In Matthew 7:1 Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
When someone has done something wrong, it is not uncommon to hear them quote Jesus words. But, did Jesus mean that we are not permitted to make a judgment that someone or something is wrong?
When it comes to understanding the Bible, context matters. In the same way, if someone took a line out of a conversation you were having and ignored the rest of the conversation what you intended to say could be easily misconstrued. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, the outstanding religionists of that day, who condemned other people and blasted them for small sins (the speck in their eye) while they totally ignored their own sin (the log in their own eye). The Pharisees are the epitome of hypocritical, self-righteous, condemning people. Jesus does not want us to be like them. But what many miss is the irony in that he is exposing their sin, the very thing many think he tells everyone not to do. He wants us to discern their sin so we won’t be like them or validate people who are like them.
We must distinguish sin from righteousness, evil people from righteous people, gospel people from religious people. A little later, in Matthew 7:15–20, he tells us to “beware of false prophets.” He goes on to say, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? . . . You will recognize them by their fruits,” such as love.
We must discern sin and sinful hearts. But furthermore we must do so in a godly way that is loving and humble. We must repent of our own sin, especially our inner sins of the heart before we address the sins of others. When we see sin in someone else, instead of condemning harshly from a distance we must come close in love, pointing out the sin in a compassionate and gracious attitude as fellow sinners who have their own struggles. Because Jesus has cared for us so well, we are to follow his example and care for other people as we call them to repentance and Christlikeness. This is what Jesus meant by judging religious people for judging others.