It is so common to hear people quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 whether they are Christians or not:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
There are usually two reasons why people use this “judge not that ye be not judged” phrase; and neither of these attitudes is aligned with how God reveals His heart to us in Scripture:
- As a Defense.
They don’t want to be judged by others. In other words, they don’t want others telling them that what they are doing is sinful and displeasing to God.
- As an Excuse.
They don’t want to be responsible for others. They choose to close their eyes to the wrongs people are doing instead of loving and caring enough to correct them and offer a helping hand.
Concerning the “defense” reason: any wise Christian walking in genuine humility knows how to appreciate corrections and even the criticism of others. It is a most foolish and reckless driver who gets angry at the honk behind him! Others around us may be able to see what we cannot see due to our blind spots. Heeding the honk can prevent serious accidents!
To defuse the “excuse” reason for using Jesus’ words, a deeper dive into the Scriptures is necessary.
First of all, what exactly does Jesus mean? Does He mean that we should never do any judging? If we see someone sinning and say something to warn them, is that called judging. Will we be judged for doing that?
Let’s understand what the word “judge” means as it is used in the Bible:
Judge: (verb) to form an opinion about something or someone through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises; to form an estimate or evaluation of
New Testament Original Language:
“Kríno” is the Greek word translated as “judge.” It means to separate, distinguish, discriminate between good and evil, select, choose out the good, to form or give an opinion after separating and considering the particulars of a case. Although our English words “critic” and “criticize” come from the Greek word “krino,” it does not necessarily carry the same negative tones we often assign to those words. A spiritually mature Christian has grown to recognize how wrong and even dangerous it is to take all criticism as negative and hurtful. Hardening our hearts to people’s corrections can have serious repercussions:
Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)
By reading the whole passage in Matthew, we can get a better idea about what Jesus is saying:
Judge not, that you be not judged.Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)
For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Jesus’ colorful, “log-in-the-eye” warning is for people who are quick to be both the judge and the jury for everyone else except themselves. It’s a warning against self-righteous pride.
Years ago I heard this true-to-life description of pride:
“Pride is the only disease known to man
that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.”
Jesus is laying the ax to pride – the root of many other sins. We should definitely not entertain an idea about judging someone until we have taken a very meticulous look in the mirror at ourselves.
Several times in John, Jesus goes on to give us deeper insight into judging. He clarifies what is and what isn’t acceptable:
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.John 7:24 (NKJV)
Jesus’ judgment was “righteous” and He explains why:
I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.John 5:30 (NKJV)
You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.John 8:15-16 (NKJV)
And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.
So, according to Jesus, “righteous judgment” is NOT self seeking, and it is NOT based upon anyone’s personal opinion. Righteous judgment always soundly agrees directly with God’s Word.
When we use those verses to read between the lines in Mat 7:1-5, one thing is quite obvious: We are to be capable of judging, but God is looking closely at our heart to see if our judgment is “righteous” or if it is “self-righteous” and reeking with pride.
Paul echoes a similar “log-in-the-eye” warning while writing to the Romans:
And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?Romans 2:3-4 (NKJV)
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
During Jesus’ last intimate conversations with His disciples, He spoke much about the Holy Spirit who would come on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). He says that one priority in the Holy Spirit’s mission involves “judgment”:
And when He comes, He will convict and convince the world and bring demonstration to it about sin and about righteousness (uprightness of heart and right standing with God) and about judgment.John 16:8 (Amplified)
Paul explained that one of the Nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit that can operate through a Spirit-filled believer is the gift of discernment [not to be confused with the proudful “gift” of criticism!] (1 Cor 12:10). The Greek word for “discernment” is “diakrisis” which comes from the root word “krino.” It literally means a judicial estimation or decision.
So apparently, the Holy Spirit actually wants to help the believer to judge – but to judge with the “righteous judgment” Jesus spoke about. And the goal? It is all about love and concern for others.
Apparently, having proper judgment and discernment is a sign of a spiritually mature Christian who is allowing the Holy Spirit to renew his mind to be more like the mind of Christ:
The spiritual person JUDGES ALL THINGS, but is himself to be judged by no one.1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (ESV)
“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Paul prayed for the Philippian believers that their love for souls would “abound yet more and more.” However, it is obvious that he is not talking about blindly loving people; but rather that their abundant love would be guided with “all judgment.”
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment (discernment).Philippians 1:9-10 (KJV)
That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.
James balances this love and judgment out nicely as he reveals God’s loving compassion and mercy for souls:
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.James 2:13 (NKJV)
In Luke, we have a parallel passage to Matthew 7 where Jesus’ comments on judging are intertwined with mercy, forgiveness, and even loving our enemies:
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.Luke 6:35-37 (KJV)
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.
Paul carries that same theme of loving and caring for others as he explains to the Galatians that spiritual maturity is not merely being able to correctly judge when someone is sinning. Spiritual maturity must also involve being loving and compassionate enough to stretch out a helping hand to restore that person.
Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also.Galatians 6:1 (Amplified Bible)
Notice how Paul also puts up a warning sign with flashing lights that basically says:
“Beware of falling into the very hole out of which you are trying to lift someone else.”
Clearly, he understood this principle in Proverbs: “Pride goeth before… a fall” (Pro 16:18). Slipping and sliding down to a feeling of superiority toward those who need to be lifted up comes very easy to our sinful, fallen human nature, but it comes at a dangerous cost!
There is a beautiful saying which I remember hearing an older pastor often recite when he felt that those of us who were new in ministry were being too quick and harsh in dealing with wayward souls. It still rings in my ears today:
“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”
That attitude is a sign of maturity and experience. Perhaps this is why Paul warned about giving “novices” (those newly converted) ministry responsibility in the church a little too quickly:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.1 Timothy 3:1-6 (ESV)
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Finally, Paul gives us some unique insight on the “judging” in which the saints will be directly involved at a future time:
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?1 Corinthians 6:2-3 (NKJV)
Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
Imagine that! Saints (that’s us, God’s children) judging the world!
Well, we better get some practice time clocked in down here in this life first, right?
So here is a thought: Maybe we should stop judging this “judging” stuff…
Let’s remember that God created us in His image and likeness and that includes the ability to judge. Because of Adam’s sin, man’s “image and likeness” has been corrupted. Therefore, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to start doing exactly what He came to do in us: reprograming us from the inside out as He pours out God’s love within our hearts (Rom 5:5).
With the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, guidance and gifts, we can first righteously judge ourselves in the light of God’s Word (and by the helpful judging “honks” of others). Then we are obliged to use that same “righteous judgment” and stretch out helping hands to lift up others in the mind of Christ with all humility, mercy, compassion, and love.