Matthew 7:1-2 records Jesus teaching, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." From this, many—Christian and non-Christian alike—have adopted the concept that we are not to judge one another. But what exactly does that mean?
Do not judge - Is that biblical? What does the Bible mean when it says we are not to judge others?
The Greek word used for "judge" in Matthew 7:1 is the same as that used to refer to God's judgments in Revelation 19:11. In short, to "judge" is to separate, determine, or pronounce an opinion concerning right or wrong. Only God can accurately judge, for only He sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 139:1, 23-24).
It is interesting to note that following Jesus' command is a warning; we will be judged in the same way we judge others. Often when we think of those who are "judgmental," we think of hypocritical or self-righteous people. When we are eager to judge others, it is usually because we are eager to boost our own self-concept. Judgmental people generally do not live up to their own standards of morality. To assuage their own sense of failure or guilt, they begin comparing themselves with others, usually condemning the other in an attempt to make themselves feel acceptable.
Jesus elaborated on this when He said, "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" (Matthew 7:3-5). When we are focused on the shortcomings of others, we are blinded to our own faults. We become like the servant who was forgiven a great debt yet failed to extend the same mercy to a lesser debtor (Matthew 18:21-35). Failing to see our sins impedes our ability to enjoy fellowship with Christ and to cooperate with His work of sanctification. Our blindness also precludes us from being able to help another believer along the path of righteousness. The blind cannot lead the blind.
Though we are not to judge others in the condemnatory sense explained above, we are called to be discerning. We have a responsibility to distinguish good from evil and light from darkness (Isaiah 5:20). We should first check our own motives and our hearts for any unrecognized planks (Jeremiah 17:9), but we cannot merely say that we should not judge and therefore cannot call anything wrong. Our world is filled with sins and lies. We are to judge these things. Jesus told His followers, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24). First Corinthians 2:14-16 says, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." When we are submitted to Christ, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to direct us into truth and right judgment (John 16:13).
Our judgments should first be regarding matters of truth. First John 4:1 cautions, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." Once we have judged what is truth, we may then need to make a judgment concerning another person. This is not to say that we condemn that person. Rather, we judge the actions of the person and, accordingly, how we should relate with that person. If we judge a person to be a false prophet, based on the objective criteria of God's Word, we should not listen to his teachings. If we judge the actions of a fellow believer to be out of line with God's Word, we can gently correct him (Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). If he refuses to change, then we may need to stop relating with him as a fellow believer and relate with him instead as we would an unbeliever (Matthew 18:15-17).
The key to understanding Jesus' teaching is to look at the condition of one's own heart. We are to make proper judgments about right and wrong, but not out of pride or self-righteousness. We are not to take God's place in judging. We are not to condemn others. However, we are to be discerning and act appropriately on truth.
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