“Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).
This verse has become one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible, but like some other frequently quoted verses it is often misinterpreted.
If you take a stand that a certain activity is sinful, you may well hear the response, “But doesn’t the Bible say not to judge?”
Or if you declare that you believe the teachings of the Scriptures and you believe them because you believe they are true, this means that those holding to a contrary view are wrong. Once again you may be severely criticized for taking such a position. You are asked, “How can you say that you are right and someone else is wrong? Are you not judging them by saying they are wrong?”
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
But looked at it in its context and in connection with other portions of Scripture, we see that there is no prohibition here against condemning sin and defending truth.
It is a command not to judge someone else’s heart or motivation; it is not saying we should not judge some things to be wrong and other things to be right.
For example, we know the Bible is specific in speaking against stealing. The commandment cannot be misunderstood: “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Now suppose a friend is showing you some nice tools on his workbench. You ask him where he got such a nice selection of tools and he responds, “I brought them home from work. You know it’s a big company, they have plenty of money, and I didn’t think they would miss them.” Now you respond, “That’s stealing; you shouldn’t have done that.”
Are you here violating the admonition not to judge? No, you are not jumping to conclusions and charging the man with being a thief based on your own assumptions. He has confessed he stole the tools, and you are simply siding with the Scripture that stealing is wrong.
Now on the other hand here is a case where incorrect judgment is made: you see a friend drive up in a new expensive automobile. You immediately begin to wonder how she could be driving such a fine car. From what you know of her circumstances you are confident she could not afford it, so you conclude she must have done something dishonest to have obtained it. You don’t have the facts, but you have judged her. Later you learn that a rich relative had died and had stipulated in their will that your friend should have this car.
All of your suspicion and your judgment was wrong. You neglected to heed the admonition of Proverbs 18:13, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
Do Distinguish Error from God’s Truth
It is also true that when you hold to the truths of God’s Word you are not violating this text, because you say those who do not embrace the teaching are wrong. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The Savior did not say that he is one of many ways but that he is theway.
If you agree with what Jesus said you then hold that if a person says there is another way they are wrong. You are not being bigoted or judgmental; you are embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ.
It is a biblical requirement that you make a judgment between truth and error. Paul wrote, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Truth is to be received, but error is to be rejected. And sin is to be confronted.
The idea that we are forbidden to exhort one who is going astray is not what our text is teaching. In fact we read, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). We are commanded to go to one who is overtaken by sin with the goal of restoring them, but this restoration cannot be accomplished with a self-righteous, judgmental attitude.
Do Repent of Your Own Sin
Jesus gives a serious warning to those who judge self-righteously. They set themselves up on the level with God as though they know what is in a man’s heart. They judge a person’s motives. They judge because they consider themselves to be superior to others.
The Lord says the consequence is that they will be judged with the same judgment they have meted out to others. He paints a vivid picture. Here is a man with a log in his eye trying to remove a speck from a brother’s eye. Because he feels to be above others and perfectly qualified to judge, he has not first judged himself. He has not looked into the looking glass of God’s Word to see his own sin, that he might confess it and forsake it; he is consumed with a desire to deal with someone else’s sin.
This is the kind of pride and self-righteousness that Jesus continually condemned in the Pharisees. They had set their own standards and were quick to condemn those who violated them, but their own hearts were not right with God. Jesus words of condemnation concerning them were stern, “I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:20).
It is the weakness of human nature to sit in judgment on others. By putting them down you see yourself to be better than they are; and fallen sinners like to feel good about themselves.
But a sinful, judgmental spirit dishonors God and harms men. It can divide friends, destroy a marriage, or disrupt the peace of a church.
Let us pray that the Lord will bless us in searching our own hearts, confessing our own sins, and then bless us to lovingly and meekly help others who have gone astray. And may we never be intimidated by the thinking which is so prevalent in our day that you must never take a firm stand for anything, or that you have incorrectly judged others when you condemn sin or error that is in clear contradiction to God’s Word.