Question: I have heard "judge not lest ye be judged" (KJV) being used in opposition to jury duty and some other forms of justice in our governmental system.
The phrase, "judge not lest ye be judged" comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1. While the word used for “judge” can be applied to a wide variety of situations, including the legal system, the immediate context makes it clear that Jesus has something else entirely in mind.
In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus explains precisely what He means. First, He explains the consequences of passing judgment on others. "Judge not lest ye be judged" means that by judging others a person exposes himself to being judged by the very same standard he uses against someone (v.1-2). The situation Jesus has in view is interpersonal, not judicial. “Judging,” here, means to speak badly of someone with a critical attitude. James makes the same point:
James 4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (NIV ’84)
Second, Jesus provides an example in verses 3-5 of what He means by “judging.” He humorously portrays a person who has a huge wooden plank sticking out of his eye attempting to pick a speck of sawdust out of another person’s eye. The point is clear: we have no business criticizing others for things we are guilty of ourselves.
It is interesting, however, that Jesus does not command us to never judge others; rather, He instructs us in verse 5 to take care of our own problem before we attempt to talk to someone else about their problem! That by itself shows that "judge not lest ye be judged" is given as a proverb, a guideline for behavior in interpersonal relationships.
Jesus Himself taught elsewhere that it is necessary to “judge” others, so long as we do it properly:
John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
For example, it is imperative that believers become adept at judging whether a person is genuinely representing God or not. We have to be skilled at testing the spirit of a person:
1John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
As believers, we are free to participate in the jury system in good conscience. In fact, as Jesus’ followers we should be above reproach in that setting. Jesus is speaking to the attitude of our hearts in dealing with other people, nothing more. This is precisely what God’s Word addresses repeatedly, as in Romans 14:
Rom. 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.