Judge not that you be not judged. (Mt 7:1)
Recall that the main thesis of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the revelation of the nature of kingdom righteousness. Beginning by pronouncing blessings upon God’s righteous ones (5:1-16), Jesus explains how kingdom citizens look and behave – in a manner that is strikingly different from the world around them. Matthew 5:17-20 describes the greater righteousness that is expected of these kingdom dwellers; the thesis statement of the entire sermon is: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). This “exceeding righteousness” is not found where it might be expected to be, in the keeping of external laws, but it is the result of Jesus fulfilling the Law in His perfectly righteous life, obedient death, and triumphant resurrection. The resultant righteous life of New Covenant kingdom subjects surpasses the Jewish outward conformity to law by altering the motives of the heart; so it is not just the murderer who is liable to judgment, but the one how hates or insults his brother; it’s not only the act of physical adultery that is sinful, but one is culpable for looking at a woman with lustful intent. The exceeding righteousness of the kingdom is summarized in verse 48: “You therefore must be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect.”
In our fallen condition, there are certain dangers that accompany this high standard of righteousness. The first danger is that of hypocrisy. In chapter 6, Jesus warns against hypocrisy by contrasting the heart motives of His kingdom subjects with those of hypocrites who desired for their good works to be seen by men (6:1-18). Instead God’s kingdom subjects are admonished to live, not as the gentiles who are anxious about earthly concerns but seeking first the invisible kingdom of God and His righteousness (6:19-34). In our text chapter 7, Jesus warns against another danger, judgmentalism, which breeds in human depravity, as God calls His people to perfection.
Sadly, Matthew 7:1 is one of the most misunderstood texts of Scripture. It is often quoted by sinners seeking to escape the guilt of sin, which the law instigates. But at its core, this injunction on judgment reveals the heart of God to bless the merciful (5:7), as well as reveal how, as truly righteous kingdom citizens, we ought to eschew anger (5:21-26), revenge (5:38-42) and hatred (5:43-47). As was said, “faults are thick where love is thin.” The judgment that Jesus forbids is that which pretends to know God’s verdict on another person’s life; it manifests as we underestimate the magnitude of our own sins and overestimate the size of others’. The sanction, “judge not,” comes to mean “judge yourselves first and most rigorously” (Mt 7:2-5).