Scripture in Focus: Matthew 7:1-2
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2)
Many Christians think these words of Christ mean that we should never judge anyone under any circumstances. But is that what Jesus’ words mean in this case?
The larger context in which these verses occur is that of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and the statement “do not judge” takes on different meaning when we look at that larger context. Jesus’ very next words, were, in fact:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
Here, Jesus shows not that it is wrong to admit there is a problem in someone else’s life, but that we should be careful to not be hypocritical if we do judge the other person. In a similar manner, Jesus then continued to say: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs …” (Matthew 7:6), and it is clear that we must judge whether individuals are acting as “dogs” or “pigs” in order to follow this command.
So Jesus does not seem to be saying that judging others is a problem so much as overly harsh (Matthew 7:2) or hypocritical judging (Matthew 7:3-5). This understanding is further supported by the things Jesus continued to say a little later in his sermon: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-16). We cannot watch for false prophets without making a judgment of their character and nature based on their actions and deeds – as Christ said, “by their fruit you will recognize them,” a statement reiterated in verse 20, and one which clearly shows there are times when the Christian needs to judge an individual’s behavior.
Given these facts it is clear that Jesus’ words “Do not judge” must be understood in the light of what he continued to say in his sermon – not that we cannot asses and form opinions regarding the spiritual behavior of other people, but that we must be very careful not to judge them unjustly, overly harshly or hypocritically. The Gospel of John shows Christ also commanded his disciples “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).
Christians can and must judge in certain circumstances, as the apostle Paul stated: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” (1 Corinthians 6:2). But Christ warns us that we must always be careful to judge righteously.
* See also our full length article "Why You Need the Qualities and Qualifications of a Judge."