There is a verse in the Bible with which many people, both Christians and non-Christians alike, are very familiar. It’s one of those scriptures that has been used, reused, and abused – more often than not, by those who have the hope of lifting themselves up while condemning others. Yet, even so, The Lord’s words in Matthew 7:1 still stand as a command to all of us:
"Judge not, that ye be not judged."
It isn’t easy to admit to being judgmental or critical of others. Can you imagine hearing someone boast of being a judgmental person? It just isn’t done. But too often, we express our own critical natures without even thinking. We can be sitting around with friends or family, and all it takes to get the ball rolling is for someone to ask, "Did you see what so-and-so was wearing last night?" Or maybe someone would make a joke about the way another person speaks or the way they look. Maybe someone would even go so far as to criticize how another person is living his or her life, either self-righteously to their face or cowardly behind their back. There might even be times when one would take a moment to thank God that they’re not like all of those "other" people.
Before we start patting ourselves on the back too much, however, we should consider the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. As Christ began the parable in Luke 18:9-14, both the Pharisee and the Publican had gone to the temple to pray, yet their individual prayers had a distinctly different feel. The Pharisee prayed, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."
He was quite proud of the fact that he wasn’t like all of those other sinners, while not giving much thought to his own lack of humility. The publican he had disdainfully mentioned in his prayer, on the other hand, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes. Instead, he smote upon his breast, and with his head still bowed, he said simply, "God be merciful to me a sinner." In verse 14, The Lord concluded, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
This isn’t a new topic. No doubt the majority of us were taught to not judge others as far back as grade school. But it’s one of those sins that tends to sneak up on a person, especially when we’re feeling put out or unappreciated, as Martha had felt toward her sister, Mary, when The Lord came to visit in Luke 10:38-42.
Martha and Mary were both loved by Christ, and they both loved Him deeply in return. One wasn’t better than the other, nor was one loved more than the other, yet there came a time, even between these two sisters, when the old critical human nature kicked in. As Martha set to getting things together around the house, she noticed Mary not doing anything, but sitting at The Lord’s feet. So, feeling resentful toward her sister for not helping, she went to Christ and asked, "Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me." Some might think He would have agreed with her, then reprimanded Mary for not helping, but His response, instead, was to gently chide Martha by saying, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
There are times when we may not understand why a person is or isn’t doing something that we think they should be doing, but, as this story shows, it doesn’t give us the right to place ourselves in the role of judge. It could be that the person we think is lacking, is actually in fact "choosing that good part, which shall not be taken away from [them]." Even if this isn’t the case – which would be between that person and The Lord alone – we are commanded to love them and to pray for them, not to criticize them.
For another example of not judging others, read the story of the adulterous woman brought to The Lord by the Pharisees in John 8:1-11. Pay particular attention to verse 7, where Christ responds to the Pharisees by saying, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
With all of this said, it should be noted that there are times when we do, as Christians, have a right to judge others. In Matthew 7:15-20, we are told that we will know false prophets by the fruit they bear, and it gives the information needed to be able to discern the good from the bad. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, the church is given instruction to judge between brethren. And in James 1:26, to help us in distinguishing between true Christian men and others, we are told, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain."
These are only a few scriptural references and examples, but we should all keep it in mind during our personal dealings with others. Above all, we are taught to love one another, so by God’s grace and guidance, may we learn to spend less of our time discouraging others, and more time encouraging them.