Who are we to judge? This question makes me cringe every time I hear someone say it. (Perhaps this is due to my abundance of opinion on almost any subject, usually willing to render commentary, especially if I do not agree.) If no one ever judged anyone else's behavior, our society would turn into a complete moral relativistic nightmare. The fear of shame or rejection is a major part of what keeps people in line. But how do we make sure we don't go too far in judging of others?
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells us "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Most people quote this verse as if it were a commandment from Jesus against the judging of others. They have missed the heart of the lesson. Continuing on in verses 2-4 we read, "For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" I can see why most Christians would like for this to be a blanket commandment against judging of others - fear of the same judgement upon themselves. However, Jesus goes on to say in verse 5, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." And there is the point to this lesson!
Jesus is not giving a lesson against the judging of others, he is teaching against being a hypocrite. Jesus says here to correct yourself first, then you will be able to better correct your brother. Reading "judge not", and stopping there, gives you the warm fuzzy feeling of safety from ridicule; it allows you the luxury of being able to say "Who are you to judge?" Reading the entire passage, however, shows you that Jesus is not trying to prevent you from correcting your brother. In fact, he is actually instructing you on the proper method. Jesus says to correct yourself before attempting to correct your brother, just as the priests had to sanctify themselves before offering the sacrifices of the people (atoning for their sins). He tells us to make ourselves worthy of the task, free of hypocrisy. But how is this achieved? The priesthood under the old covenant had to purify themselves from transgression of the law, but our covenant is based in grace. How is our requirement for purification different than for the priesthood?
In Matthew 5:21-24 we read, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Jesus is not eliminating the requirements of the law; He is taking them to a higher level. He is telling us that our new covenant with God will involve something greater than fleshly/natural cleanliness. The old covenant required sacrifice for acts against the law, however Jesus' concern went much deeper than this. Jesus' command to us is not only to be pure of flesh, but pure of mind as well. As the song says, "You search much deeper within, than the way things appear. You're looking into my heart."
The priesthood of old would offer sacrifices (physical penance) for the sins of the people on a continual basis, but our sacrifice was offered once for all time. The process we must go through to have our sins remitted is not a physical ceremony; it is a spiritual process. This spiritual process for remission of sins, however, must involve more than just momentary regret. As Paul says in Romans 12:2 "And be ye not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." This is the key! It is only through sanctification that we can experience this renewing of our minds, and only through this renewal that we can become worthy to be called God's Chosen People. We, as Gentiles, may not be under the law, but this is only because our concern is not simply with physical cleanliness. Our goal is to move on unto perfection, which can only be achieved through the cleaning up of our whole selves - body and mind.
As Paul says in Hebrews 9:9 concerning the law of old, ".that could not make him that did the service perfect." He is showing that the old covenant, concerned with physical cleansing, was imperfect and thereby incomplete. Paul shows, by contrast, the perfect/complete plan of the new covenant in Romans 8:2-4. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Paul said again in Hebrews 7:19, "For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God."
We are commanded in Matthew 5:48 to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." This command is not merely for our own sakes, but for the sake of those around us. Christ, in prayer, asks the Father to "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17), going on to say that He sanctifies Himself for our sakes, so that we ourselves can be sanctified. How do we sanctify ourselves? By studying of God's word, renewing of our minds, and seeking of His will for our lives. In 1 Timothy 4:15-16 Paul tells us to "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." Continual meditation on and study of God's word (giving yourself "wholly" to it) is the path to the perfecting of our minds and our lives. It is only through our walk with Christ that we can be a beacon of light to those around us, showing them the way to our Father.
Who are we to judge? We are commanded to make ourselves worthy to answer this question. We must ".cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor. 7:1) As followers of Christ, we are tasked with the duty of being the beacon of light, the guiding force, the moral compass to the world around us. If we do not show those around us how to live a more perfect/sanctified life, who will? Paul says in Romans 10:4, "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"