Does The Bible Really Say We Shouldn’t Judge?
Visit Google and type in the phrase “The Bible says not to ….” What do you think pops up first? It is the essence of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
This is no surprise to most of us. We live in a culture that believes religion should be kept private and that absolute truth is negotiable — depending, of course, on your preferences. Practically, since we have no standard for truth, one is prevented from telling others if he/she is right or wrong. Is that really what Jesus meant in Matthew 7:1?:
Notice that Jesus didn’t say that we shouldn’t ever tell anyone he or she is wrong. In fact, Jesus spent His time on earth doing this very thing!
Later in the same passage, in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus makes a distinction between the broad and narrow way. He doesn’t say, “Oh, golly gee, whatever you want to do in life is cool with me. I am not going to judge you!” Instead, he says:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
So, what is this the “judge not” verse of Matthew 7:1 saying?
First, you truly judge someone not when you analyze their position against truth, but when you reject them as human, made in God’s image.
Isn’t this what John 3:17 characterizes?:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
While Jesus made abundantly clear that He alone was the narrow gate to heaven, he still didn’t “condemn the world.” You see, not condemning the world doesn’t mean you don’t forthrightly speak the truth. Instead, what you do after stating the truth determines whether you are judging.
Think about it: After telling us the truth of the kingdom of God, Jesus didn’t cast us off or dismiss us. No, he drew us closer and closer and made us — the sinners — his friends.
Perhaps the most famous Bible verse — John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …) — precedes John 3:17. Jesus not only told us the truth, but He laid down His life for salvation!
Second, judging mirrors excessive obliviousness of our own immorality.
Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:5 about taking “the log” out of our own eye before addressing others. That is, we shouldn’t criticize others for the exact same things we are guilty of doing.
Jesus’ words here assume that there is a perpetual “log” lodged in our eyes as Christians. We might learn to lessen or downplay these “logs” by social and cultural domestication and rules, but the fact remains that the sinful depravity still lingers.
What has God given me in Christ? Grace, mercy and forgiveness. Doesn’t that change how I treat and speak to people? It should.
So, when Jesus said “judge not,” he was telling us to review the situation without rejecting the person. As Christians, we are called to speak with grace and truth (1 Peter 3:15).
Again, this doesn’t mean we can’t engage someone with truth. Rather, we have in Matthew 7:1-6 specific instructions about how to engage anyone we may meet who we may never agree with.
How do we make this practical?
- Make sure private prayer is your main arsenal. We can’t change someone’s heart — only the Holy Spirit of God can do that work.
- Seek for someone to come to Christ before chasing secondary issues. You may want to really make sure your co-workers know your sports team is the best in the world. But what does that have to do with eternity?
- Make sure you are “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19b). Be careful to protect your pastors, staff and church by heading off gossip and slander. Be slow to speak and quick to pray.
- Make sure you are patient with the speed of how God is working in someone’s life. Change is a process, not an event. We need to be patient with people as they struggle with sin. God’s timetable isn’t ours. His sovereign will is perfect, and we can trust Him.
- Learn to speak to different people differently, as God leads. Jesus didn’t speak to Herod or Pilate in the same way He spoke to others. Paul didn’t talk to the Gentiles and Jews in the same way. Yet, it was the same message — the Gospel message.
Remember, we set standards that we use to judge, not realizing that we will fail our own criteria. Most judgments, accusations and verdicts don’t even need to be rendered (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). In heaven, there’ll be no judging motives, no racial profiling, no injustice, no theft, no vengeance, no hate, and nothing but love — eternal and free from the one true God of the Bible. The only fully competent Judge is coming.
In a world gone mad, only one hope remains: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). Do you trust Him today?