“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you. 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 cast out the mote out of thine eye;’
and lo, the beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
Judgment: it seems to be the default pattern for human beings. In a very real and legitimate sense, this is natural: in order for us to understand our environment, we must process that which our eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, and so on and so forth. We file our impressions and understandings away in our brain, and these help us make continual sense of the world.
But we have a problem when it comes to our fellow human beings: it is very easy and very natural for us to base our impressions and views about them from our experiences and standards. We may look at our fellow man in competitive ways, and judge their relative value to us or their relative “standing” in the “social order.”
Lamentably, we often judge others at a harsher standard than we do ourselves. We have built-in excuses for justification when we do not live up to our own ideals, but we do not give our fellow man or woman a similar benefit of the doubt. We judge ourselves by our ideals; we judge others by what they do.
Jesus’ concern is entirely appropriate. Too often this passage starts arguments over what Jesus is or is not saying, and that is itself tragic. Jesus is not telling us that we are not to mentally process information we gain from others. He is not telling us that we cannot discern the fruit of people (cf. Matthew 7:16-20). He is not saying that “all judging is wrong.”
But all of these things cannot hinder us from understanding what Jesus is saying: in the end, we are not the judges; God is (cf. James 4:12). If we justify ourselves while condemning others, we should not be surprised to see others condemning us while they justify themselves. The picture of a man with his brother seems humorous, but when we make personal application, it just does not seem funny anymore.
It is not funny because we all have those beams in our eyes. We all have our sins, our faults, our idiosyncrasies. We are all sinners, and there is not one person among us who is better than another. We have no right to presume to judge others by our own standards, for in so doing we become “hypocrites.” Let us remember that the Pharisees considered it their function to judge their holiness and the holiness of others, while Jesus came in humility and compassion to seek and save the lost. Whom should we be imitating?
We are best served to focus on the “beam in [our] own eye,” and in humility encourage everyone to recognize that judgment will be made by God’s standards (Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 17:30-31, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, James 4:12). We would do well to give others the benefit of the doubt, remember our own place, and show compassion on others. Discernment, encouragement, and exhortation are our responsibilities; let us leave the judgment to God!
Ethan R. Longhenry