Today’s Bible reading is well-known, especially by those who don’t want to be judged by you. You may have even quoted Jesus when He said, “Judge not, that you not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 ESV)
Oftentimes, this passage is pulled out of thin air as if it had no context at all. Sure, Jesus told His Disciples not to judge, but look at the context of His instruction. Fourteen verses later, He says,
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Matthew 7:15–20 (ESV)
Obviously, in order to beware of false prophets, you have to do a certain amount of judging. He says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20 ESV) So what’s going on here? Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Of course not!
Let’s look a little closer to the immediate context of Matthew 7:1 by looking at the very next verse. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2 ESV) And then look at verse three through five. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, 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 7:3–5 ESV)
It appears that Jesus is simply saying that we need to be aware that we all suffer from bad eyesight. And we will be judged by the same standard by which we judge others.
We had some friends whose kids wanted a slice of pie. But there was only one slice. They told their kids that one of them could cut the piece in half and the other kid could choose which half to eat. Let me tell you, the kid cutting the pie made sure that he sliced the pieces exactly the same size! If he hadn’t, he would surely have eaten the smaller slice!
All of us have trouble seeing clearly. And when it comes time to make judgment calls, Jesus tells us to be careful. Our judgment should be according to the way that we would want to be judged. This is an application of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) which sits right in the middle of the chapter.