A Tale of Two Verses Their use over time provides a social history
In many ways the history of the last century or so can be illustrated in the relative fortunes of two Bible verses: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16) and "Judge not that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1).
H. A. Ironside, who died in 1951, referred to John 3:16 as "the greatest text in the Bible". Martin Luther called it "the gospel in miniature", and died in 1546, reciting it over and over. Who knows how many sinners down through the ages have drawn peace and comfort from this verse as they faced death and the judgment of God?
Matthew 7:1, on the other hand, is much misused. Even in the 19th century J. C. Ryle commented that "it is possible to press the words of the Bible so far that they yield not medicine, but poison". Our post-modern society has twisted and strangled this text to death. Carl Rogers built a whole system of psychology and a method of counselling around his misunderstanding of this verse. That is how non-judgmental counselling came into being, where the counsellor does not say anything, but just listens. It would be as effective, and a lot cheaper, to talk to your dog.
Leo Tolstoy thought that "judge not" meant that we must abolish law-courts and the whole legal apparatus. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission thinks that it means that nobody is allowed to criticise homosexuals but you can criticise fundamentalists because they are judgmental.
The sinner under conviction of sin reads John 3:16 or hears it expounded, and is moved that God could love such a world as this, where "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). He knows that he is perishing, and in the words of Henry Martyn: "If men deserved to perish, they could not be worthy of His love."
But God does love. He loves because He loves; His love is gracious; it is not earned. Because He loves, He gives. Indeed, He gave His only begotten Son and offers Him to the whole wide world: "Here is everlasting life won by My Son. Believe in Him, and He is yours, and everlasting life is yours." The best in heaven is offered to the worst on earth.
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee,
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
Here is free justification by God through His Son for all who repent and believe in Him.
Does this love take away our capacity to judge? Hardly! Jesus tells us not to judge, but He also tells us not to cast our pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6), which requires some ability to discern who are the pigs. He goes on to warn about false prophets who appear in sheep's clothing (Mt. 7:15-20), which, again, requires some measure of judgment. Elsewhere, Jesus tells us: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24). There is to be a judgment exercised with regard to true doctrine and dear ethical commands. A person who does not believe in the resurrection of Christ is not a Christian. An unrepentant sinner is outside the kingdom of God. We are forbidden to judge mannerisms or secondary issues. And we are not to be harsh and unlovely in our manner. Be critical but not hypercritical.
It was Vinet who said that one could construct the most exalted ethic from every man's standards for his neighbour and the most degraded ethic from every man's own conduct. We excuse our pride, other people's pride really annoys us; we excuse our selfishness, other people's selfishness is intolerable; we excuse our bad temper, other people should be able to control theirs.
Jesus is not telling us that we cannot exercise any moral judgment. He is telling us not to judge wrongly, and especially not to judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves. We can pick the speck out of our brother's eye, but only after we have taken the log out of our own eye (Mt. 7:3-5). John Chrysostom put it well: "Correct him but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines."
So many who misuse "Judge not that you be not judged" think that moral indifference is the same as humility. This becomes an exercise in self-justification. True humility is Spirit-given, and it accepts God's free offer of salvation through His Son. The result is a right capacity to judge, and so John 3:16 and Matthew 7:1 belong together in Jesus' revelation to His people.