So how should Christians think about judging? First, we must ask what one means by “judge.” The dictionary distinguishes several definitions. To judge can mean to pass legal judgment, like a judge sentencing a criminal at the conclusion of a courtroom trial. Nothing wrong with this kind of judging.
To judge can also mean to form an opinion or conclusion about someone or something. These are assessments or evaluations. A coach judges the skill level of a player trying to make the team. A mom judges the nutritional value of food she serves her family. A plumber judges a clogged sink to fix it. Such judgments or assessments are made all the time, everyday. Again, nothing wrong with this kind of judging.
But Jesus definitely suggests some sort of judging is wrong, so what was He talking about? Well, if you really want to know, never read a Bible verse. To determine the meaning of a single verse, you must read the surrounding verses. Context is king. When we look at the rest of Matthew 7, we actually discover Jesus doing the very thing most Christians think He has forbidden.
In verse 6, He warns, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine…” He calls out “false prophets” (v. 15) and says there will come a day when he will say to some, “depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (v. 23). Ouch, those are harsh moral judgments. So clearly, not all judging is out-of-bounds for Jesus.
The context makes clear Jesus is after a particular kind of judgment:
For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at 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,” and behold, the log is 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 (vv. 2-5).
When Jesus warns “do not judge,” He doesn’t mean we should never assess moral behavior. Rather, he warns against self-righteous and hypocritical judgments. When you judge, take the log out of your own eye first. This is something we Christians need to work on. But notice that Jesus is not saying it is never right to judge, He is explaining how we are to judge rightly.
Now I don’t see why everyone seems to be so proud of not judging these days. I love to make moral judgments. My moral judgments aren’t arbitrary. I’m not trying to force anyone to agree with me if they don’t want to. But I do like to set out moral boundaries and then explain with evidence why those boundaries are there. And those boundaries are not arbitrary, they are there to protect myself and others from harm. It’s wrong to tell people that it’s fine for them to do whatever they want in order to feel “happy”. It is often in the pursuit of happiness that people break the rules and then cause the most harm to themselves and others.