Often when talking to people about religious maters and what the Bible teaches, someone will quote Matthew 7:1 which says: "Judge not that ye be not judged." They will explain that we are told not to make judgments concerning the right or wrong of various practices in religion. Is this what this verse is teaching? What does the Bible say about judging?
First, to make such a statement about this verse is taking a passage out of its context and making it say something that the passage does not teach. In Matthew 7 we read,
"Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out thine own eye; then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1-5).
As we read this passage all will admit that it prohibits judging, but does it prohibit all judging or a certain kind of judging? From the context it is obvious that a particular type of judging is under consideration and not all judging. In verse 2, Jesus teaches that how we judge will determine how we are judged. Jesus then talks about the judging of a brother, not based on the righteousness of a matter, but a fault-finding type of judgment. He speaks of the fault-finding brother having a worse problem but not seeing his problem and finding the slightest problem with his brother. This kind of judging is wrong! Jesus calls the one that judges in this way a hypocrite. This kind of judging should never be found among followers of Christ. Rather, lives of Christians should be characterized by love. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:3-8 should be seen in the lives of Christians and such love will eliminate the hypocritical, fault-finding type of judging that is condemned in Matthew 7.
What about judging in matters of religion. Should a Christian do this? In Matthew 7, we notice that Jesus continued to say, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6). Immediately following the passage concerning the fault-finding judging Jesus tells his disciples to make a judgment. That is - Jesus taught not to give that which is holy to the dogs. This required the disciples make a judgment concerning what is impure and unclean. In verse 15, Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16a). Who are the wolves? How do we know who they are? Jesus said we "know them by their fruits" and that required the disciples to make judgments concerning righteousness. Remember that Jesus is teaching them to make these judgments in the same chapter that He said "Judge not that ye be not judged."
Obviously some judgments are to be made. The church at Corinth was told to judge a matter concerning a man that was among them that was involved in sin. In fact, Paul said that he had "judged already" concerning the matter (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). The kind of judgment Paul is asking them to make is a "righteous judgment" which Jesus taught that we should make (John 7:24). What is "righteous judgment"? It is judgment that is based upon the commands of God. The psalmist said, "for all thy commandments are righteous" (Psalm 119:172b).
May we all learn what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 7 about judging. That is that we should not be involved in fault-finding, hypocritical judging and recognize that Jesus did teach that we are to much judgments based upon the Word of God.