The day is coming soon when “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10)—great and small, rich and poor, well-known and unknown. And what will happen when we stand there? The rubric we raised against others will be raised against us.
“Judge not.” Few words of Jesus are more familiar, even to non-Christians. And when understood, few are more devastating.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1–2)
In the face of others’ aggravations and sins—their thoughtless comments and annoying tones, their insensitive laughter and failures to follow through—how natural it feels to convict them in the court of our imagination. How gratifying to hear our inner prosecutor give their words or actions the worst spin, and then to close the case before the defense can even speak.
And how easy to forget that one day, the judgments we laid on others will be laid on us; the measures we used to assess others will be used to assess us. One day, we will enter the court of our imagination—and this time not as judge, but as defendant.
How many emails would be abandoned and text messages unsent, how many thoughts would be discarded and words unsaid, how many conversations would be redirected and posts unread, if only we heard our Savior say, with eternal sobriety in his voice, “Judge not”?
Of course, “judge not” does not mean what some would like it to mean. Matthew 7:1 is the life verse of many who simply would like to live in sin undisturbed. Rarely do they read the rest of the chapter, where Jesus warns against “dogs,” “pigs,” and “false prophets” — and expects us to judge who they are (Matthew 7:6, 15–20). Rarer still do they read Matthew 7 alongside John 7, where Jesus commands, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
Critical thinking, discernment, and “right judgment” belong to every mature disciple of Christ. But there is another kind of judgment to which Jesus says, “Judge not”—a kind produced in the factory of our unredeemed flesh, marked by a tendency to (1) indulge hypocrisy and (2) withhold mercy.
“Let me take the speck out of your eye” (Matthew 7:4). Our words of judgment, whether spoken or merely thought, may seem unobjectionable, perhaps even kind. We really do notice a speck in another’s eye—some small pattern of sin or folly that our brother has failed to see. And don’t we all appreciate the friend who points out the spinach in our teeth or the shirt tag climbing our neck?
But wait: “There is the log in your own eye” (Matthew 7:4). The spinach-noticer has ketchup smeared across his cheeks; the tag-discerner forgot to put his pants on; the speck-remover has a birch tree jutting from his left eye. In other words, “You hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5).
The faults and annoyances of others — that is, their specks—have a way of taking our eye from the mirror and putting it over a magnifying glass. In the moment of offense, how easily many of us assume, without prayer and with scarcely three seconds’ worth of thought, that we are only the observers of specks and logs, and not also the bearers of them. We hear her retort without remembering our own exasperating comment; we bristle at his third reminder while forgetting our own failure to communicate well. We quickly play the role of prosecutor, but refuse to cross-examine ourselves.
Those who “judge with right judgment” do not pass by others’ specks without comment, but they spend some time searching their own eyes before poking another’s. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).