One of most commonly quoted and misquoted passages in the Bible comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where he says “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). This is routinely taken to mean don’t you ever take on someone ethically or stand against a person’s sins. Who do you think you are, God? Or what do you think you are, perfect?
First, we should always be eager to admit that we are not God, and only confront from a position of humility and love, knowing that God is gracious toward us in Christ loves us despite our many sins. But second, we should go on the next verse to see if this objection holds any water. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (v2). Don’t use a standard for someone else that you are unwilling to meet yourself. An unrepentant thief can’t get in someone’s face about stealing or the kettle call the pot black. That’s what Jesus is saying. This is likely what is happening in John 8 when Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees caught her in the very act. Jesus says let those without sin cast the first stone. Really, can only those who have never sinned in any way stand against adultery? The text says “they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones” (Jn. 8:9). They were adulterous men who noticeably did not seem interested in the punishment of the guilty man involved. Their problem was not an over zealous desire for justice, but a deep hypocrisy that slowly dawned upon the eldest, the most experienced adulterers.
Jesus says not to apply a standard that you do not welcome to be applied to yourself. Far from drive us away from judging sin, he urges us to do so: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your borther’s eye” (Matt. 8:5). Action item for the hypocrite: get the plank out, and then talk to your brother about his speck. Even log-sized sin doesn’t excuse someone from judging rightly. He repents before God, gets his eyesight restored, and then must help his brother. Far from being an advocate of not judging, Jesus actually requires right, clear-sighted and loving judgment. He forbids hypocrites from judging, but he also forbids them to remain hypocrites.