Matthew 7:1 is the verse most taken out of context in the entire Bible and is most often used as a bludgeon to beat people, usually Christians, who are making value judgements. It is nearly always made to say that which it does not say.
Matthew 7:1 (NKJV) "Judge not, that you be not judged.
The biggest problem is that this verse does not stand alone. It is one sentence in a larger treatise that run from verses 1 to 8.
If we accept Matthew 7:1 to be a stand alone command to never judge what are we to do with what Jesus says in John 7:24 "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment."
Which is it? Judge or not judge? What did Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1?
Theologian Dr. John MacArthur addresses this is a talk titled Stop Criticizing. He says, "Now, that sounds so simplistic. Don't judge. And you hear people throw that around. "Judge not, lest ye be judged." I've heard that. "Who are you to judge?"
Now, there are many people who've misunderstood this. Tolstoy, for example, the Russian novelist, said, "Christ here totally forbids the human institution of any law courts." Now, that is a gross misunderstanding of this. But there are other people who equally misunderstand it, only with another aberration. They say, "We should never criticize. We should never condemn anybody for anything. We should never evaluate anything at all. We don't want to judge, lest we should be judged."
And that phrase sort of fits our time, I think. Because we live in an age when the wrong use of "judge not" would find a ready audience. Our time hates theology. Our time hates dogma. Our time resists doctrine. Our time doesn't like convictions. People speak about love, and they speak about compromise. They speak about ecumenism. They speak about unity, anything to get everybody together. And somebody who talks about doctrine or dogma or convictions is generally unpopular in many circles."
"And so some people have taken "judge not" and just fit it into the mentality of the time. But the Lord is not condemning law courts. I mean, the Bible instituted that. The principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is based upon a law court, and Romans 13 affirms the right for a nation to rule its people. And the Bible is not condemning any kind of judging or discriminating. The Bible tells us, as believers, that we must discern. Right? That we must know the truth from the falsehood."
"Look at verse 15. "Beware of false prophets who come in sheep's clothing." Now, if you only perceive things superficially, you'll see the sheep's clothing and never know the wolf that's under there. There must be discernment. There must be judging, or we don't know the false prophets. We don't know the dogs. We don't know the swine that we're to avoid.
So in the very passage itself we are told to test, discriminate, evaluate between the true and the false. We have law courts to do that. The church, for example, in the same Gospel of Matthew, is told to confront a sinning brother in chapter 18, and to confront that brother boldly, forthrightly about his sinfulness, and to make it a matter of public knowledge if he doesn't repent. So we are not flabby and soft in obedience to Scripture. Scripture calls us to discern."
"So if you want an easy translation of what it says in verse 1, it says, "Stop criticizing." Stop criticizing. Who are you to criticize other people? That's the issue. We must judge. We must evaluate. Romans 16:17 says, "We must mark them that cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we've learned and avoid them." We must make doctrinal distinctions, and we must mark the people who offend that doctrine, and we must avoid those people. We can't all get together. We must make distinctions. And that judgment must begin, says, Peter, at the house of God. We have a right to judge righteous judgment. John 7:24. But not the carping criticism of the Pharisees. And that is essentially what He's saying."
Please see the entire piece HERE to see what Dr. MacArthur has to say and to find out what the verse means in context.
David B. Curtis says:
How many of you have said something like, "The Muslims don't know God" or "The Jews are apostates" or "Homosexuality is a sin", and had someone respond, "Judge not, that you be not judged"? This verse is probably quoted more by people who don't know Christ or the Bible than any other passage in all of Scripture:
Matthew 7:1 (NKJV) "Judge not, that you be not judged.
Many people have misunderstood Jesus' admonition concerning judging. When Jesus says that we are not to judge, many people have interpreted that to mean that we are not to engage in any form of analysis or evaluation of others. In other words, this line of thinking says that we cannot conclude that a person's behavior or lifestyle is wrong, and that they are consequently wrong for engaging in it. Those who would like to justify all manner of evil use this verse to chasten anyone who would take a stand for righteousness.
This verse is also misused when referring to other people's religious beliefs. Some people seem to say that we must sacrifice our ability to discriminate in decision making. Such a position would require that we exercise no discernment. There is a sense in which we are not to judge people, but we will see in this study that there is a sense in which we, as believers, are required to judge others.
What do we say to someone who says they believe that they are going to heaven, but they don't believe that Jesus Christ is God? Do we say, "It doesn't matter what god you believe in"? No, the only loving thing to tell them is that they are on their way to hell:
1 John 2:22-23 (NKJV) Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
We live in an age where there is an emphasis on tolerance and acceptance. Now, there is nothing wrong with tolerance and acceptance. They are indeed good qualities. But what many mean by them is that we should accept any belief, any lifestyle, any act, without careful, critical evaluation. We see this type of thinking reach its pinnacle in the idea of politically correct speech. Is this what Jesus is talking about?
I think not! This is a misunderstanding of what Jesus was speaking of. We know this because of what the Scriptures say in so many other places. In fact, in the sixth verse of this chapter, Jesus calls us to evaluate the kind of people with whom we are dealing as we seek to share His truth. Later, in this same chapter, Jesus says:
Matthew 7:15-16 (NKJV) "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 thornbushes or figs from thistles?
Obviously, we must engage in a fruit evaluation if we are going to determine who is a true or false prophet. So, we are called upon to make a judgment about individuals and behaviors. Many other passages also indicate this.
Christians have a God-given responsibility to make judgments. You are called to judge whether or not what you hear is truth or heresy:
1 John 4:1-2 (NKJV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
Curtis then goes into an in depth discussion of the various meanings on the word judge before exegeting the proper meaning of the text which is not about not judging but the proper way to judge which is clear from the immediately following verses.
He sums it up by saying, "It is important to see what Christ has not said in Matthew 7. He has not said we should not be discerning. Christians, of all people, are to be discerning. In fact, they are the only ones who can truly be discerning. What Christ is saying in Matthew 7 is that we are not to have a self-righteous, judgmental attitude; we are not to judge the motives of others; and we are not to judge hypocritically."
That is the meaning of the passage.
Finally, K.W. Leslie writes:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
—Jesus, Matthew 7.1 KJV
And that’s as far as people quote.
This verse is quoted a lot, usually for one of two reasons, both wrong. The first is, admittedly, noble: It’s for the sake of tolerance and acceptance. When people behave in a way that offends you personally—either sinfully, such as cheating one another, or in a way that offends your sensibilities, such as more wasteful than you’d like—“Judge not” is meant to remind you that we’re all equal in the eyes of God: You’re no better; you sin just as much; you’re likely just as ignorant of your misbehavior as these poor souls; you need to love them for Jesus’s sake, despite their flaws.
The second is to get out of trouble: “Hey man, don’t judge me. ‘Judge not,’ right?”
I think we can set aside those people who quote “Judge not” in order to continue living the lifestyles they know they shouldn’t. Clearly they’re using the scriptures as a loophole. But using “Judge not” as an appeal for open-mindedness and understanding: That’s a valid concern. Christians should be open-minded and understanding. It’s part and parcel of a lifestyle of forgiveness.
Still, let’s make sure we understand the scripture correctly. The whole teaching goes like this. (I lined it up as poetry because, well, it is poetry. That was Jesus’s intent in phrasing it this way.)
Judge not,that you be not judged.For with the judgment you pronounceyou will be judged,and with the measure you useit 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 clearlyto take the speck out of your brother’s eye.—Jesus, Matthew 7.1-5 ESV
The point of this passage, as I’ve discussed, is to teach Christians to not live by double standards. When we tell someone, “You sinner; you know better than to steal,” we ought not be thieves ourselves—we ought not be hypocrites, pretending to not be thieves; or pretending that we’ve never, ever stolen in our lives; or objecting to people stealing money while we ourselves rob our employers of time; or objecting to people stealing large items while we only pilfer small ones.
Hence the example of the person with the log in the eye, offering to help the person with the speck. Jesus exaggerates, but you get the idea: If we have the same problem, we’re no help. We need to overcome the problem, then help. And then, though Jesus doesn’t say so here, we can actually be a more valuable help than someone who can’t relate. When members of Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery get “sponsors” to mentor them, these sponsors have struggled with addiction too, but have been successful at resisting temptation, and that’s what makes them valuable resources. A person who lapses frequently would be a rotten sponsor; such people still need sponsoring themselves.
Where “Judge not” comes in is that, as before, we’re equal in the eyes of God. You’re a sinner; I’m a sinner; you’re trying to stop sinning; so am I. If I judge you, I judge myself as well, for I must be held to the same standard. There’s not a different standard for the Christian and the pagan, just as there wasn’t a different law for the Hebrew and the Gentile. (Nu 15.15) There’s not a different standard for the rich and poor, (Lv 19.15) simply because one is more pitiable, or the other can afford to get away with it. There’s not a different standard for children and adults, young and old, women and men, wise and foolish, smarter and denser, anyone. We’re all judged alike.
Commanded to judge.
Everyone judges. The word “judge,” either our English word or the Greek word kríno, means to decide between one thing or another. Everyone does that. You decided to read this post instead of the stuff your friends stuck on Facebook. (You might have chosen it second, but still.)
And from time to time we’re expected to judge. Jesus orders us Christians to judge matters among ourselves, rather than take one another to court. (Lk 12.57-59) He tells us, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jn 7.24 ESV) James judged, on behalf of the early church, to not obligate Gentile Christians to obey the Law before they could turn to Jesus. (Ac 15.19) Paul judged, in absentia, a Corinthian who was sleeping with his stepmother, and rebuked Corinth for not doing so themselves, writing, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.” (1Co 5.12 NLT) He further wrote:
When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers!
—Paul, 1 Corinthians 6.1-6 NLT
If all we follow is “Judge not,” we would be violating each of these other scriptures that tell us we need to judge—we need to choose between right and wrong. Not among pagans, as Paul pointed out; (1Co 5.12) not till the End, (1Co 4.5) for not even Jesus intends to judge anyone till the End. (Jn 12.47-48) But when there are disagreements between fellow Christians? Judge away. Just remember: We are judged by the very same standard.
As for pagans, they don’t need judgment. They need grace. They need to be won over by experiencing the generosity and forgiveness of God. They already know they’re in the wrong with God. They don’t need to hear any more of that. What they need is to hear that Jesus took care of their sins, and offers them a restored relationship with God. They need to experience Christians’ kindness. Not our judgment.
That is the meaning of Matthew 7:1. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. That has been the teaching of all churches throught time.