This is a pretty tough passage. On the surface, it looks like it delivers a clear message – don’t judge others. In fact, that’s how many have interpreted and taught it for years. However, such a fly-over description of Jesus’ words here have never really sat right with me.
Now, hold on, I’m also not saying you should go around being overly judgmental of others. That type of attitude has certainly given Christianity a bad name – “holier than thou” comes to mind.
So if it’s not one and it’s not the other…what is it? Well, as with many Bible passages – actually pretty much all of them – context is key.
For instance, just a few verses later (we’ll get to this passage in more detail in the coming weeks), Jesus describes a situation in which we should judge others. Look at Matthew 7:15-17:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.”
The only way to decide whether or not fruit is bad is to make a judgment. You have to judge what you hear to decide whether it is in line with the Truth.
But back to the passage at hand. If we are to make judgments in certain situations, then when is it not okay to judge? Well, I think the answer lies in our posture. You see, in our passage Jesus talks about two brothers with items in their eyes. Sounds excruciatingly painful. Jesus admonishes us to remove the plank from our own eye before we go about removing the speck from our brother’s.
The posture here is very active. I’m the one going to my brother and making him aware of his shortcomings – which happen to pale in comparison to my own. I’m going to my brother with the purpose of judging.
The posture later in this chapter is passive. A false teacher comes to us, and we must judge what we hear. We didn’t come to the situation with the intent to judge. But based on what occurred, a judgment had to be made.
So don’t judge others, unless it is thrust upon you. What I mean by that is, don’t look for things that others are doing wrong. But also, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. If someone says or does something that you know is wrong and they invite you to join in – by all means, make a judgment! Don’t do it.
But don’t point out others’ faults. Don’t actively look for ways to show your superiority. That’s pride, and it’s not a good enough reason to throw judgments around.
So, yes, there are times when it’s okay to judge others. But those are few and far between. You don’t know everything. So don’t walk around like you do. Instead…
…depend on the One who does.