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. 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.
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you (Matthew 7:1-6 ESV).
Jesus’ “Discourse on Discipleship” (a.k.a. “The Sermon on the Mount) is meant to teach the Christian the life in the new kingdom. We grow in godliness as we submit our lives to Jesus’ teaching allowing his Spirit to help us live lives unto him. This is a remarkable gift from God, one that we must not take for granted.
With this said, if you are a Christian, does godliness lead you to criticize others? Of course, this question is ridiculous. Similarly, a judgmental attitude is likewise not a characteristic of citizen of the kingdom of God!
The Greek word translated “judge”(krinō) depending on the context can mean to discern, to analyze, to evaluate, to judge judicially, to be judgmental, or to avenge or condemn. The context of verse one argues for a meaning of “to be judgmental,” meaning having a critical spirit, a fault-finding mentality, or a condemning attitude. Comparatively, this same verb is used in Romans 14 and has a similar context and even includes an expansive description:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Romans 14:10-13).
Therefore, Jesus is referencing a judgmental attitude in the life of a believer, which leads me to my first point:
1. Your new kingdom citizenship does not permit you a judgmental attitude: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
Why is a judgmental attitude sinful? The answer to this is where Paul was going in Romans 14:10: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” When we have a judgmental attitude we put ourselves in the place of the judge instead of God. This is very different from being discerning and acting on that discernment. This is a form of rebellion in which we assert ourselves in the place of God. D.A. Carson’s amplified translation of this verse captures this meaning: “Do not assume the place of God by deciding you have the right to stand in judgment over all—do not do it, I say, in order to avoid being called to account by God whose place you usurp” (Carson, 183).
This leads me to my second point which ties the second half of verse one to two:
2. There is a reciprocal nature to a judgmental attitude: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).
Practically, we can see this in everyday life. People who habitually criticize others invite criticism upon themselves. However, the real issue is not how people respond to you, but how does God respond to you? God condemns a judgmental attitude because it is a direct affront to his sovereignty. Consider these antonymous verses: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). We are to extend mercy to others, because God extends mercy to us. We are to forgive others, because God forgives us. Similarly, we are not to have a judgmental attitude, precisely because we don’t want God’s judgment upon us. Think about it. Do you really want the standard of God’s justice to be applied to you in the way that you wrongfully judge others? We don’t.
To drive this point home, Jesus give us two images straight from the carpenter’s workshop:
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 (Matt. 7:3-5).
Our tendency is to focus on the public sins of others with a judgmental attitude while completely ignoring our private and often ignored sins. Consider the example of David following his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband:
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul (2 Samuel 12:1-7).
We are not unlike David. Examine your heart. Can you find the sins of others more easily than your own sins?
This leads me to my final point:
3. Having a loving and merciful attitude rather than a judgmental attitude does not mean being undiscerning: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).
We are called to be discerning, which we will find in a few verses further into this chapter where Jesus 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…” (Matt. 7:15-16). Similarly, Paul cautioned, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3:2), or as Paul much more harshly exclaimed, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12). It’s not simply in dealing with false teachers that we are to exercise discernment, for example Paul describes the necessity for discernment in sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5, and John instructs us to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…” (1 John 4:1).
The problem is that we have a tendency to move from discernment to sinful criticism too easily. We may even justify our judgmental attitude by calling it good judgment or discernment. The issue here is in our attitude, which Jesus has confronted throughout his discourse and does so here as well.
Jesus contrasts what is of God (“holy”, “pearls”) with what is unholy, or literally unclean (“dogs”, “pigs”). The pearl is a metaphor for the kingdom (which Jesus will use again in chapter 13). By God’s sovereign plan through the work of Christ, we have become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, therefore we are to not to have a judgmental attitude, but we are to wisely discern the things of this world. There will be those who aggressively reject the beautiful message of God’s kingdom, and we will graciously take the truth to others who will receive it.
God has called us as his children to live lives pleasing to him. This means that we are discerning, and merciful, always seeking to glorify God, or as Micah 6:8 states:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?