My pastor, Eric Fields, gave this terrific explaination of Matthew 7 during his sermon Sunday on church discipline. It really helped me to understand Jesus’ point better, so I pass it along to you.
“Judge not, that you be not judged,” is one of the most quoted lines from all of Jesus’ words, and is usually yanked completely from its context. So what is the point Jesus is actually making here? Usually, we assume that he means that God will judge us by the same standard we judge others by, or that he's saying that if we judge others then God's going to judge us, but ultimately this makes no sense. God will judge all men and women by one standard – himself. After all, if God judged us by our own standard, we’d all be fine, since we tend to be professionals at comparing ourselves favorably to those around us. Scripture makes it pretty clear that God’s standard of judgment is his own holiness. So, what’s Jesus saying here?
He’s saying that when we judge others, they are going to evaluate us by the same standard we apply to them. If we try to correct our brother, the first thing that he is going to do is evaluate us by that standard and look for the chance to respond with, “You hypocrite!” If I require a certain standard of others, I must be prepared for them to measure me by that same standard. Jesus isn’t saying here that we shouldn’t judge others at all, but that we should turn the mirror on ourselves before we ever look to others. After all, consider the famous “speck in your brother’s eye” illustration he gives in the next verse. He doesn’t suggest that we simply ignore our brother’s speck because of the log in our eye, but he instructs us to tend to our own failings first so that we will be able to clearly correct our brothers. Thus, Jesus’ call here isn’t to merely “live and let live,” but to be rigorous in our personal holiness so that we can encourage others to do the same rather than engage in hypocritical judgment.
It’s easy to see the faults in others while remaining blissfully ignorant of our own. Jesus’ message in Matthew 18 (the central passage of Eric’s sermon) is that we are all accountable to one another, and we have a responsibility to spur one another on in righteousness. This isn’t a license for a judgmental spirit; however, but a call to examine ourselves first against the standard of God’s flawless love, and then to walk alongside others and encourage them to do the same – for if we are to “win our brother” as Jesus calls us to in Matthew 18, we must cleanse all hypocrisy from our hearts and demonstrate to them the righteousness of Christ, not our own. That's a tough calling indeed, but one that God will accomplish in us by his grace.