What does judge mean in Matthew 7?
In Matthew 7:1-6, as Jesus is beginning to wind down the Sermon on the Mount, he brings up the issue of judging others. This is an issue that needs further attention because even Christians have trouble understanding how this corresponds to other parts of Jesus’ teaching.
For instance, later on as Jesus teaches in the book of Matthew, he will talk about judging the fruit of a tree, whether it is a good tree or a bad tree. The way you know is by the fruit it produces (Matthew 12:33-37). It is clear from the context that he is referring to trees as people and fruit as their actions.
So how are we to understand not judging others in Matthew 7 and correspond with Matthew 12? In Matthew 7, Jesus is talking about a specific type of judging. You can tell by the way he talks about the results of this judgment.
In Matthew 7:2, Jesus says the same measure we use in our judgment will be used against us. He goes on to give an illustration about the log in our own eye as we point out the speck in our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3 4).
Then he calls such a person a hypocrite and tells them with the same imagery to concern themselves with their own problems before they address issues in others. Then they will be able to deal with the brother with the smaller issue.
I have found that the same things that annoy me about others I am in some way dealing with myself. I noticed character issues in the way things are done by others and I am so incensed about them, finally realizing that I also have those issues to some degree.
Jesus calls us hypocrites if we judge others by harsher standards then we judge ourselves. Many times if I have to bring up an issue with someone, they inevitably throw back at me, “Well what about you and this problem you have.”
No one likes to deal with deficiencies in character or deeds. It’s much easier to throw it back in someone else’s face instead of deal with something they notice in us. But it’s all about how we go about doing this.
The word for judging here has in the context the idea of judging others with impunity. It’s when we critically judge others, becoming their judge, jury, and executioner, that Jesus is addressing here.
It’s not that we cannot judge others. It’s that we can’t judge them with harshness and critical approaches. To become the judge, jury, and executioner, to judge with a critical spirit takes Jesus’ place as the Judge of all.
We lack the ability and the right to judge other people in this way because we cannot see their character, their intentions, or their motives. We can’t see the thought process it took to get to the point we think we can judge them on.
Only God as perfect perspective and can judge people rightly and justly. This is the heart of the matter for Matthew 7:1-6. When Jesus tells us not to judge or we will be judged, he is basically saying that if we judge others critically, we will be judged critically by them and others around us.
However, as a pastor, I sometimes have to deal with discipline in the congregation and I must judge the fruit, or the actions, of another Christian. It would be so easy for me to waive my status as the authority, the elder of the church, as I speak to them about any issues I see.
But if I did that, the same thing could be done to me. We all have our faults. This is why we are unfit judges of other people in the sense of critical judgment. However, when Jesus talks in Matthew 12:33-37 about judging the fruit of other people, we don’t render a critical judgment.
Would we judge fruit, the actions of others, or the result of their actions, we do it as an evaluation. When I have to do this as a pastor, I come up to the person, take them aside privately (for a public judgment would be critical) and tell them in love, “I see you doing this, and I don’t think it lines up with the Bible. Have you considered that it might be a bad witness to others in the world if they see you doing it too?”
With this approach, I hope to have a little bit of tact, not make the person feel like they are being judged by everyone around them, and still point out the truth of what I see in the situation. It’s not that this always works or always makes everyone involved comfortable, but it is better than other ways I have seen discipline handled in churches.
Another Scripture tells us that judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). When Peter points this out, he is speaking to Christians. He is basically saying that if we do not help each other in the matters that we face in temptation and sin, God will do the judging for us. We see this happen in the Old Testament with Israel.
So judgment does not have to be a bad thing. If it is done properly with a spirit of evaluation rather than a critical spirit, it refers more to what Jesus expects from his body. We must not judge critically to condemn others. But we must evaluate one another and help each other grow closer to God and in holiness.