“Do not judge, or you too will be judged...” —Matthew 7:1
When Jesus gave this command, did He mean that we should withhold all judgment ever? Should we never say a critical word to anyone for any reason? Many people like to interpret Jesus' words in Matthew 7:1 as meaning, "You don't have the right to tell others they're wrong!" The mantra "don't judge" is probably one of the most quoted of all of Jesus' sayings—by Christians and non-Christians alike! "Don't judge" is practically ingrained into today's culture.
As widely quoted as "do not judge" is, it is just as widely misused because it's taken way out of context. The Bible is clear that we should have discernment as to what's right and wrong, thus, judging the righteousness or morality of a situation, action, thought, or word. There's a whole biblical book entitled "Judges," and these Old Testament judges were appointed by God Himself (Judges 2:18). Besides, Jesus gave a direct command to "judge correctly" in John 7:24. So what was He talking about when He said, "Do not judge"?
The next several verses give us more insight as to what Jesus meant when He gave this command about withholding judgment. Look at Matthew 7:2: "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." Would you want to be judged in the same way you judge others? Jesus rebukes those who are hypocritical in their judgments in Matthew 7:3-5. While some would love to judge a person on a certain matter, they may be guilty of far worse and therefore unfit to judge someone else.
To be clear, just because we are commanded to withhold judgment in certain ways, that doesn't mean everything is equally moral or that everybody's truth is different. The Bible tells us God's truth is based on His character alone, and we know God's Word is true. When a situation, action, thought, or word goes against God's nature or contradicts His Word, then it's considered sinful. We ARE allowed to discern (or judge) whether something is sinful or not, based on God's definition of sin. What we DO with our conclusions is where the fiddliness of "correct judgment" comes in.
How can we figure out what Jesus would consider "correct judgment"? The Bible gives us plenty more advice as we investigate this topic, so let's explore some ways to judge righteously.
Take into consideration the bigger picture when making a judgment. To simply judge a person based on their appearance, reputation, gossip, or rumors is foolishness (John 7:24; Proverbs 18:13; Luke 7:36-50). Make sure you have all the facts before you judge.
Going along with judging wisely, we need to be sure of the truth of what we say in judgment. To knowingly bear false witness is to lie and absolutely wrong (Proverbs 19:5). Titus 3:2 reminds us to "slander no one." When dealing with judgment, we should only speak what we know for certain is true.
Before we judge another person for their alleged sins, we need to take a good, honest look at ourselves. Do we have any right to judge someone else's indiscretions or sinful mistakes in the state we ourselves are in? (See Romans 2:1 and James 4:6.) Jesus had many strong rebukes for hypocritical people in the church (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; Luke 18:9-14), and He very harshly warned against copying those actions (Matthew 7:3-5).
Just because we recognize sin in another's life, that doesn't give us the right to hack them to pieces. Titus 3:2 tells us to always be gentle toward everyone. If someone were to confront you about a sin, how would you want them to go about it? Would you want them to be harsh and hurtful or gentle and compassionate? (See Matthew 7:2 and James 2:12-13.)
Many Christians have unfortunately lived up to the stereotype of being judgy, hypocritical, or intolerant because they've gone about judging in the wrong way or have judged incorrectly. Recognizing and opposing something sinful is not wrong but being arrogant and cruel about another's sinfulness is most certainly wrong.
Knowing what is righteous and unrighteous helps us as we develop our own faith and contend with our own sins. Discerning sinfulness in a fellow believer's life is a part of helping them develop their faith. But judging others does not mean spitting venom when they are caught up in a sinful situation, action, thought, or word. James 2:12-13 reminds us that we're all in the same boat when it comes to sin, so we should be merciful when we judge others. "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).
Do not be quick to judge others, but rather be wise in seeking the truth about any given situation (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). When we do approach a fellow believer with a judgment about alleged sinfulness, we must speak gently and lovingly (Galatians 6:1), with a motivation to restore that person to God—never for selfish revenge or prideful rebuke.
Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us to speak the truth in love because "we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Let's break that "hypocritical Christian" stereotype, shall we? It CAN happen, and it all starts with ONE person opting for love over loathing.
As widely quoted as "do not judge" is, it's just as widely misused because Matthew 7:1 is taken way out of context. Having discernment about right and wrong IS necessary; we need to be able to recognize sin for what it is. But if we're going to make a judgment on someone's sinfulness, we must "judge correctly" (John 7:24), which means being wise, truthful, humble, gentle, and merciful in that judgment. Our motivation should always be to restore that person to God—never for selfish revenge or prideful rebuke.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two teenage kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.