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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Judge Not?

An old school mate (from high school) whom I linked up with on Facebook posted it on her Facebook wall. Some of my so-called friends on Facebook are in the habit of posting Bible verses as their daily updates. (I totally don't understand that - but that's for another blogging day.)

Anyway, it didn't seem unusual for this individual to be posting a Bible verse. "Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged." It was a natural response for me to comment on such a post. I said, "This doesn't mean what most people think it means." Her response? "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

I imagine that her motives are sincere. I have no reason to doubt them. But it seems clear to me that she's confused, like a lot of people are. The so-called Christians have been taking verses like this out of context and using them to rationalize their own bad behavior.

It does say in Matthew 7:1 that we are not to judge, lest we be judged. But like so many other things in the Bible, we must consider the context. The Bible will never, ever contradict itself. So when other verses say that we are to judge (and they do), it's not a contradiction. Rather it is context.

People often use Matthew 7:1 to stop someone else from holding them accountable. They don't want anyone to point out their sin, and they assume that this verse takes away anyone's right to point out their sin.

In context, the truth is that Christ-followers are definitely in a position to test the behavior and character of others. Consider the politicians that you vote for. Do you not make a judgement call when deciding whom will get your vote? Consider the boy who dates your teen-age daughter. Do you not judge him when deciding to allow her to go out with him? Or how about the people that you hire --- and fire, both professionally and personally?

The point is that we all make judgements of others every single day. We may do it in a formal setting sitting on a jury or doing a performance appraisal. Or we may simply do it when deciding which beautician will do our hair. Putting Matthew 7:1 into context (with verses 1-5) allows judging after you have judged yourself.

Jesus wasn't making a blanket statement that judging others is prohibited. He simply pointed out a basic rule for judging. God expects His people to judge. In fact, it is sinful if we don't judge. Consider a church, for example, that overlooks the sin of its members.

Christ Followes Are To Judge
The fact of the matter is that there are quite a number of Scripture verses that instruct us to judge. Often it comes in the context of identifying and calling out sin. Sometimes it is in the context of testing what we're being told or taught against God's Word. Simply put, we are not to overlook the sins of others, nor are we to accept them.

Consider what God told the Israelites to do when they entered the Promised Land. He told them to kill the current residents and obliterate them completely. They were an evil breed of people. God didn't want the Israelites to live with people of such ilk. He doesn't want us living with them either.

One of the best verses I can think of for judging others is Galatians 6:1. Here it says, "Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. ..." (New Living Translation) Folks, it is not going to be any clearer than that.

"Excuse me. I can't help but notice that you are sinning. Let's see what we can do to get you out of that sinful way and back into the path of righteousness." Yes, that is exactly the conversation we should be having when we judge each other. And you'll notice that this is a far cry from that "judge not" rhetoric that the modern day pharisees are so good at spewing.

Here are a couple of other verses to consider that help to form the context for judging others:

Psalm 141:5 says, "Let a righteous man strike me - it is a kindness; let him rebuke me - it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. ..."

Matthew 18:15 says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault ..."

1 Corinthians 2:15 says, "The spiritual man (or woman) makes judgements about all things ..."
If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear about the importance of judging on a regular basis in order to properly serve and honor God. To ignore this fact is to ignore all of Scripture. God's Word was never meant to be a "cafeteria plan" where we choose those things we like and discard the rest. And on this matter, God is clear. He expects His people to judge.

Rules for Judging
I once heard it said that speaking the truth in love is godly and a blessing. But speaking the truth without love is just mean. Judging has its time and place, of course. So you wouldn't judge someone in front of others, for example.

John 7:24 also tells us not to judge by appearances, but rather by a righteous form of judging (that comes from God). So we don't judge based on our own opinions or perceptions. Rather we judge based on facts and truth.

So as we judge, or when we judge, here are some good guidelines that will help us do it in a way that honors God and is most likely to achieve a godly outcome.

1. Judge Scripturally - Isaiah 8:20 says, "to the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Our standard for judging must be God's Word. It cannot be our feelings, our opinions or anyone else's opinions. Right and wrong should always be determined by God's Word.

2. Don't Make Up God's Truth - If the Bible is silent about a subject, then we have no premise to judge at all. We can't make a big deal out of something that the Bible is quiet about. Said differently, we don't make more out of a matter than God makes of it.

3. Pray for Discernment - James 1:5 says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, ... and it shall be given him." We should pray for good judgment ability. A sample prayer might be to ask God to let us hear with His ears, see with His eyes and think with His mind.

4. Don't Play Favorites - Proverbs 24:23 says, "These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgement." Simply put, we don't show favoritism when judging others.

5. Judge in Truth - We do not judge another when we don't have all the relevant facts. Jeremiah 5:1 says, "Run ye to and fro through the streets ... and see now, and know, and seek in the broad paces thereof, ... if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth ..." A true judge is one who seeks the truth. If you must judge, be sure and get all the facts.

6. Judge Mercifully - Jesus said in Matthew 7:2, "For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; ..." God has certainly been merciful to us. In turn we must be merciful to those whom we judge. Treat them the way you would want to be treated.

7. Judge Yourself - Matthew 7:3 gets to the heart of this issue. We cannot judge the sin in other people's lives until we have judged the sin in our own life. An unrepentant judge is also an ineffective judge.

So let's be clear. The Bible does not say that we are not to judge others. It uses those words in the context of a much broader statement that definitely instructs us to judge each other.

It is a hallmark of Christ-followers that they have the wisdom, discernment and courage to point out the sin of their fellow believers and even rebuke it when necessary. Similarly, it is a hallmark of Christ-followers that they have the humility and repentant heart to listen to - and act on the loving rebuke of a fellow believer.

Judge others and being judged by others is a key way to spiritual growth and the sanctification process that God wants to work in all of us!


  1. Great article. I've written some articles on the "judgmental" christian stereotype here:

    My research on the topic suggests its ok to judge those in the body of christ (to correct them as you say). But that judging non-believers is outside our jurisdiction.

  2. I agree with you Brad. I think the writer of this article (who for some reason wants to be anonymous), is misunderstanding one highly important aspect of "Do not judge..." To not judge does NOT mean to endorse. This is the #1 misconception by Christians on this teaching. Indeed, non-judgment is a core part of New Testament teaching, by Jesus in particular. If this topic interests you beyond its academic appeal, you'll find this book filled with practical examples of how dramatically we can impact others when we first choose to not judge them (that is, be neutral about their behavior, neither endorsing nor condemning). Thanks for speaking out on this life-changing topic.