It can be confusing to understand the difference in the biblical directives not to judge others and to offer a loving rebuke. The Bible has much to say on how we are to treat one another, including how to address sin. But Scripture doesn’t suggest that we be sinless before admonishing another person in love and truth. What does the Bible mean when it instructs us not to judge others? What judgments does the Bible permit?
Proclaiming, “judge not” with a full stop, as many do, neglects to apply Matthew 7:1 for its intended use. Such disregard is revealed as we continue reading the verse in its entirety, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Aiming to avoid ruffling feathers, this snippet of Scripture has become a mantra for avoiding conflict and excusing sinful choices. At the first sign of sin or struggle, some shrug off the issue while declaring, “it’s not my place to judge” or “you shouldn’t be so judgmental.” Typically, these remarks do not refer to critiques or observations regarding the general judgments we make on a daily basis. While these responses are at times appropriate, their use is often misplaced — asserting that a person isn’t permitted to address wrongdoing.
The Bible instructs us to deal with our own sin prior to confronting another person’s sin (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:41-42). Before we are able to rightly address sin, it is important that we understand how the Bible defines judging. The Greek word for judging is κρίνω and translates as; “to pass judgment upon (and thereby seek to influence) the lives and actions of other people” and “judge, pass judgment upon, express an opinion about (Mt 7:1a, 2a; Lk 6:37a; John 7:24a).” Additionally, it means “pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, condemn (Ro 2:1abc, 3; 14:3f, 10, 13a).”
What Is Right Judgment?
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
As we peel back the layers of confronting sin in conjunction with the Scriptures, we will uncover attributes of righteous judgment. In doing so, we must proceed with prayerful discernment and humility before vocalizing reasonable judgment upon others.
God’s law applies to all of humankind; however, Christians are only permitted to offer biblical judgment to other believers. 1 Corinthians 5:12 explains whom Christians are to judge, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” God judges everyone, those inside and outside of the church (1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:12; Romans 14:12). This is not to say that a Christian would be wrong to reveal the wrongdoing of a non-believer. It is to say, we cannot confront them in the same manner as a believer, nor have the same expectations of repentance and restoration. In Luke 17:3, we are instructed to rebuke those inside of God’s family and forgive those who are repentant.
Christians do not sit in God’s judgment seat pronouncing soul judgment onto others. In other words, no human is permitted or able to choose where a person’s soul shall spend eternity—only God judges in this capacity. God’s judgment over the sins of humanity is displayed throughout Scripture. God is the only righteous Judge, holding all authority. No one knows the final judgment God has for each person.
How Does God Judge Us?
Righteous judgment never comes from us, it solely belongs to God. That is, we do not define sin — the Bible deems what is sinful — we simply reiterate what Scripture declares. The judgment Christians are called to employ is informative, not authoritative. Scripture does not call Christians to judge with Godlike authority, but it does instruct us to identify and confront sin. The judgments we are directed to bring about are observations to ascertain right from wrong as defined by Scripture, and appropriately bring them to light (James 4:11; Matthew 18:15-17).
Knowing the facts regarding a potential sinful situation prior to drawing conclusions or formulating an accusation is a vital step in biblical judgment. Additionally, be certain the allegation is not based on presumptions or mere opinion. God is the only one who knows the secrets we hold in the depths of our hearts. Gather truthful information and use discernment to determine if and how the person should be approached (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In instances where another party is brought into the situation, prioritize using discretion and speak only truth (Proverbs 12:22; Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:25).
Spurred by love for God and people, righteous judgment seeks to bring restoration. Paul instructs us in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Our aim is to help the person refocus their lens towards what is holy (James 5:20).
Approach with the Right Attitude
Applied correctly and with kindness, rebuking a fellow Christian is one of the most loving deeds we can extend to one another. More harm will likely occur by being silent than by confronting sin. In Ecclesiastes 7:5 we read, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” Often, it is painful to receive hard truths let alone deliver them. None of us enjoy having our sin exposed, but when thoughtfully delivered, the sting of conviction can develop into sweet redemption (Proverbs 27:5–6; 1 Corinthians 16:14).
We are to approach those needing rebuke with humility — we are all sinners. Given with righteous motivations, proper rebukes are not rooted in hypocrisy. To confront another person’s sin without recognizing personal sin is self-righteous, proud, and hypocritical (1 John 1:8; James 3:2, 4:6). The Bible warns us not to confront someone’s sin that we also struggle with in a manner suggesting we are somehow above reproach (Matthew 7:3-5).
When we encounter another Christian who shares a similar sin, such as gossip, we do not refrain from addressing the issue. Instead, we confront the sin while recognizing it is also our personal struggle. Humbly, we ought to invite the person to join us at the foot of the cross in repentance, together, seeking forgiveness and restoration. Spurgeon remarks in The Gospel of the Kingdom, “Our reformations must begin with ourselves, or they are not true, and do not spring from a right motive. Sin we may rebuke, but not if we indulge it. We may protest against evil, but not if we willfully practice it.”
Judging in a Way That Does Not Usurp
Confronting another person’s sin should never hold applause or drama. Instead, we are to guide one another towards righteousness with understanding, love, and biblical truth. It should never be delivered on the tip of a person’s waving finger with the intent to cut them down in humiliation. Seeking to shame someone into repentance, we are — whether intentionally or not — attempting to usurp the job of the Holy Spirit. We are not to bring shame or condemnation onto those confronted with sin. Christians are called to lovingly identify sin and compassionately walk alongside the person on their journey to Jesus’ feet in repentance.
We have untangled the differences between unrighteous and righteous judgments, along with identifying whom Christians are to judge. Taking care as we confront the sins of others, we are better able to love and serve one another in a manner that honors God. When our focus is on restoration, not retribution, we can walk alongside our brothers and sisters as we are conformed to Christlikeness. Hope for restoration is given to sinners when — in true repentance – wrongdoings are laid at the foot of the cross. It is there that we are given refuge from God’s wrath — we are forgiven.
William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985).
C. H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Commentary on the Book of Matthew (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 41.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/SIphotography
Christine A. Carter is an author for Wrath and Grace Publishing. You can connect with her on Facebook. Christine’s roots are planted in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four children. She holds a deep desire to know God and His word in depth, while also pursuing the gifts He has given her. Additionally, Christine is a writer and artist for rightbraintheology.com, and a biblical counselor.