"Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1)
People who know almost nothing about the teachings of Jesus seem to know that he said, "judge not."
It's is often used by those who are uncomfortable that others are pointing out their bad behavior, and many others view it as a warning to us not to judge anything or anyone. Consequently, it is used as a deflection to avoid criticism, or to attack concept of criticism itself.
But if we were to use no judgment at all to assess our actions or the actions of others, we would be at the mercy of everyone who expressed an opinion.
We would be unable to judge the worthiness of an action before we took it, making us susceptible to every uninformed whim of emotion that confronted us.
The world is filled with those who are selling ideas and products. If we took "judge not" at face value (and far out if its context) we would not be able to resist any sales pitch or any temptation that confronted us, because we would like the judgment to do so and feel that judging would be wrong in all cases.
And if we assumed “judge not” meant that we could not warn others who were about to make a serious mistake in their lives, or help correct someone who was factually wrong, then the world would be (even more) a place of moral chaos.
But the actual context of this saying of Jesus shows that he is addressing hypocrisy, not criticism. And he guides us to prepare ourselves to judge correctly the actions and choices we see around us.
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Jesus is warning us against pointing out other's flaws while ignoring one's own flaws. but by no means does he say that we should never warn people that they are about to make mistakes or urge them to live in a different manner. Nor is he making a statement about never using, or building up, our own good judgment.
Jesus himself called out the hypocrisy of the religious elites of his day, the Pharisees. He said they were living outwardly pure lives but inwardly impure ones. He judged the Pharisees.
He attacked the practices of the Temple system in Jerusalem, saying it was not serving God in a pure way by focusing so much on selling animals at a profit to use as Temple sacrifices. He judged the religious leaders.
He told many to stop sinning, repent, and turn to God. He urged him to live holy lives even if that meant great sacrifice. He judged them.
“Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)
Jesus calls on us to address our own imperfections so that we may be able to help others overcome theirs.
He wants us to live rightly so we can judge rightly. And he wishes us to prepare ourselves so we can help others.
"Do not judge according to appearance," says our Master. "But judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
What Jesus was urging people to do was to develop a sense of good and sound judgement. That comes to us first by seeking to inwardly change our own lives so that we may then live as a light to the rest of the world. Only then can we show that we are living examples of the kind of life that Jesus modeled for us.
And Jesus has faith that we may do this.
He says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)
So, while we are never to judge harshly or as hypocrites (failing to do what we are calling on others to do) we are nonetheless called by Jesus to model this good behavior for others, telling them about the teachings of our Master, and calling on people to obey everything he taught. This is his Great Commission (Matt. 28:20)
Let's go do this!