“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” —Jesus (Matthew 7:1)
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” —Jesus (John 7:24)
“Judge not.” —Everyone else and their third cousin
There is perhaps no more oft used biblical verse—and nearly always used wrongly—than Matthew 7:1.
Second Chronicles 7:14? A contender, but no. Jeremiah 29:11? Nope. They are used wrongly by Christians often, but Matthew 7:1 is misused by believers and nonbelievers alike. Repeatedly. As in, all the time.
It is sometimes shortened to “Judge not,” as if that clears things up. It’s a meme for theological fragmentation. We have pieced together from theology garments so threadbare “judge not” leaves us shivering.
If “one verse in Leviticus” is used by believers to bludgeon unbelievers, “judge not” is the dagger used on the unwitting by unbelievers and believers alike.
Here are a few things to remember when confronted with this verse or a fragment thereof:
Identifying sin is not reserved for sinless people. If it was, Jesus would not have commanded us to judge; no, not ever. Jesus expects His followers to recognize sin, warn people to avoid it and avoid it ourselves.
This means the “Who am I to judge?” canard is without scriptural merit. Often followers of Jesus use this as an excuse to not deal with our own sin, but this will not wash. Yes, “I sin, too,” but that realization should lead to confession and repentance, rather than be a barrier to helping others.
Not judging can cut both ways. When a person says “judge not” they often are: 1) making a judgment themselves, 2) concluding that you have judged wrongly, and 3) ignored the possibility their own admonition could be erroneous. Such judgments hold little weight. When “judge not” becomes an excuse to continue in sin the scripture is stripped of efficacy.
Jesus commands us to judge rightly. There is a biblical standard by which all motives and actions are judged. No human can infallibly determine the motives of another. Judging motives is dangerous business and should be left to God. Making a judgment that stealing, murder, adultery, taking God’s name in vain, lying and the like are wrong, however, is rightly judging. Jesus commands rather than forbids righteous judgment.
Jay Sanders notes the context of “Judge not lest ye be judged”: Jesus is forbidding the self-righteous variety of judging. This is the real crux of the problem: duplicity. As often as revealing another’s sin, judging may reveal our own hypocrisy. When I attempt to point out the sin of another while committing sin myself (the mote and the beam), I am a hypocrite. It doesn’t mean the judgment is wrong in itself; it does mean I stand to be condemned for my own sin.
In John 5:30 Jesus explains a basis for judging rightly, “My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (NKJV, emphasis mine). My gut-check is whether my will aligns with the Father’s will.
“Fruit inspecting” is a form of judging. A less well-known New Testament verse is, “You will know them by their fruits.” In other words, you can determine whether a person is an authentic follower of Jesus by watching how they live. For Jesus, a person’s actions revealed truth more than their words. Judging is not commanded in this verse, but it is implied, and clearly so. Scripture as the basis of inspecting the fruit is also implied. Wisdom dictates fruit inspecting should be done with care so as not to bruise the apples.
Followers of Jesus should not be scared off by the crowd squawking “judge not” like a pandemonium of drunken parrots. Nor should we rush in where angels fear to tread, since our judgement is not infallible. Instead let us judge righteously, ever mindful the Judge of all the earth does right, and that He alone is the lawgiver who is able to save and destroy.