Recently Pastor Howard Lawler, pastor of Fishkill Baptist Church in Fishkill, NY sent me a position paper he wrote on this significant and timely question. His analysis was so biblically accurate, well-written, concise, and yet comprehensive that I wanted you to have the opportunity to read it. With his consent, I present it in its entirety below.
In Mt 7:1‑5 Jesus poses a series of vision questions. “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.’”
Jesus was a carpenter. He knew wood in sizes large and small. He knew hearts too. So, for small souls full of pride, he told a stretching story. A man had a little speck in his eye. But the one who came to his aid had, according to the Greek, a “dokos” in his eye. It meant a huge piece of wood like a roof beam.
Did Jesus tell this story to say that Christians should never judge others? These days in church circles, if you confront someone for wrong behavior, you will often get the response, “Who are you to judge me?” Often, the person uses the stinger, “Jesus said, ‘Do not judge.’” We hear that verse applied to many issues that way.
But a good look at the passage shows that Jesus is not banishing human judgments from the earth. He is not calling for the civil courts to close. He is not telling the church to forget discipline. He is not telling believers they can never discern other believers’ faults. He is not saying we cannot make moral judgments about society.
In fact, Jesus commands believers to judge others. Take Jn 7:24 for example. The Lord says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, AND make a right judgment.” In Mt 18:15 Jesus calls us to go to a sinning brother and “show him his fault”. God’s Word calls us to correct one another.
At the end of Matt 7:5 Jesus says that you should clear your own eye of the plank and adds, “then you can remove the speck” of the other person. He expects a clear eye to be able to judge when a speck is present in a brother’s eye, let alone a plank.
Look deeper into the context of the passage. In Matt 7:15-16, Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” In other words, you must be able to judge that they are behaving badly.
Other parts of God’s Word also tell us there are times to judge. Paul told the Corinthian church to judge a clear case of immorality in the church. In1Cor 5:12 he wrote, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” His Greek grammar expects the answer, “Yes, judging that way is the church’s business.” In Gal 2 we see that Peter was publicly compromising gospel freedom and endangering the church by refusing to eat with Gentile believers. Paul saw it as sin, and rebuked him. He put Peter and the church back on track with the gospel that embraces Jew and Gentile alike.
In Matt 7:1-5 Jesus is not targeting sound judgment; he is targeting the self‑righteous, self-satisfied form of judging. The message in context is, “Do not judge the way the sinful human nature likes to do it. Do not ignore your own faults while targeting others. Especially beware of doing that in cases where your faults are even more obvious.”
Suppose you confront a believer for wrong behavior, and get the response, “Who are you to judge me?” It is actually a statement and means, “You have no right to call me on any behavior.” It is ironic. It means, “I judge you for judging me. Allow me to beat you down with the plank in my eye.”
Go deeper into the problem. Dig down to the level of Bible interpretation. Saying we should not judge is a sad symptom of Christians not going deeper than using Bible verses for our purposes. If we do not care enough to go deeper than that, then we do not care enough. Jesus has very clear eyes and he sees how we really approach his Word. We must care enough to read the Bible in context. Jesus deserves more from us than sloppy handling of his precious Word. What is the point of studying God’s Word? It is not to find something we judge as helpful. The point is to get the point.
The only noble approach to the Bible is to get the point God is making. None of us will ever do that perfectly. But we can do it well. We must do more than use the Bible. We must ask God to use the Bible to change us into what we are supposed to be. What happens to celebrities when they have no one in their circle who will tell them the truth? We must do better.
Matt 7:1-5 does not rule out correction. It rebukes arrogant correction. It is not against using good judgment, it is against being judgmental. We must not see Matt 7:1-5 as saying that anything goes. We should not see a slogan for avoiding the kind of positive confrontation the Lord commands. We should see opportunity for hard and humbling ministry.
Proper confrontation and correction makes the church healthy. That brings glory to God. We should all be able to see that.