Matthew devotes 3 chapters to the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5,6,7). Yet, worldly people and worldly Christians, often quote only 2 words from Matthew 7:1—“judge not.” Those have probably never read or heard the rest of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus came teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 4:23; 5:1-2). He was speaking to a multitude of Old Covenant Jews who came to the mount to learn from or denounce their promised Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The gospel of kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed leads to right conduct, peace and joy through the Holy Spirit (Ro 14:17-18). That is the stuff of Godly community.
Virtually all of the Sermon on the Mount, both preceding and following this text, is based on the assumption that we will (and should) use our critical powers in making ethical and logical judgments. Jesus has told Christians to be different from the world around us, to pursue a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, to do “more” than what unbelievers would do, to avoid being like the hypocrites when we give, pray, fast, and so on.
Not only this, but immediately following this word of exhortation in Matthew 7:1 Jesus issues two more commands: don’t give what is holy to dogs or pearls to pigs, and beware of false prophets. “It would be impossible to obey either of these commands without using our critical judgment,” says Stott. “For in order to determine our behavior toward ‘dogs,’ ‘pigs’ and ‘false prophets’ we must first be able to recognize them, and in order to do that we must exercise some critical discernment” (Christian Counter Culture, 176). WHAT DID JESUS MEAN WHEN HE SAID, “JUDGE NOT, THAT YOU BE NOT JUDGED”? Sam Storms
In that context, Jesus says:
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:20
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Mt 6:33
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Mt 7:21-23
In 1834, Albert Barnes published the following commentary on what Jesus meant by “judge not.” It is well worth reading, comprehending and implementing in our character.
Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. [Cf: Luke 6:37-42; Romans 14:1-12]
Judge not. … – This command refers to rash, censorious, and unjust judgment. See Rom 2:1. Luke 6:37 explains it in the sense of “condemning.” Christ does not condemn judging as a magistrate, for that, when according to justice, is lawful and necessary. Nor does he condemn our “forming an opinion” of the conduct of others, for it is impossible “not” to form an opinion of conduct that we know to be evil. But what he refers to is a habit of forming a judgment hastily, harshly, and without an allowance for every palliating circumstance, and a habit of “expressing” such an opinion harshly and unnecessarily when formed. It rather refers to private judgment than “judicial,” and perhaps primarily to the customs of the scribes and Pharisees.
Matthew 7:2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
With what judgment. … – This was a proverb among the Jews. It expressed a truth; and Christ did not hesitate to adopt it as conveying his own sentiments. It refers no less to the way in which people will judge of us, than to the rule by which God will judge us. See Sa2 22:27; Mar 4:24; Jam 2:13.
Mete – Measure. You shall be judged by the same rule which you apply to others.
Matthew 7:3-4 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
And why beholdest thou the mote. … – A mote signifies any “light substance,” as dry chaff, or fine spires of grass or grain. It probably most usually signified the small “spiculae” or “beards” on a head of barley or wheat. It is thus placed in opposition to the word “beam.”
Beam – The word used here signifies a large piece of squared timber. The one is an exceedingly small object, the other a large one. The meaning is, that “we are much more quick and acute to judge of small offences in others, than of much larger offences in ourselves.” Even a very “small” object in the eye of another we discern much more quickly than a much larger one in our own; a small fault in our neighbor we see much more readily than a large one in ourselves. This was also a proverb in frequent use among the Jews, and the same sentiment was common among the Greeks, and deserves to be expressed in every language.
Matthew 7:5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Thou hypocrite, first cast out … – Christ directs us to the proper way of forming an opinion of others, and of reproving and correcting them. By first amending our own faults, or casting the beam out of our eye, we can “consistently” advance to correct the faults of others. There will then be no hypocrisy in our conduct. We shall also “see clearly” to do it. The beam, the thing that obscured our sight, will be removed, and we shall more clearly discern the “small” object that obscures the sight of our brother. The sentiment is, that the readiest way to judge of the imperfections of others is to be free from greater ones ourselves. This qualifies us for judging, makes us candid and consistent, and enables us to see things as they are, and to make proper allowances for frailty and imperfection.
Matthew 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Give not that which is holy … – By some the word “holy” has been supposed to mean “flesh offered in sacrifice,” made holy, or separated to a sacred use; but it probably means here “anything connected with religion” – admonition, precept, or doctrine. Pearls are precious stones found in shell-fish, chiefly in India, in the waters that surround Ceylon. They are used to denote anything especially precious, Rev 17:4; Rev 18:12-16; Mat 13:45. In this place they are used to denote the doctrines of the gospel. “Dogs” signify people who spurn, oppose, and abuse that doctrine; people of special sourness and malignity of temper, who meet it like growling and quarrelsome curs, Phi 3:2; Pe2 2:22; Rev 22:15. “Swine” denote those who would trample the precepts underfoot; people of impurity of life; those who are corrupt, polluted, profane, obscene, and sensual; those who would not know the value of the gospel, and who would tread it down as swine would pearls, Pe2 2:22; Pro 11:22. The meaning of this proverb, then, is, do not offer your doctrine to those violent and abusive people who would growl and curse you; nor to those especially debased and profligate who would not perceive its value, would trample it down, and would abuse you. Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes .Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.
Most who are quick to say “judge not” have been influenced by the political left and liberals/progressives who demand that we accept and do not identify or speak against their blatant, in your face, sinful works.
Here is one example.
In our 2016 election, the political left, liberals/progressives endorsed, promoted, paraded or exhibited all of the works of the flesh. So, they obviously consider deeds of the flesh to be politically correct and tell us, “judge not.” Don’t form an opinion of our conduct.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:19-21 KJV
All of those are bad conduct. All destroy harmonious one another and community relationships and indicate separation from God. Unless repented and confessed they result in eternal separation from God (Mt 25:31-46).
Kingdom relationships are far better than bad conduct, hate and wrath. The gospel of kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed leads to right conduct, peace and joy through the Holy Spirit (Ro 14:17-18). That is the stuff of Godly community.