By Timothy P. Hadley
One of the most popular verses in our culture today is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (NKJV). Both Christians and unbelievers may quote this verse if you say something they are doing is wrong. This is especially true in our day of “tolerance,” which is really a search for acceptance. People want others to accept their way of life, teaching or whatever it might be. They don’t want anyone to question a wrong thing or call it sin. If you do, you will likely be accused of judging!
What does the Bible say about judging? The word “judge” in its various forms (judging, judgment, judges and others) is found over 700 times in God’s Word. One whole book of the Bible is titled “Judges,” for it was written about a time when God raised up judges to lead His people.
The Authority On Judging
The Bible makes it very clear that there is one supreme Judge of all – God Himself. He alone has the authority to determine right and wrong, including motives and behaviors. There are many verses in the Old Testament that tell us God is Judge, such as:
“God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11).
“He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgments for the peoples in uprightness” (Ps. 9:8).
“Let the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is Judge. Selah” (Ps. 50:6).
“For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us (Isa. 33:22).
When we come to the New Testament we find that the Father has committed authority and judgment to the Son. Jesus spoke of this authority before He ascended to heaven after the resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). We also read:
- “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22).
- “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:46-48).
- “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
The Bible makes it very clear that one day Jesus will rightly judge all humanity based on each individual’s faith in or rejection of the Son of God. The Judge of the universe has already announced His judgment about salvation: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Judging Among People
Now let’s consider judging as it relates to believers and unbelievers. The methods are different when dealing with these two groups, but the goal for both is reconciliation. Unbelievers need to know Christ and be reconciled to Him, and believers need to grow in Christ and be reconciled to each other.
Whenever we present the gospel to unbelievers a judgment is made regarding their standing with God. The Bible clearly declares that all men are sinners, have fallen short of the glory of God and are in need of redemption from their sins (Rom. 3:23). Believers should present the gospel lovingly and graciously – knowing that only what the Bible says matters, not our opinions!
Many feel that Christians should not make judgments on issues such as abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage. This view might become known when a Christian says, in accordance with God’s Word, that homosexual behavior is a sin and that same-sex marriage is wrong. That believer might be met with objections like:
- “Who are you to judge two people who love each other?”
- “Who do you think you are, telling someone who they can and cannot love? You’re a sinner, too!”
- “Someone’s private life is none of your business. Don’t judge them.”
Some will even quote our verse in Matthew 7:1 – the Bible, itself!
There are significant logical problems with the claim that believers should not make judgments. This becomes evident when we read the context of our verse: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mt. 7:1–5).
In this passage Christ warns believers against making judgments in a hypocritical or condemning manner. That type of judging is often associated with the Pharisees during the ministry of Jesus. Many people who quote “judge not” from Matthew 7:1 fail to notice the command to judge in Matthew 7:5, where it says, “Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” The point Jesus emphasizes here is to judge yourself before you make judgments about others. Notice that discernment and judgment are required. In the broader context, Jesus is telling believers to be discerning when it comes to false teaching and false prophets because they “look” Christian, but their goal is to lead the flock astray (Mt. 7:15–20; Lk. 6:43–45).
As Christians we should be living godly lives, concentrating first on our own repentance of sin. Sanctification, living separated to God and from the world and its ways, is a lifelong process of being transformed every day into the image of Christ. Without this happening, we have no place in helping another person. What Christ teaches His believers in Matthew 7 is that if we have not personally repented of our sins, we are in no position to tell others how sinful they are acting. But remember, the Bible does tell us to preach the gospel – and part of the gospel message is that people are sinners in need of salvation.
We often hear claims from Christians that we are not to make judgments about other believers, especially as it relates to their erroneous teachings. They tell us that we should simply love one another and not judge. But is it really showing love if we allow another Christian to remain in error and even deceive others? Loving others requires that we graciously correct them when they fall into error (see Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 1:11 and Galatians 6:1). Those who err do not necessarily know they are in error; they are possibly deceived or ignorant. Therefore we should gently and carefully correct the error in regard to teaching, no matter what the situation. After all, this is one of the responsibilities of the church: to teach sound doctrine and correct erroneous teaching (2 Tim. 2:25, 3:16; Ti. 2:1). And we must use discernment (judging between right and wrong) if we are to obey verses like:
- “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Cor. 5:11-13).
- “If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?” (1 Cor. 6:4).
- “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Th. 3:6).
Consider also 1 Timothy 6:20 and Titus 3:9.
What Judging Others Does Not Mean
Being discerning with regard to a person’s character or teaching is not wrong. Many people quote Matthew 7:1 about not judging others without reading down to verse 6, where Jesus says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine.” To obey this verse you must make some judgmental decisions about a person’s character!
Later, in verse 15, Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” It takes a discerning sheep to recognize which ones are not true sheep and warn others, “That’s not a true sheep! That’s a wolf dressed like a sheep!” This requires judging the man’s teaching as false. Romans 16:17-18 continues: “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (NASB).
Some say that it’s okay to expose the false doctrine in general terms but that you should never specifically name a false teacher. However, Paul mentions in 1 Timothy 1:19 that some have rejected faith and a good conscience, “and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” He doesn’t leave it there, but goes on, “Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (v.20). He also names Hymenaeus and Philetus, adding, “men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Later Paul tells Timothy, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (4:10). In verse 14 he warns Timothy about “Alexander the coppersmith,” who did Paul much harm. The apostle of love, John, in 3 John 9-10 warns the flock about “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them,” but “does not accept what we say.” Paul names two quarreling ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, urging them “to live in harmony in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). He pointedly tells the church in Colossae, “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to your ministry’” (Col. 4:17). These apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, named names!
The apostles were not, in any of these instances, wrongly judging others. So we must conclude that it is not judging someone to exercise discernment about ungodly behavior or false teaching. Nor is it judging someone to speak to him about sin or false teaching. If you see your child about to run in front of a speeding car, you would do everything in your power to warn him. If you see a brother in Christ about to ruin his life by sin or by believing false doctrine, love should motivate you to do everything possible to warn him in grace. James 5:19-20 says, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Paul taught that it is the responsibility of every spiritual believer to confront a fellow disciple who has fallen into sin (Gal. 6:1). It should begin in private, unless the sin was done publicly (Gal. 2:11-14; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). The Lord Jesus taught this kind of confrontation in Matthew 18:15-18.
It is not judging someone to evaluate spiritual maturity or doctrinal views for ministry. To make wise ministry decisions and to shepherd the flock, one must make judgments about a person’s character and doctrinal views.
Judging Others Wrongly
We judge others wrongly when we criticize them out of jealousy, bitterness, selfish ambition or some other sin, rather than seeking to build them up in Christ. James 4:11 challenges our motives in judging: “Do not speak evil of one another” (NKJV). To slander means to malign someone or damage his reputation by sharing false or deliberately misleading information. But the word that James uses has a broader meaning that includes any form of criticism or negative comment from selfish motives.
We judge someone wrongly when we assume that we know all of the pertinent facts and motives behind the person’s words or actions. Proverbs warns us that “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” because “the first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:13,17).
Again, we judge someone wrongly when we set up human standards rather than holding to God’s Word as the standard. Paul devotes two chapters to this problem. In Romans 14, vegetarian believers were judging those who ate meat. Others observed certain days as holy and judged those who did not. In 1 Corinthians 8, the problem was that of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. It is wrong to take personal convictions into areas where the Bible does not give definitive commands and set views up as standards to judge those who do not share them. This is what the Pharisees did when they added dozens of man-made rules to God’s law and then judged everyone that did not keep their rules. They were giving minor matters too much value and focusing on outward appearances, but their hearts were far from God. They neglected God’s commandments and held instead to the traditions of men (Mk. 7:6-9).
If we do not first judge our own sin before trying to help another with his sin, we judge wrongly. This is the real teaching of Matthew 7:1-5, as was already mentioned. The Lord does not say that it is wrong to help your brother get the speck out of his eye. But before you try to do so, deal with the log in your own eye.
We judge someone wrongly when we share confidential or personal information with the wrong intent. It is easy to sound spiritual and say to another believer, “I wanted you to know about this situation so you can pray.” The truth often is that we just wanted to feel important because we know something. We must be careful.
It is clear from Scripture that we should not judge a person’s motives as we can’t see into an individual’s heart. But the Bible is equally clear that there is a time to judge the fruit and actions of someone who claims to be a follower of Christ. We should never condemn, but we are to have discernment as to whether or not the life matches up with the profession.
Why Is All This Important?
What is at stake in relation to judging? What really ought to concern us? The glory of God!
It is absolutely true that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8-10), but the same book of the Bible also tells us that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5). This first chapter goes on to tell us that our life ought to match our profession: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (v.6). It is inconsistent to say that I’m a Christian and then practice or live in a way that is in opposition to the Word of God.
As a Christian I ought to be concerned with the glory of God. There is so much made of people’s rights today, but what about God’s rights? What about the rights of the Lord Jesus? Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 that Satan wants to blind men’s eyes to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ! As Christians, that light is to shine in us and ought to shine out of us (2 Cor. 4:6-7; 1 Pet. 2:9). Our lives ought to demonstrate not only the love of God, but also His holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16).