This post is in answer to my friend Joseph Gudz’s question regarding judging. People often quote Matthew 7:1 without knowing the context. They assume the verse means not to be critical of people’s actions. Does not judging lest we be judged mean what they think?
Look at the context and the audience to whom Jesus spoke. In what Christians call the Sermon on the Mount, Christ addressed the external religion of the Pharisees and the lay people of first century Israel. They were so busy performing works to demonstrate their conformity with it that they forgot about the condition of their own hearts.
One fault which those people had was judging by external appearances. Anybody seen doing religious rituals in public was assumed to be holy. Consider this parable Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector.
Luke 18:11-14 KJV) “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Consider how many times the religious establishment condemned Christ for keeping company with the riffraff of society. Luke 7:34 (KJV) reads, “The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, ‘Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!'”
As a result of this law-keeping attitude, the people of Christ’s time neglected to examine their hearts. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if a person even looked lustfully at a woman, it was as if they committed adultery. Hiding hatred in one’s heart was akin to murder as well. Jesus took the law to its extreme in order to show the utter impossibility of keeping it.
Additionally, I’ve found that when people quote, or more often misquote, Matthew 7:1, it’s an effort to shut me up. For example, if I criticize a politician for wasting tax dollars on a boondoggle, I’m often admonished for hypocritically judging that person. However, I condemn the actions of that politician, not them personally. Many people can’t separate the two.
There are also occasions when I recognize a fault in somebody else of which I was once guilty. Is it judge mental to warn that person in order to spare him or her future embarrassment or chastisement? Often times that person doesn’t realize what effect his or her actions have on others.
Most importantly, we are called to discern good from evil and righteousness from wickedness by lovingly applying what scripture says. Being censorious isn’t the way to correct people, as the legalists of Christ’s time did. Rather, we should listen instead of shooting our mouths off. What we might assume to be a fault is instead our misunderstanding of people’s motives.