“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) is probably the most misquoted verse in the Bible. This verse is being quoted many times by those who are for same-sex partnerships. The typical comment on Facebook is: “Who are you to judge? After all didn’t Jesus say, Judge not lest ye be judged.” The assumption is that Jesus says we should never condemn another’s lifestyle as we are in no position to judge or evaluate.
Is that what Jesus meant? Absolutely not. Jesus was speaking against hypocrisy. Jesus said in the rest of the passage:
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. (Matthew 7:2-5)
Jesus said that by passing judgement on others or condemning others, his listeners just showed that they knew what was right and wrong behaviour. Therefore they would be held accountable to that same high standard and we really condemning themselves. Jesus said, “So you know what’s right and wrong, I will hold you to that very same standard.”
The Apostle Paul said the very same thing in Romans 2:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3)
Some of the Romans, who condemned others, were practicing (v1) “ the very same things”.
Are these verses not so true to human nature? We tend to be critical of everyone except ourselves. We are often in a state of self-righteous indignation over the disgraceful behaviour of others – especially in our Facebook updates.
We gain satisfaction from condemning in others the very faults we excuse in ourselves. Sigmund Freud called this “projection”, but the Bible calls it hypocrisy.
Jesus and the Apostle Paul argues that in becoming moral experts and condemning others, we only show that we know what’s right and wrong, and thus condemn ourselves more; as we “practise the very same things”.
You who condemn Jacob Zuma for the Nkandla money scandal: are you always meticulously honest in all your financial dealings?
You who carry on about corruption in government: Have you ever taken something not yours; misused work time; or influenced others in some way to your benefit or your children’s benefit?
You who condemn homosexual activity: Are you always 100% faithful to your wife – sexually, emotionally, and socially? Do you never lust after other women? Do you never view porn on the internet?
But please don’t misunderstand what Jesus said.
Jesus was not saying we can’t make an honest assessment of people based on their behaviour and lifestyle, as Jesus said in the very next verse:
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)
One has to make an assessment of another to know if that person is a “dog” or a “pig”. Later on in the same passage 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. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (Mathew 7:15-17)
Recognize them by their fruit
Jesus said we can look at people’s fruit or lifestyle or behaviour or priorities or speech and make an informed assessment as to their spiritual condition.
Jesus said we can recognize or distinguish people based on their fruit.
Indeed, it’s a vital activity to identify, for example, “false prophets.” Jesus and the Apostle Paul did not mean that we can’t make an evaluation of people based on lifestyle, but rather that we ourselves must not be hypocrites.
We must not condemn others for the very same things we do, as we only incur more judgment for ourselves.
So yes, Jesus said we can judge truth from error, right from wrong, and people according to their fruit.