Our culture uses Matthew 7:1 “Judge not lest ye be judged” to promote a tolerance that often encourages acceptance of behaviors the Bible forbids. We know that wasn’t Jesus’ intention. So, what did Jesus mean when He told us not to judge?
To judge means: to separate, to pick out, select, choose. By implication, it means to condemn, punish—avenge, conclude. It also carries the idea of having discernment. The passage where Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1) goes on to show us how to have discernment. Love is the proper motivation for not judging and for using good judgment.
What Are We Not to Judge?
The Bible says we can’t judge what is in someone’s heart. We may assign bad motives to someone who ignores us when, in reality, he is fighting hidden battles. He may have just learned his spouse is unfaithful or his child has leukemia—or both. Or we may project good motives on someone in order to avoid conflict.
To judge another person shows pride. Only God knows what is in a person’s heart and the effort it takes to function where they are. We may assume the late mom is irresponsible. But she may be a single mother working two jobs and tending a special needs child.
A conference speaker said he misjudged a man who sat on the front row and slept through most of his lectures. Obviously, this man lacked spiritual interest. That assessment flipped 180 degrees when the man’s wife told him her husband was very ill and heavily medicated. He’d begged his doctor for permission to come that weekend to hear his favorite speaker.
“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (
We aren’t to judge believers who practice their faith in ways different than us. We may decide someone is spiritually immature because they don’t pray, dress, or practice faith in the way we do. Maybe you don’t like the Scripture tattoo she wears on her ankle or that he won’t pray aloud in groups.
Paul wrote, “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:10, 12, 13).
When we stand before God, He won’t ask us why our friend or family member did what they did. He will ask us to give an account of ourselves. To manage ourselves is a full-time job. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to do His job.
We don’t judge or take vengeance on our enemies. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
God is the only one who knows the best way to deal with someone. We might be too harsh or too lax. If I judge them by carrying out vengeance God will deal with me. Do I want God to discipline me or them? We are not to judge or discriminate for or against people based on their race, gender, wealth, or status (James 2:2-9; 4:11-12; 5:9).
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15).
“If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?…If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:3-4, 8-9).
“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
What Does “Lest Ye Be Judged" Mean?
Paul said that the works we do in this life will be judged (1 Cor. 3:10-15). This includes the time and energy we spent judging others with our words and thoughts (Matthew 5:22). And as seen in James 2:9 above, when we judge others, we break God’s law and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. Those who criticize others invite criticism. When I complained to my children about leaving their dishes out, they began to point out whenever I left something out! What we dole out comes back to us.
Is it Ever Appropriate to Judge?
While the Bible denounces faultfinding, it applauds fruit inspecting (Matthew 7:15-20). “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:17). If a person has a pattern of wrong or hurtful behavior, that information helps us make sound decisions. “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:11, NLT)
When a church member was involved in sexual sin Paul said “For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this” (1 Cor. 5:3). In other words, Paul didn’t need to interview the man to find out why he was doing what he did. He judged the man’s behavior based on the Scriptures.
Many people suffer because they suppress the negative vibes they pick up. They don’t want to appear judgmental. Yet Jesus said, “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NASB).
How Do I Judge Wisely?
While we are to “judge not” as in belittle, punish, or condemn, we are to use sound judgment as in be discerning, evaluating, and shrewd. The rest of Matthew 7 explains how to do this.
- Ask God to remove the prejudices that block our vision. How can we see the speck in our brother’s eye if our own vision is blocked? By allowing God to search and cleanse our hearts, we can see clearly to take the speck out of our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-6).
- Discern between the holy and the profane. When Matthew 7:6 (NASB) says, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces,” Christ is not talking about the animal kingdom. Dogs and swine describe dangerous people. We must recognize the dogs and swine. Otherwise how can we protect our pearls from them?
- Ask God for discernment (Matthew 7:7-11). God promises “everyone who asks receives.”
- Look for patterns of behavior (Matthew 7:15-23; Proverbs 20:11). Paul made sound judgments based on the bad fruit he saw. The apostle judged some believers as worldly and others in the church as false believers who intended to bring the church into bondage. Paul’s judgment in discerning the spiritual condition of the saints helped him protect and instruct the church.
“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”(1 Corinthians 3:3).
“This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves” (Galatians 2:4).
Why Is it important to Use Right Judgment?
We know “judge not” doesn’t negate right judgment because God’s laws are summed up four-letters—LOVE (Romans 13:10). The Bible says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Love is stronger than tolerance. It seeks the eternal good of the one loved. It protects even when it uncomfortable to do so. If something is harmful (evil in the above verse), love stays away from it. Good parents monitor their children’s diets, friends, hobbies, and screen time to protect their bodies, hearts, and minds.
“Judge not lest ye be judged” begins a chapter that warns against evil influences. God doesn’t want us to hurt other people; neither does He want us to be victims of harm (Proverbs 4:14-15).
A woman told me a tragic story of the peril of ignoring discernment. A neighbor came to her apartment late one night and asked to come in. Her internal alarm sounded, and she said, “No.” But when he told her he was depressed and needed to talk with someone and she was the nicest person he knew, a debate raged in her mind. This man has been drinking; it is late; I don’t feel good about this… On the other hand, this may be my opportunity to win him to Christ. How can I call myself a Christian and turn him away? She let him in, and he raped her. Don’t let the fear of being judgmental cause you to throw away your God-given discernment. Satan misused Scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10). He uses the same tricks today. Adolf Hitler said, “What luck for leaders that men don’t think.” May that not be true of us.
A Critical, Judgmental Spirit Tears Down the Body of Christ.
It crushes tender spirits and causes people to hide their spiritual gifts. Discernment protects the church and us. When we sense something is wrong, we must not let a distorted view of “judge not” guilt us into ignoring this radar, even if it concerns a family member, coworker, or ministry leader we care about or who is respected by others. With practice and the help of the Holy Spirit we can train our senses to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
“Judge not,” like all of Jesus’ commandments, is summed up in love. “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher, Debbie W. Wilson helps people live in God’s grace so they can enjoy fruitful and full lives. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Her latest book, Little Faith, Big God, is to be released February 2020. She and her husband Larry founded Lighthouse Ministries, a nonprofit ministry offering counseling, life and relationship coaching, and Bible studies. She is an AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) certified speaking and writing coach. Debbie enjoysa good mystery, dark chocolate, and the antics of her two standard poodles. Share her journey to refreshing faith at debbieWwilson.com.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/master1305