So very often, I come across people who profess to be followers of Christ, yet twist Scripture to serve their own purpose. If we profess to follow Christ, we are commanded to follow His laws as the Bible says. Perhaps one of the most distorted and misused verses in the Bible comes from the start of Matthew chapter 7:
Matthew 7:1-2: "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."
Yes, in these verses Jesus warns us directly not to judge others. If you continue reading Matthew chapter 7, you will see that this passage teaches us to examine our own hearts before we go around judging the actions of others. That is absolutely and undeniably true. Read verse 5 carefully. It does not prohibit Christians from making judgments, but we must first see our own sin clearly.
When we read the Bible, we must read it accurately. Otherwise, we become completely confused as to the meaning and make costly mistakes that can be easily avoided. This passage is the last of three chapters that make up the Sermon on the Mount. You can read all of it here. Chapter 7 is talking about salvation. When Jesus talks about not throwing pearls before swine, He is warning us not to throw the truth of God in the faces of those who are unwilling to hear it, "lest they...turn and tear you in pieces". You know the type, the ones who so adamantly hate God that they will say anything to make a devout follower of Christ out to be a complete fool. We should spend our time trying to reach people who are open to hearing the truth rather than engage in fruitless arguments. He also talks about how anyone who asks shall find. Now, this does not mean that God will magically grant all your wishes simply by asking. He is talking about salvation. If you ask for salvation...if your heart desires to know God, He will give you the desires of your heart. You are His child and He wants to bless you with eternal life, which is the greatest gift of all. He goes on to talk about how few people will actually become saved, that the gate is narrow. He even says that many who call, "Lord, Lord" and believe they have done good works for Christ will be turned away from Heaven (see verses 21-23). Not everyone who claims to be a follower of God is actually saved. Jesus ends the sermon warning that anyone who hears these words and does not obey is basically a fool and will fall. It's definitely a stern warning.
Now that we understand the context of this passage, we can better understand the first part about judgement. Jesus is warning us not to judge a man's (or woman's) heart. Only God is Judge. In the end, only He will have the final say. It would be a sin for you and I to say with absolute authority that someone is or is not saved. Why? Because we are not God.
But God does give us some guidance in chapter 7 to help us determine whether a person is likely saved or not:
Matthew 7:17-20: "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them."You can read more about about the fruits here. You see, Christians are not banned from making judgments about what is right and wrong. It's actually quite the opposite. We are called to be the light in this dark world. Sometimes that means exposing sin and trying our best to help people overcome it. For example, if you know that your best friend, who claims to be a Christian, is enthralled in reading steamy, sensational erotica (which happens to be on the best seller list), is it right for you to keep quiet, or is it right for you to try to help your friend out of the sinful behavior? You can find the Biblical answer here. I believe the two most damaging things you can do are (1) be silent and (2) condemn others with a "holier than thou" attitude.
The next time someone uses Matthew 7:1 out of context, use the good judgement that God gives to ask yourself if the person is trying to "trample your pearls" so to speak, or truly has an open heart and a genuine misunderstanding of what judgment truly means. From there, examine your own sin. Repent. Only then will you be an effective judge of right and wrong in the lives of others.
In the meantime, let's keep studying God's Word and hiding it away in our hearts. Let's keep being bold in our faith and standing strong, but make no mistake- having the last word is not always the most beneficial. Perhaps even worse is being accurately accused of hypocrisy.