“Do Not Judge”: What’s That Supposed to mean?
James R. Aist
Born-again Christians who are proclaiming the truths of God’s Word are increasingly being accused, especially by unbelievers, of judging them, against the admonition of Jesus, “Do not judge”, as if Christians are not allowed, much less instructed, to judge anyone or anything, ever. But, is that really what Jesus meant? Is that a valid accusation, or is it merely a ploy to mislead us and keep us from speaking out on current moral issues, so that they can freely contend for their version of moral truth without opposition? Let’s have a look at what Jesus really meant when he said “Do not judge.”
The Relevant Verses in Context
The Bible records this monologue in two different gospels:
Matthew 7:1-6 says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces”.
Luke 6: 37-42 says “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Obviously, these are two similar versions of the same teachings. Jesus is not saying here that Christians are never to judge the actions of others, in the sense of pointing out that those actions are against the will of God. What He is saying is that we must first remove sin from our own lives so that we can clearly perceive God’s will regarding the sinfulness of certain actions or behaviors that we see in others. Moreover, He is warning us against sharing such insights with those who will not be receptive (e.g., people who have not been born-again and, therefore, do not have “ears to hear”), lest they turn on you and rip into you verbally (e.g., by accusing you of violating Jesus’ instruction to not judge others!). So, in reality, Jesus is not telling us to refrain from judging the actions and behaviors of ourselves and others; rather, He is telling us to get our own spiritual act together before we do that, so that our words can faithfully represent God’s view and achieve the intended purpose when we do it.
What Does the Word “Judge” Really Mean As Used in the Bible?
When you find the word “judge”, or its derivatives, used in the Bible in reference to people, it usually refers to condemnation of them per se, as persons. We can see this in the passage above where Jesus clarifies what He means by “Do not judge” by following that with “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). And the Bible strictly forbids us from judging, or condemning, people, at least for the time being. That kind of judgment is strictly reserved for God Himself (Romans 14:10-12; James 4:12). We are also not to draw conclusions about (i.e., judge) the motives of others, as that is something that only God can do (Proverbs 16:2; 1 Corinthians 4:5). However, we are to form Godly opinions about the morality of human actions and behaviors, whether they are seen in ourselves or in others. This is how we form a Godly conscience that enables us to hate what is evil and love what is good, as the Bible commands us to do (Psalm 34:14; Amos 5:15; Romans 12:9). In doing this, however, we are simply agreeing with God’s view of these things, nothing else and nothing more. But, unfortunately, when verbalized, this can be mistakenly perceived as “judging” others, in violation of Jesus’ command.
As Christians, we are called to do some things with boldness and gentleness, and that includes “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We are instructed in the Bible to speak of evil as “evil” (Isaiah 5:20) and to actively expose evil (Ephesians 5:11). The purpose and motive for doing this should be different regarding unbelievers versus believers. We are to preach and teach against what God calls evil for the repentance and salvation of unbelievers (Matthew 5:19; Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15; Acts 10:42; Romans 10:14-14; Romans 15:15-16) and for the repentance and cleansing of believers (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Colossians 1:28; Romans 15:14; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 4:2). But this should never be done as a means of condemning others or making ourselves feel better about our own residual unrighteousness. Thus, it is imperative that we first examine our motives before we undertake to “speak the truth in love” to someone else!
What Role Will Christians Have, If Any, in the Final Judgments?
The answer to this question will be a big surprise to many, Christians and unbelievers alike. According to the Bible, born-again Christians will be called upon to assist Jesus Himself (John 5:22, 27) in judging the angels and “the world” (i.e., unbelievers) (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)! In view of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 7 and Luke Chapter 6, discussed above, it behooves us born-again Christians all the more to cleanse ourselves from all unrighteousness. Now that’s a sobering reality for those of us who are striving to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)!
According to the Bible, born-again Christians are not to judge other people in the sense of condemning them per se. This task is reserved for God, for the time being. Under some circumstances, it is admissible to “speak the truth in love” regarding sinful actions and behaviors in order to help someone see the error of their ways, but this should be done only with the proper motives and with gentleness and respect. We are called, as God’s elect, to proclaim the truths of the Word of God in order to enlighten believers and unbelievers alike, according to their ability to receive the truth. In doing this, we must not let unbelievers intimidate or silence us with false accusations against “judging” others; they are misrepresenting the words of Jesus, and we should not listen to them. And finally, according to the Bible, born-again Christians will participate with Jesus in the final judgment of the angels and unbelievers. Therefore, we should work diligently while there is still time left, to prepare ourselves for that daunting task.
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Thanks for your comment, Tim. Maybe if enough of us publicize this point, we can make a difference. God bless.
I find it odd that Christians so easily fall into the trap of thinking “Do not judge” means that we are never to make righteous discernment about the actions and activities of people. After all, in those very same sections of the gospels Jesus goes on to instruct us about how to determine who is a false prophet. That certainly requires us to make judgements about people. So again, what is the answer? I think you nailed it in your article, which we can back up with Scripture elsewhere: 24 “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24).
Thanks Leandro. Its always nice to receive confirmation.