Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged
Perhaps no other teaching of our Lord has been more misapplied than this one found in 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.” Similar to it are Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”, John 8:7b. After the woman’s accusers leave without having thrown any stones, Jesus asks her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”, John 8:10-11.
At first glance, Jesus would seem to be teaching a kind of moral neutrality: i.e. everybody sins, so his followers are out-of-bounds to exercise any moral discernment. Certainly our Lord detested the kind of finger-pointing practiced by some Jewish religious leaders – particularly the Pharisees. He denounced their hypocrisy when their accusations could just as well have been directed at themselves, cf. Matthew 23. In no way, however, was Jesus preaching some kind of moral neutrality which prohibits the use of discernment when determining good and evil – right and wrong. Some, however, actually take this position on the basis of Matthew 7:1-5 and John 8:1-11. When a believer makes some kind of moral discernment, these are the folks who are quick to say, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” as though that statement would remove all moral responsibility for the determination of right and wrong.
From the context of Matthew 7 we know for certain Jesus was not advocating moral neutrality. In fact, Jesus instructs his followers to identify false prophets by their fruit – to determine if what they do is good or evil, Matthew 7:15-20. Obviously He does not consider that action to be “judging.” Likewise, Jesus indicates those who do His will enter the kingdom of heaven. The wise man puts the words of Jesus into practice and prevails -- while the foolish man does not do so and fails, cf. Matthew 7:21-27. One chooses good: the other chooses evil. Our Lord is very clear about the moral choices we all face every day. In no way is He neutral about these choices.
To what, then, does Jesus refer in Matthew 7:1-2? He is prohibiting any judgment on our part which assumes the place of God and determines the final judgment of someone. We are definitely to determine what is sinful and what is not, but we are not to determine what is the final destiny of someone who sins. That is for God alone to do.
As for the woman taken in adultery, Jesus was definitely not morally neutral. After He told her He would not condemn her, he also commanded her to leave her life of sin.
Galatians 6:1-2 gives us the wonderful balance between rightful determination of good and evil and the loving attitude of one who comes along side to restore: “Brothers, if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you
will fulfill the law of Christ.” What is the law of Christ? It is love, John 13:34-35. Love does not let the one who is loved remain in the terrible clutches of sin.