The first thing anyone who truly thirsts to study the word of God on a deeper level hopefully learns is that you must not take scripture out of context. It is so imperative that verses not be simply "cherry picked" out of the Bible to suit ones own desire(s). This, in and of itself, places one squarely in danger of committing idolatry (setting up their own false god) by way of creating their own religious doctrine that falls outside of the teachings found in the Holy Bible. Let us view Matthew 7:1 within its immediate Scriptural context.
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:1-5
Taken as a whole, Jesus is clearly not casting a wide net over the judging of sin. He is merely setting forth a rule or guideline for proper, righteous judgment. Jesus is, in essence, stating that we must be willing to examine ourselves with the same lens that we use to view others. If we ourselves are willing to get on our face before Almighty God and present ourselves humbly, admitting our own faults, asking forgiveness in earnest, that we may turn from that faulty way then we are absolutely qualified as repentant children of God to judge sin. Or, as Jesus loosely states, "Remove or address the sin in our own lives that we may see clearly to help do the same for our brothers." We further see Jesus rebuking people for not judging what is just and deciding that which is right for themselves in the latter part of Luke 12. ("Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" Luke 12:56 & 57)
Okay, so we can establish that we surely must judge ourselves. But, do we really have authority to examine others? Expanding this principle from Christ throughout scripture - without even being exhaustive - we see that we are actually called to distance ourselves from those who knowingly sin and do not heed rebuke.
The Apostle Paul:
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." Romans 16:17-18
"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
'I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.'
'Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.'
'I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the LORD Almighty.'" 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
"having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts," 2 Timothy 3:5,6
(I will even throw in the whole of 1 John 4 simply because it's an awesome read.)
My brothers and sisters, I implore you. The question should not be, "Am I right to judge sin around me?" The question should be, "How can I possibly not judge good and evil, sin and obedience, right and wrong and yet call myself obedient to the will and word of God? If we are not willing to go to someone, Christian or not, and point out a possible error then we only turn a blind eye to sin. (To the brother in Christ, an outright pointing out of the error. To the non-Christian, primarily pointing them to Christ. The Holy Spirit will handle the rest.) Or, if we choose instead to believe that Jesus was indeed stating that we are never to judge the actions of another individual then the writings of Christ and Paul, for starters, are in direct conflict with each other. Jesus, Himself, would have gone against His own teachings rendering the very Gospel void! ("Do as I say and not as I do" is not a teaching of Christ.) Thankfully, this is not so. We further see Paul's teaching in agreement with Jesus' in Romans 2:1. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." Again, the issue is examining yourself first that you not be found in hypocrisy. (Those judging a thing while they themselves do the same are the ones being rebuked. Not any who would judge righteously; that is to say by examining themselves first with the same lens.) There is, perhaps, nothing more true of the Holy Bible than that Christians are to emulate Christ with their own life. Jesus Himself judged many while He walked this earth in the flesh. I can not recall a single time when Jesus let any self-righteous Pharisee or Scribe of His day slide without plainly telling them their fault(s).
Now, we must also note that Jesus always taught those whom He rebuked or judged the right way that they should walk in lieu of the wrong. He did not simply enjoy torturing people. He knew that they would die in their sin and it was because of His great love and desire to not see this happen to anyone that He would point out key faults. ("The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9) Note that Jesus did not care whom He offended by the rebuke, however, because the answer or "escape" to the sin was also plainly stated. Thus, it is also imperative that we examine our own heart-motive(s) when examining another person. Are we truly looking at their sin that we may shed the light of the word on it? Or, are we simply trying to tear someone down in order to build ourselves up? (As the Pharisees so hypocritically did.)
So, how do we go about judging others the right way? We must, ourselves, judge by the word of God and not our own thoughts, feelings or emotions on a matter. (You had better know the word and will of God yourself!) The word is our only standard for judgment of the fruit, or lifestyle, of another person. Isaiah 8:20 states, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Are they thinking, acting and speaking inline with the word of God? Is what they do glorifying God? (I would say that is judging someone!) Again, righteous judgment though. Jesus said in John 7:24, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." Judging according to and within the boundaries of the word of God. If ever in doubt, pray! Pray for guidance. Pray for God to help you onto the path and thank the Holy Spirit for lighting the way. (James 1:5)
In closing, I believe we all do well to take these key points to heart.
- Judge others only when of a proper/pure motivation and with the same standard or measure we judge ourselves.
- Be mindful of whom you are speaking to. Are they a Brother in Christ or one of the lost? If a Brother, it's about discipline and restoring them in meekness to promote unity within the body of Christ. If the lost, the focus must be seeing them saved. (Do not heap a ton upon them. Focus on the cross. Use the law to point to it. The rest comes later.)
- Do not be dogmatic unless the Bible is extremely clear on a subject of great importance. (There is freedom found in Christ regarding non-essentials according to Colossians 2:16.) Being legalistic with your brothers is the wrong approach. Be merciful always with a heart for the individual's well-being. It isn't about simply pointing out a fault. (Forgive much as we have been forgiven much!)
- Judge yourself early and often. Correct your own issue(s) before attempting to deal with anything else. (I know that it hurts. I have personally been terrified by my own reflection, metaphorically speaking, on more than one occasion. But, take heart! If you are troubled by your own actions then your conscience is in proper working order. God chastises those whom He loves according to Hebrews 12:6!)
May God continue to richly bless and keep each of you. May the joy of the Lord fill your life and may God's perfect peace rest upon your hearts. In Jesus' name, Amen.