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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.

What does "judge not" really mean?But this is a very narrow view of the concept of judging. We’re ignoring lots of other Scriptures that say we are, in fact, to judge, and we’re missing about 80% of the point.

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?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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….

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. 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).

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

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  • Thanks. This is some very objective and valuable information. I am constantly amazed at how many people on social media condemn others simply because of differing opinions concerning parenting, politics, and other issues. God creates us all as individual unique beings in his image. It just seems to me, to be a Christian (Christ Like) is to love and respect each other and embrace our differences.

    • Jesus told people to repent. He even pointed out their sins. If we are to live by his example then we need to do the same.
      The misinterpretation of the ” do not judge” and words like ” tolerance” are obstacles the Enemy uses to prevent us from sharing the Good News. Out of fear of offending people we refrain from sharing. Yet Jesus offended people all the time and he never apologized. It’s actually good that people are offended. It means that that person still has a conscience and this means there is still hope for them.

  • If I ask my daughter if my grandsons new girlfriend is a Christian is that judging. If she starts to go to church with him and decides to get baptized and I say I prayed that she is getting baptized for the right reasons is that judging? My daughter says I’m always negative and judging people. I said I just want the best for my grandchildren. She says I’m judging! What do you think?

    • The truth is none of us know why anyone does anything, what’s a tell us or we ask them. We should never assume anything that has to do with another’s decision.

    • I feel that your concerns about Baptism are legitimate. We live in a world where some churches teach that Baptism alone saves a person and this concept is unbiblical. The Bible clearly teaches that Baptism follows repentance including the personal choice to follow Christ. A baby hasn’t repented and hasn’t made a conscience decision of their own to follow Christ. The Baby Baptism can lead to a false sense of salvation when this child grows to be an Adult. You obviously love your Grandchild and don’t want his girlfriend to be mislead. Yes Baptism is important but it’s to follow repentance and when a person has accepted Christ as their Savior. Unfortunately not all churches teach or follow the correct order of this in the Bible. There are thousands of people who have been Baptised as a baby or a child who don’t have a personal relationship with Christ and likewise thousands of Christians who are not Baptised. John 3:16 is a perfect example of salvation. Notice in the verse it doesn’t say that whosoever gets baptised will have eternal life, *instead says whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life. So the believing (in Christ) is our path to Heaven for eternal life with GOD. Baptism is the representation of a persons beautiful decision to follow Christ. The water does not save but is a visual symbol of the washing away of sins following a commitment to follow and accept Christ as one’s Savior… ( like a wedding ring is a symbol of marriage and a commitment although it is not the marriage itself).

  • it not so much about judge one another I thank we have a responsibility to correct one another according to the word of God

  • When we see a brother or sister living in sin we are to approach that person in love and humility. Scripture is not against bringing up one’s sinful behavior. One can state to the offender—I’m not judging you but here is what the Bible says about your sin. We don’t have to judge–God judges us via written scripture.

  • I believe I have been called to teach, but whenever I try to share scripture or commands, or anything from the Bible my tongue gets twisted and I sound illiterate, and I’m far from it, what do you think???

  • Thank you for this post! I’ve had a long-standing confusion about judging. I just didn’t understand what it all meant in the different contexts in the Bible and how that applied to real life in every scenario. So again, thanks!
    I do have something to add though.
    Sometimes it’s ok to take action against someone doing wrong even if we aren’t in authority.
    Like for instance, if an employer is breaking labor laws and taking advantage of their employees, it is ok for the employee to respectfully and gently talk with the employer about the mistreatment. If the employer refuses to change, then it’s ok for the employee to take action against the employer for the sake of all the people being mistreated. Take action meaning submitting a complaint to labor law enforcement. I’m not talking about revenge, but I am talking about calling someone to come and help out the employees. Asking and receiving help for those who aren’t able to properly defend themselves against mistreatment.
    So I don’t think it’s a cut and dry thing that only those in an authority figure should and can lovingly take action against mistreatment.
    But otherwise yes I agree with you.

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