What Does the Bible Really Say about Judging Others?
Have some tact, please!
Before we delve in too deep, it's important to realize that this can be a very sensitive topic for some people. It's important to be gentle, tactful, and aware of others' feelings!
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The verse from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, in which Jesus says "Do not judge, lest ye be judged" is quite possibly the single most misquoted, misused, and misunderstood verse in the entirety of the Bible!
Even people with almost no scriptural familiarity can be memory-verse masters when it comes to quoting this one line. Usually, it crops up as a last line of defense when discussing controversial matters--sometimes in a hostile way. Don't judge me! In some cases, this verse is used as justification for getting rather nasty and demonizing others as "bigots" and "hypocrites" because they dared to judge.
But whom are we not to judge? "Lest we be judged" by whom? What is exactly being said here? Are we as Christians able to judge others or is any form of judgement off-limits? What does the Bible consider consider to be "judging", anyway?
It's easy to see where lots of people get confused when dealing with this passage. To get a better idea of what the Bible's really saying, we need to do a couple of very important things:
- Put our personal feelings on the shelf. To get a clearly see of the meaning of this scripture, we need to "cool off" emotionally, take a step back, and read it with objective eyes.
- Define our terms. It's important to know what is meant by "judge" and "judgement". You'd be surprised how the definitions of words can be skewed from misuse!
- Get the big picture. Although today's Bible does have numbered verses, these numbers weren't added until long after all Biblical scripture was written. The Bible was never meant to be picked apart verse-by-verse! To get the full story, we need to look at this entire passage in its proper context.
- Look for clarification elsewhere in scripture. Even though this particular passage is the most frequently quoted about judgement, God's Word has much, much more to say on this issue. Before we rush to a conclusion, we need to see if our interpretation is supported by the rest of scripture.
So what is does it mean to "judge"?
Judgements are conclusions we reach after careful thought, so naturally, the act of judging (as it's being discussed here) is the process of weighing what we know to make a decision about something or someone.
Now, that's not to say that judgements are good judgments. Sometimes we can be hasty and insensitive when judging--especially when judging people. If you've ever seen someone snicker as a large person walks by, you know exactly what I mean. Sometimes our judgements can be downright hurtful.
However, the act of judging isn't inherently bad. It can be misused, but it's just a neutral process. In fact, it's this very process that we all use to determine what we believe is right and wrong! One man's judgments might lead him to cure cancer while another's lead him to drive the wrong way on the freeway after several hours of binge-drinking. It's all about how we use our ability to judge.
Many times we unfairly attach a stigma to judging--as if we should never allow ourselves to have an opinion. Or worse, that we're somehow guilty of cosmic offense by having an opinion!
But it's not surprising in today's age of pluralism, relativism, and political correctness that judging in any way, shape or form is frowned upon. People just don't want to be wrong...or tolerate other people thinking they're wrong.
Instead of accepting something as right or wrong, a large number of people today hold to a view of "That can be true for you, but this is what's true for me." Sometimes this has totally paradoxical implications. We've become afraid to accept anything as being universally true.
So what's the verdict on judging others? Should anyone ever judge anything (or anyone)? Let's get the full picture from Matthew 7:
Judging Others - Looking at Matthew 7:1-5
1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Probably the biggest mistake people make when quoting from this passage is not taking into account the second verse in this chapter. It provides all the clarity we need to understand the first verse! I'll show this verse again with my personal notes shown in brackets:
1"Do not judge [others], or you too will be judged [by others]. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged [by others], and with the measure you use [to judge others], [judgement] will be measured to you [by others]."
But Twerk, how can you know this interpretation is accurate? Well, to answer this we need look no further than other scripture. For instance:
- Romans 14: 10b-12 - For we will all stand before God's judgement seat. 11It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'" 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
- Romans 3:23 - 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
- Matthew 12:36 - 36But I tell you that everyone will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken.
- Hebrews 2:2-3a - 2For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?
God's Word makes it perfectly clear that all people have sinned and fall under God's judgement. The statement in Matthew 7:1, however is conditional: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged". We know from scripture that God's judgement is anything but conditional! It's inescapable! The first verse, therefore, cannot possibly mean "Do not judge, or you too will be judged...by God"!
Who, then, is this passage talking about if not God? It's talking about us! People! Each other! Jesus is warning us that if we judge others, others will judge us (as is almost always the case)! He also cautions that the standard by which we judge others is how others, in return, will judge us!
Now that we have this cleared up, let's continue through the passage:
3"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? 4How can you say your brother 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You 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."
What's important to understand here is that at no point is Jesus saying we are never to judge! Rather, he is outlining how to judge so we don't do so hypocritically.
The man with the plank in his eye and the man with the speck in his eye both have the same problem: there is wood in their eyes. This wood is a metaphor for sins.
You see, being that we're all sinning people, we have no right to call someone out for doing the same the things we ourselves do! This makes us hypocrites--living as if our own sins don't exist! When we judge others as hypocrites, we aren't being honest or fair, and will not be met in kind by the judgements of others.
Instead, we are called to be real about our own sins--repenting of them and seeking God's forgiveness--before even attempting to confront someone else of his. Now obviously nobody will ever be perfect, but until we get ourselves right with God we aren't in any position to be telling someone else how they can be doing the same.
This is the prime focus of this passage: hypocrisy. We aren't forbidden to judge, but told not to make hypocrites of ourselves! In fact, an examination of other scripture shows that we are in fact commanded to judge righteously!
- Amos 5: 14-15a - 14Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
- Isaiah 59: 8 - 8The way of peace they do no know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace.
- John 7: 24 - 24Stop judging by mere appearances, but judge with righteous judgement.
Wait...so God wants us to judge?
God wants us to judge righteously.
The verses above spoke of how we as followers of Christ need to be able to differentiate between good and evil. How can we do this if we never make a judgement? We can't! In fact, the verse from Isaiah tells us that by never defining and differentiating between good and evil, godly living and ungodly living, etc., there is only crookedness, chaos, and unhappiness.
There is a huge difference, though, between judging, and being judgmental. The former is an action, the latter is an attitude. Being judgmental (or having an "attitude of judgment", as is sometimes said) can mean a couple of different things. Sometimes it describes one who is quick to judge others and/or is unfairly critical or harsh. It can also describe one who "looks down his nose" at the person he's judging.
Judging and being judgmental are not co-requisites. In fact, if we're judging the way God tells us we should, we are being the exact opposite of judgmental.
So how can you know if you're judging righteously?
- Judge based on scripture. God is the only perfect, true, and fair judge. Only he is qualified to determine what is good and what is not. So how can get a God-centered perspective when making judgements? Getting in touch with scripture! Our judgements should be made in compassion, love, and mercy!
- Don't play favorites. Righteous judgement isn't corrupt. We can't let relationships or personal feelings skew our ability to discern right from wrong. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Period. Making exceptions shows corruption and hypocrisy.
- Hold yourself to the same standard. It's important that we're also not playing favorites with ourselves--using a standard by which to judge and then considering ourselves above it. This is both wrong and hypocritical.
- Judge in truth. Get the facts before you rush to a conclusion. If need be, take some time to be in God's Word and pray. God is our go-to source! Don't let your judgements be corrupted by deceit or delusion!
- Pray. Ask God for the strength to help you judge righteously! Pray that he will give you aid in discerning right from wrong. You're never alone in this!
Can I pray for you?
Leaning how to stop being judgemental and to start judging righteously wasn't easy for me, and I'm still far from perfect! But I'm still God's work in progress! Let me know if I can be in prayer for you!
A final verdict...
If we, as followers of Christ, are to take up our crosses daily and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we need to discern between the ways of the Lord and those of the world.
By committing to life in Christ, we are dying to this world. We cannot serve both. We cannot live for both. If we cannot judge righteously, we will not be able to differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong, godly and ungodly living, and we will make ourselves prey to sin.
Our purpose in judging righteously as God has commanded isn't so that we're "right" and can laugh because everyone else is "wrong". If this is your view, you've missed the whole point!
We as Christians are to be living examples of the transforming power of Christ that makes us new--inside and out! We cannot follow where Christ has led, loving good and hating evil when we refuse to accept that good is good, evil is evil, and that the two are not interchangeable!
We should not let fear (whether this is fear of someone disliking us or taking offense or anything else) keep us from judging clearly! By standing for nothing, we allow everything to walk all over us. So stand firm in God's truth!
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Wishing you all the best,