Examining the words of Jesus in (Matt. 7:1-5) can often be complicated, misunderstood, and misapplied, if applied at all.
When Jesus says, "Judge not, that you be not judged," does He mean that we are never to make judgments? Although this is how His words are often used, this understanding would contradict what Jesus says next. "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5).
To help understand the words of Jesus, we need to put His words in their proper context. Without context, it is easy to misapply or misunderstand what people are saying, including Jesus.
The context of Jesus' words is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Within this teaching, Jesus is concerned about sincerity, honesty, and integrity. People of Jesus' kingdom are sincere, genuine, and without hypocrisy (ref. Matt. 5:20). Some of the Pharisees, in Jesus' day, lived their lives based on a double standard. They were people who "kept up appearances" (ref. Matt. 5:20; Matt. 6:1; Matt. 6:5). They had the appearance of keeping God's word, but their motives were not sincere. In keeping up appearances, they had neglected the weightier matters of Scripture, love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing the more serious matters, the motives of the heart.
APPLYING JESUS' WORDS
MATTHEW 7:1-5 (ESV)
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
Jesus, in the passage, warns very sternly about judging. However, to properly understand the judgment Jesus is speaking of requires discernment. There is a certain tension in the passage, which can make our understanding difficult. The word used for "judge" (krinō) is, unfortunately, a word that is quite expansive and can have several meanings (ref. Lk. 12:57; Jn. 7:24; Jn. 7:51; Acts 4:19). The difficulty, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight explains, "…is determining which is in mind."  Jesus expects His disciples to know the difference between good and bad. The apostle Peter had to judge (discern) if he was to obey God or man (ref. Acts 4:19). The Scriptures do not condemn making judgments. However, disciples are not to sit in place of God. Followers of Jesus are not to condemn others. Notice what James records:
JAMES 4:11-12 (ESV)
"Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?"
This text provides a window into what Jesus was speaking about when He said, "Do not judge…". James warns his readers about condemning. A follower of Jesus is never to assume the position of God, condemning another person. In our best judgments and assumptions, it is God who knows the true heart of a person. God alone possesses the wisdom, justice, mercy, and grace needed for such judgments. As people of God's kingdom, we must learn to distinguish between good and bad. We need to understand the moral standards God has set forth in the Scriptures. However, we need to exercise the weightier matters of Scriptures, love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness.
AVOID THE PLANK
The image of a "log that is in your own eye" can seem a bit obvious or even comical at first. Who would not notice this? This imagery may remind us of Jesus' words on other occasions. Jesus said, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (ref. Matt. 19:24). He also said, "You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (ref. Matt. 23:24). Jesus uses such exaggerations for points of emphasis. It would be good to recognize what the apostle Paul says:
ROMANS 2:1 (ESV)
"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
The warning about the speck in your brother’s eye (and log in your own) may well be to those who are eager to point out the flaws, criticize others, and quickly tell others what to do. The warning is to take a long hard look in the mirror at yourself first.
As people, we tend to be quick to judge. We tend to notice the flaws in others while not seeing our own. Jesus warns His followers not to sit in place of God. It's not our position, and we don't have the wisdom required to condemn others. However, turning the coin over, His kingdom people need to be concerned about the weightier matters. At times, we need to make judgments, and we will need to exercise discernment. In doing so, we should extend His mercy, His grace, love, and His forgiveness before rushing to judgments.
Scripture citations: The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®). ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
1 McKnight, Scot. The Story of God Bible Commentary, Sermon On The Mount. Zondervan, 2013. p. 228.