“DON’T JUDGE!” Have you ever heard someone say that? Has anyone ever said it to YOU?
Let’s look at what the Bible really says about “judging.” If you use this phrase as an excuse to be uninformed about what the Bible says, don’t read any further. I’m serious. I wouldn’t want you to be offended. The following is only for those who really want to know your Bibles. The Bible can be offensive and I wouldn’t want you to read on without warning you.
OK, here goes. Where does this saying even come from? It comes from Mat. 7:1-5. Here is exactly what it 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.”
So clearly, Jesus doesn’t want us to “judge.” But what else has Jesus said about “judging”? Is there just this paragraph in the Bible? If you’ve just heard someone use Mat. 7 and not read the context or haven’t read the ENTIRE Bible, you might be a bit off course. For instance, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24) Now here is good advice for anyone taking things out of context and using it for their own purposes. (BTW, isn’t it interesting that people who use Mat. 7 to unthinkingly reject someone else’s opinion are in essence, “JUDGING” the other person’s motives??!! They are guilty of what they are accusing the other party! That’s something to think about. Oops, there’s that nasty little term, “thinking”!) So here Jesus, who said, “Don’t judge,” in Matthew is telling us TO “judge” in John. How could that be? Well, we could say that the Bible contradicts itself. But see above, this article is only for those who really want to know their Bibles. And if you really want to know your Bibles, then you can’t go that way because you will believe that the Bible is inspired by God and therefore, perfect. But how can something perfect contradict itself? I had a seminary professor who told us that when the Bible seems to contradict itself it is always a good opportunity to dig deeper and see what nugget of knowledge could be there if we try to work it through. It clearly seems that Jesus is saying two different things: we are not supposed to “judge” and we are supposed to judge. Hmmmm.
First of all, let’s go back to Matthew 7 and read on. Have you ever heard that “a text without a context is a pretext”? Well, it’s true. We looked at Matt. 7:1-5, now let’s look at the VERY next verse: “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 then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matt. 7:6). Yikes! Where did that come from??? Dogs? Pigs? Pearls? What happened to “kindly” Jesus telling people not to “judge”? The first thing we need to ask is “how can we know who ‘pigs’ or ‘dogs’ are unless we . . . dare I say? . . . here it comes . . . JUDGE??? Jesus, if you notice, spoke to the crowds in parables. Did you ever wonder why? It was so He wouldn’t be guilty of “throwing” His “pearls” before “swine.” He didn’t know who might be in the crowds. So He spoke in such a way that His followers would “get” it and those who criticized Him would be confused! Good for Him.
Well, it is fair to look at things in context but also another thing to do when trying to understand Scripture (not just justify your own opinion) is to compare Scripture with Scripture. If it’s truly inspired, it will agree with itself. So here are some other Scriptures:
“Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thes. 5:21-22)
How can you “test” things unless you “judge” them?
“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.” (1 John 4:1)
Hmmm. The Apostle of love telling us to “test” or judge spirits.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)
Again, Paul told us to “think” about certain things. How can we know what things are according to this verse, unless we judge them?
And now back to Matthew 7. Look at verse 15 from the very same chapter as the “judging” verse: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
How can we know who the “false prophets” are unless we . . . JUDGE them?
So what does “judge” really mean? Comparing Scripture with Scripture it would seem a few things are clear. One is that judging in the positive sense, means to think or discern. This seems to be the very opposite of the way people take Mat. 7. They seem to be saying, accept anyone and anything. This is a popular notion of those who don’t believe their Scriptures. We should not let it creep into our thinking. Scriptures were clearly written to be thought about. They are to be mulled over, meditated on. After all, they were written. They weren’t sung, they weren’t played on an instrument. There are no connotations or inflections that can be actually heard (they can be seen and thought about!) They are not meant to be “felt” about . . . they are meant to be THOUGHT about! So let’s THINK! Another good word would be “DISCERN.” Christians are to be discerning! We are to actually JUDGE! (Here are synonyms from the first level of meanings from an online dictionary: “conclude, decide; consider, believe, think, deem, view; deduce, gather, infer, gauge, estimate, guess, surmise, conjecture; regard as, look on as, take to be, rate as, class as; informal reckon, figure.”)
(BTW, in view of the verses above and in view of the idea of a Christian judgment at the Bema seat, we might say that Christians SHOULD judge that they be NOT judged at the Bema judgment seat for Christians. If Jesus, Paul, and John told us to judge and we don’t, we might be in trouble! [Rom. 14:10; I Cor. 3:12-15 ; 2 Cor. 5:9-10])
We haven’t answered what “judge” does mean in Matthew 7:1. Here is the only thing that makes sense if we are supposed to actually judge persons and things. It speaks about the MANNER in which we judge. Here are synonyms for “judging” from the second level of meaning of judge from an online dictionary: “try, hear; adjudicate, decide, give a ruling on, give a verdict on” as in “ the case was judged by a tribunal.” So we are not supposed to “judge” our fellow man/woman/people by sitting in the place of God and determining what their eternal reward will be. We are not to consign them to perdition or determine what their reward of punishment will be. We are not to try to hurt someone else by the judging.
Here is a good parallel Scripture: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 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.” (Romans 14:1-10)
The above passage shows what is improper “judging.” We are not to be condescending (the opposite of the way most people use Matthew 7:1 to support their own opinion apart from Scripture), we are not to be unloving or look down our nose at anyone. On the contrary, look at Philippians 2: 3, 4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Proper “judging” is being discerning but not “judging” in the sense of looking down on someone else or consigning them to some eternal punishment (which would be God’s job!). We actually need to “consider” or “reckon” or “account” (cf. Greek term) others as better than ourselves, whether they are or not! We should treat them as though they are better than us and show them RESPECT. This is good advice to those who use Matthew 7:1 to criticize those who are actually being Biblical by being discerning and trying to “judge a proper judgment.” (John 7:24 NET) That kind of judging results in protecting oneself or others, not harming them.
We definitely live in an age of feeling instead of thinking. We live in an age of lazy thinkers. Christians are called to a higher standard. In fact, it is very clear in Romans 12: 2 that we are to use our brains if we are to be good disciples! “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. ” The key to being a good disciple is to use your noggin and THINK! (Discern . . . JUDGE!)
Please friends, don’t run down those who are thinking Christians! Encourage them. Listen to them. Love them as you yourselves THINK and judge.
N.B. In case you didn’t notice, I have tried to consistently use the term “judge” in quotes to mean “judge with a view of assigning a verdict with punishment and to hurt someone.” I have used the term judge without quotation marks to indicate the idea of judge to mean to discern, to think, or to consider.
This blog was originally posted on my old website on November 7, 2008, reposted March 4, 2015 and again on December 15, 2015