What Does “Judge Not” Really Mean?
“Don’t you dare judge me!”
In our society today, and in Christianity at large, we seem to be obsessed with not judging others. At least, we’re pretty obsessed with not wanting anyone to judge us. I’m not so sure we’re really that good at returning the favor.
We throw around verses like “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) and interpret them to mean that no one should tell us what we’re doing is wrong. After all – the Bible says not to judge.
Wait a minute – the Bible says to judge and not to judge? Ha! A contradiction!
No, just a confusion about the word judge, which can mean a few different things. The Greek word kino (translated judge) can mean (among other things) to choose, to esteem, to have an opinion, to determine, to pass judgment, or to rule.
If we’re going to set an example for our kids and students in this area, we’d better understand exactly what the Bible has to say about judging others. So let’s look at a few principles.
Should We Really Not Judge?
- We should not pass judgment on others. Passing judgment means to declare someone guilty and pass on them a sentence – like a judge does in a court. This duty is reserved for God (James 4:12) or for those in authority – like real judges.
This means that we shouldn’t be making up punishments for people in our minds. So-and-so slept with her boyfriend in high school so she doesn’t deserve to be on the worship team. or I know that so-and-so doesn’t tithe, so God shouldn’t have given him such a fancy car. Unless an area is under our authority, we’re not to pass our judgements as to what punishments others deserve.
- We should not judge others’ motives. Paul cautions in I Cor 4:5 that we should not judge others’ deeds until Christ comes because we don’t know their true motives. Interestingly, this is in reference to giving a church leader too much praise – but regardless of the context, the concept of not judging motives is very important. We don’t know people’s hearts. Only God does. And that’s what matters most. If we try to pretend we know what someone is thinking or why they do what we do, we’re fooling ourselves. And acting like a fool.
- We must realize we may not know all the facts. Often we rush to judgment and declare someone to be incredibly evil (or amazingly good) when we don’t even know all the facts. And as much as we dig around, we probably won’t ever know them all. We certainly don’t know their heart.
Remember the concept of the benefit of the doubt? Yeah, we need to remember that a lot more often. I seem to remember something about treating others the way we want to be treated….
- We should not judge others in areas where the Bible is unclear. Okay, this is an area where lots of us in the church tend to struggle. We look down on others who don’t have the same standards as us or we laugh at those whose standards are, in our humble opinions, way too high. But a very key question here is “Does the Bible clearly address this issue?” If it doesn’t, Romans 14 is pretty clear that we need to stop judging others for these types of choices. They are responsible to give an account to God, not us. (Now if the Bible does address it, that’s a whole different story.)
I discuss the principles of Romans 14 in a lot more detail here (and specifically how they relate to the area of Christian music).
- We should not gossip. James 4:11 states that we should not speak evil of one another because we are then making ourselves a judge. But, oh, this one is so hard to live out! Not talk about others’ faults? Eek – an impossibility!
If we’re really going to obey this command (and it is a pretty clear command), we need to change our own hearts. We need to remember that we are sinners ourselves. We have done wrong. We mess up every day. Thus we need to have compassion on others who have done wrong and not lambaste them for every little thing. If we don’t, there’s only one word for us – hypocrites.
- We should have discernment. Up until now we’ve talked about areas in which we should not judge, but that is by no means the end of the story. Judge not does not mean discern not. The Bible is incredibly clear that we need to discern between right and wrong (I Cor 2:15), reject the world’s deceitful philosophies (Col. 2:8), and watch out for false prophets (I John 4:1).
- We should call sin sin. If we start making statements like “I know the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, but we’re not supposed to judge,” we’re falling into a dangerous trap. We are not to pass judgment (meaning we don’t condemn people for their sin), but we do need to call sin what it is – sin.
Now of course we need to remember that we are sinners ourselves. And we are certainly called to love all sinners as Christ loves us. But that doesn’t mean we brush sin under the rug. Sin is sin, and God is very displeased when we try to minimize it.
- We should take action when needed. We’ve talked about how we shouldn’t pass judgment, but there is one very important exception. When we are in authority over a situation, we are commanded to do just that. I Cor 5:12-13, for example, commands the church to exercise church discipline. Likewise, parents, pastors, administrators, teachers, and other leaders must exercise wisdom and discernment. And they must protect those under their leadership by taking action against sin as needed. Paul gives us a great example when he confronts Peter’s hypocrisy in Gal. 2:11-14.
- We should judge ourselves. In all our hurry to make sure no one else judges us, we miss the point. We are supposed to judge ourselves. (I Cor. 11:28, Matt 7:5) We should constantly be examining our own hearts and our own actions and asking God for help in rooting it out any sin He reveals. When we focus on correcting our own wrongs and deepening our relationship with God, we will have an attitude of humility and will naturally start judging (or not judging) others more Biblically.
- We should care enough about others to tell them the truth. When we see someone traveling down a dangerous path, we do them no service to ignore the problem in the name of “not judging.” If we truly care, we will speak the truth to them – in love and in humility. Gal 6:1 commands this beautifully, admonishing us that when someone falls into sin, we who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
What else does the Bible say about judging others? How do you think our society – and the church – twist this concept and distort the truth of Scripture? Share your thoughts with a comment below.
Photo by SalFalko