“Judge not, that you not be judged.” Matthew 7:1
Coming down from the lofty peaks of God’s love for us, Jesus turns in the sermon to remind us that our relationships with each other demonstrate whether or not we really understand things like grace and forgiveness. He takes up the topic of judgment, which means we need to have an aside about what the English word “judge” means. Like every word, its context determines which of its many meanings is supposed to be understood. One meaning of “judge” is similar to discern, that is, to determine carefully the nature of something, for example whether something is good or bad. Discernment is encouraged and even required for followers of Jesus. We can see this in verse 6 when Jesus explicitly calls us to use discernment in not giving valuable things to people (the dogs and pigs) who will not use them for good but for evil.
In this passage, we see the element of “judge” which more functions like the act of judging in a law court, as in passing a sentence. Jesus draws our attention to our propensity to view our flaws as miniscule and other’s flaws as a big deal, with a pretty funny image of a guy with a log in his eye asking if he can remove a tiny speck from his buddy’s eye. Jesus warns that we have to be careful how we assess others, because the standards we use are what will be used against us.
This warning should certainly give us pause. If you think back on the past week, you might shudder to think of how quickly you berated a professor in your mind, or mocked a classmate, or dismissed another peer. Or perhaps, more concerningly, you feel perfectly justified.
The God who offers wonderful rewards and wants us to pursue them is also the God we each have to stand in front of and give an account to for the totality of our lives. No one throughout Scripture speaks more soberly of this coming judgment than Jesus, for our warning, and we should take this seriously. Just as in the Lord’s Prayer being able to forgive others was a signal that we understood the humility needed to receive forgiveness, so here how we judge will inevitably display if we have understood how weak and sin-burdened we are, and how we can do nothing for ourselves in God’s sight except receive the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus. The more we see our true desperation, the more we’re able to extend compassion and understanding to those around us. Prayer to understand this more is needed in all of our lives.
But another important note to not miss is that Jesus doesn’t condemn removing the speck from a brother’s eye—he condemns doing it wrongly. Verse 5 is clear that part of the hope in us keeping our eyes clear is in fact that we will be able to help our brother. God designed us to be a part of each other’s spiritual lives, but this call is very uncomfortable. We can think, “How could I have the right?” This humility is not a bad place to start, as it can protect against what this passage teaches against. But especially in our generation, we should also consider whether we see something happening in a brother or sister around us that needs to be graciously addressed. If you suspect fear could be stopping you in this way, seek God out in prayer about proper next steps for you to take, for wisdom, courage, and humility in the power of the Spirit.