"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" (Matthew 7:1).
I am forever hearing people abuse that Scripture, and I find I need to point this out whenever we talk about judgment. "Judge not, that ye be not judged" doesn't mean you can't be discerning, or that you can't offer a critique. But there are some circles where if you voice a strong opinion, or you disagree or dissent, or you evaluate for any reason at all, that's what you hear: "Judge not ..."
That verse is not referring to discernment; it's speaking of condemnation. Jesus says "Judge not..." and only a little later He says, "Watch out for false prophets" (v. 15). How can you watch out for false prophets unless you identify them--and that's a judgment. You have to make some discerning, discriminatory judgment.
Elijah passed that kind of critique on the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Paul the apostle did it to the Judaizers (see Galatians 2:11-21). So Matthew 7:1 is speaking of a contemptuous condemnation, not a passing of righteous judgment. And, by the way, Jesus commanded, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
Unfortunately, however, one of the easiest habits to acquire is criticizing. And it's hard to stop! Once you start going down that path, it's kind of fun -- your flesh loves it. It's true that there's a lot wrong in this world, and in the church, but being critical is one path you don't want to go down because you will become trapped.
We can make snap judgments because we don't have all the information. Let's say you're at a restaurant and you see a young couple enjoying a big meal. You know they're struggling and you think, "What are they doing here? They can't afford this." Well, maybe somebody gave them a gift certificate; it's none of your business.
Or you visit someone and notice a lot of clutter. "Boy, she keeps a really messy house!" you say. Could it be she's sacrificing the time to clean it up to spend time with her family? You don't know. Or maybe you call someone at 11 a.m. and he's still in bed. You decide, "This guy's a lazy bum!" But maybe he works a job that requires him to sleep during the day.
The Bible tells us, "To answer before listening -- that is folly and shame" (Proverbs 18:13). It's foolish to respond without all the information.
John Stott offers these words: "What we are often doing is seeing our own faults in others and judging them vicariously. That way we experience the pleasure of self-righteousness without the pain of penitence." The Bible has a word for that: hypocrisy. So be very careful in your judgments. Oftentimes, what seems like a righteous judgment is anything but!