There are a few Bible stories or passages that just about everyone seems to know, whether they are religious or not. And whenever the subject of morality comes up, you’ll hear people note that Jesus said not to judge others. They even know where it is, in Matthew chapter 7. This is everyone’s favorite Bible verse when any attention is given to something they are doing wrong. Some might say phrases like “Jesus didn’t judge” or “Jesus said not to judge others.” Others point out the difference between accepting people for who they are, and letting them stay that way. They say Jesus held people to a moral standard and told them “go and sin no more.”
Often with issues like this, people tend to fall into extremes: too accepting or too hypocritical. But how should we handle moral behavior? Should there be any accountability? Should we really sit back and let people do what they want so no one can accuse us of judging?
What did Jesus really say about judging others? The verse people most often reference comes from Matthew 7:1-5:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
First, it’s important to realize the setting and context: Jesus was speaking to a mostly Jewish crowd who knew the laws of their religion very well. He wasn’t speaking to non-religious people. The people were often under the oppression of pious religious leaders who seemed to be more focused on recording wrongs instead of changing hearts; handing out guilt instead of grace. Sadly, this happens in any religious organization in any generation. Many scholars and commentaries discuss this as an issue of having compassion on others and realizing that we all sin. Not that we excuse or allow sin, but that we not treat people harshly for their sin because if we look at our own lives we will find our own sin to deal with.
Second, Jesus actually does tell us to hold other believers accountable. Let’s look at Matthew 18:15-17. Here, Jesus tells us what to do when someone is in sin:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Jesus tells us how to confront a brother or sister in sin to hold them accountable. And when you look at the context, in both passages Jesus was talking about dealing with fellow religious people. We need to realize that people who are not Christians, who have not had their hearts changed by an encounter with Jesus, shouldn’t be expected to follow Biblical morality. We only make ourselves look like jerks and hypocrites when we point fingers and judge people outside the Church. Why should they be expected to follow any moral code they don’t believe in? Our job is to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and when people find God’s grace He will then begin to change their hearts. We also need to be focused on removing the plank from our own eyes before we harp on the splinter in someone else’s eye.
God shows us mercy and grace every day. The Bible says that we are all sinners, and even the great Apostle Paul realized his need to die daily to his sin. It is with that measure of receiving grace that we should package our dealings with others. Those outside the church, we can’t throw fiery darts at them about their behavior. We need to show them the love and grace of God. Those in the church, we do need to hold accountable but our hearts need to be ruled by love, mercy and forgiveness. With the same measure we’re judged by God, that is how we should judge others. Stop and think for a moment how God treats us despite all of our sins and shortcomings.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I can’t see very well; I have a few planks to remove from my eye.