There are several verses in the Bible that everyone knows, and Matthew 7:1 is at the top of the list:
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 (Matthew 7:1-2).
Some use this verse as an excuse not to take a stand against evil doers in our society or churches. If we confront them, we are judging, they say. But if we take that in the absolute sense, we would have to empty our jails and murderers would go free, for we could never judge them. Obviously, that is a distortion as Romans 13 that commands the government to judge evil doers, even to the death penalty.
Others claim that we must not judge one another as individuals, but here is the balance of the verses in Matthew on judging:
3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 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? 5 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 7:3-5; see also Romans 2:1).
Obviously, the balance of the context is not telling us never to judge, but the Lord is telling us how to judge: first consider ourselves to see what our faults are, and then we are prepared to help our brother or sister overcome a matter, which is a mild form of judging. Moreover, the idea of the verse is that we must not be putting down people around us. Politicians and our whole culture—the whole world!—are constantly bearing false witness against those around us.
One case where Matthew 7:1 would apply clearly is the recent riots in Ferguson, MO where the lynch mob had already judged the policeman guilty before hearing the matter or knowing the facts. In fact, a number of the participants were asked if the policeman should just be judged and go to jail without a trial, they said “Yes”! Rendering a moral decision against someone without knowing the facts is a violation of this verse and many other verses in the Bible. That is obviously judging in the wrong sense.
However, we who are Christians are required to judge, though not by our own standard but by the righteousness standard of God’s law:
But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one (1 Corinthians 2:15).
The idea of this verse is that the spiritual man, the Christian, discerns all things but is not discerned or understood by others outside the faith. But the general tenor of our lives is not to be picky, condemning others because they sin differently than we do, and we don’t like it. If they had decency, they would sin like we do. (See 1 Corinthians 4:5). Moreover, we all must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10, 13).
Yet, not only are we required to judge, but we must do so not as self-righteous, holier than thou, or looking down our hypocritical noses at others, but solely according to God’s Ten Commandments and other moral statements He commands us throughout Holy Scripture. But I would say that 99.9% of the time, on a personal matter we should let things go:
The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11).
(See my book, NOT Ten Suggestions.)