined our own actions and have corrected our own actions, then only may we try to help another person correct his action. Otherwise, we will just be ‘hypocrites’ in that while we are critical of others, we do not subject ourselves to the same standard of conduct. The apostle Paul wrote in Rom 2:1: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”
The Bible gives an example of how one can be blind to one’s own fault until it is pointed out to us in the account concerning King David when he thought that he did no wrong in scheming for the death of Uriah the Hittite so that he could have his wife.
After Nathan the prophet had related the account of a man who took a poor man’s favourite and only lamb to cook for his guests, King David expressed his anger and judgement against the rich man who had done that deed:-
”So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! 6 And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” (2 Sam 12:5-6)
“Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:7).
David could express anger at what another person did but he failed to realize that he was guilty of a similar action. This does not mean that David should not have condemned the rich man who took the only lamb of the poor man to cook for his guest; what the rich man did was wrong and he should rightly be judged. But the story illustrates the danger that one faces when one is harshly critical of others while failing to realize that oneself may well be guilty of similar actions. Then one is being hypocritical.
Let us examine our own lives in the light of the scriptures so that we may do the things that please God. Let our conduct be consistent with our desire to follow Jesus Christ our Lord.