Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5
In 1996, the rap artist Tupac Shakur recorded and produced a single “Only God Can Judge Me” from his classic multi-platinum selling album All Eyes On Me. While this song and album were soon overshadowed by Shakur’s death, the title of the song has remained a well-known phrase in many circles. Growing up, I heard countless people from churchgoers to skeptics quote the phrase when they felt as if they were being attacked for their behavior.
This phrase was backed by Scripture, as many used Matthew 7:1-5 as a critical source for the popular phrase. As a teenager, being bothered by the severe sectarianism and judgmental nature of churchgoers, I too subscribed to the notion that only God was capable of judgment. This was until I learned and realized that the popular phrase “only God can Judge me” is unbiblical, and that the scriptural basis for this phrase had been taken out of context.
In Matthew 7, toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks about the problem with judging and in particular, people who are obsessive about the moral failings of others while ignoring their own transgressions. Jesus’ point is that before one tries to fix someone else’s problem, that person needs to recognize and work through his or her own sinful and wicked behavior.
The point of this passage is to judge properly, to judge fairly, and to judge honestly. If this passage were merely about not judging, Jesus would not have followed this section with verses 15-20, where he instructs us to beware of false prophets and discern their righteousness. Yet, the misconceptions and understandings of Matthew 7 have led people to believe as if they are beyond judgement or accountability from others. This has created a culture that discourages people from holding others accountable for their actions, particularly within the church.
The lack of judgement that has persisted in many churches has placed individualism above fellowship, which is a critical part of Scripture. In this passage, Jesus advocates for righteous judgement and I am convinced that righteous judgement is beneficial and necessary in our walk to live more like Christ. We should engage in both righteous judgement, which includes discerning right from wrong and holding others accountable, as well as submit to righteous judgement, which means we become vulnerable with others and let them into our lives so they can help us grow.
Below are two essential components of righteous judgement.
Righteous judgement requires submission to God
Any righteous judgement or discernment that one attains is from God. Without an active relationship with God, it is impossible for one to be able to have the wisdom necessary to discern right from wrong or use their spiritual gifts properly for the purpose of uplifting others. In hearing God through Bible study, prayer, and other spiritual practices, one is able to receive the guidance and righteous judgement needed, whether to speak into another’s circumstances or, more importantly, to be personally convicted by the Holy Spirit.
Righteous judgement requires submission to community
Fellowshipping with others is another essential component of practicing righteous judgement. Relationships are essential for spiritual growth, as commanded in Hebrews 10:25, and the absence of community results in an incomplete spiritual life. Furthermore, without intentionally building relationships and community with others, one cannot effectively practice righteous judgement or hold anyone accountable. True spiritual relationships allow people to be vulnerable with one another and thus submissive to accountability and constructive criticism for the purpose of spiritual growth.
As Christians, we cannot go through life without judging and discerning right from wrong. The myth of being non-judgmental stems from an individualistic mindset of desiring freedom from accountability. Yet, our judgement must be righteous, loving, and self-reflective. Any judgement that lacks such attributes are not Christ-centered.