What did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”
On the surface it may seem that Christians should not judge people. Should we just not judge anything or anyone? There is more to that answer than a simple yes or no.
This verse represents one of the most misunderstood and misused verses in the Bible.
Today many try to justify their bad behaviors by throwing out the phrase, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”
Woke theology expects everyone to immediately embrace gender fluidity, sexual relations outside of marriage, using the “F-word” as a noun/adverb/verb, and many other socially “justified” behaviors. Should we stop judging those ideologies?
A thorough study of the Bible reveals that when Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” He wasn’t stating that we should not assess whether someone’s choices are wrong.
Jesus did that Himself on a regular basis (re: Jesus turning over the tables in the temple)
The Meaning of Judge Not?
So, what did Jesus mean in that specific Bible verse?
As with many Bible studies, one should look at the full context before and after a verse. The verses that follow Matthew 7:1 reveal a more telling story. Jesus immediately goes on to say:
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own. (Matthew 7:1-3, NLT)
But notice the reason Jesus warns against judgment.
The danger in passing judgment on others is that we will be judged according to our own standard, and the first order of judgment should be self-awareness of our own faults.
When we condemn someone’s behavior, whether it is obviously sinful or just a matter of opinion, the common response rarely uses God’s proper standard of judgment.
Most pass judgment according to their own confirmation bias and opinions.
For example, take the issue of diet. Some people have what a Cambridge University study revealed as a “skinny gene.” Those are the people who can eat a triple scoop fudge sundae while wearing size 30-waste slacks. And yes, I harbor a grudge against those people too.
While I am eating a salad with low-fat dressing while watching someone gulping down a double cheeseburger with no apparent side effect, I project myself onto them. I start resenting them for being spoiled, and “they have no idea how hard it is to always be in a state of semi-self-depravation.”
This resentment reflects my own ego-centric nature and represents an insecurity that could only be cured through a deeper security in Christ.
I am trying to remove the speck from my brother’s eye while a plank hangs from mine.
When God assesses that person, he factors in the whole of a person:
• mental state
• ingrained tendencies
• current struggles
• social interactions
• and many, many more factors
God’s judgment is without fault, whereas our judgment is skewed from a narrow focus. Without a fullness of understanding, all our judgments fall victim to our personal limitations.
One societal form of judgment looks at homeless people with disdain. “They need to get their life together,” is a common refrain. Many are called druggies, losers, psychos, or some other derogatory term.
One evening I walked toward a restaurant in San Francisco with a group of friends and noticed a disheveled young man with needle marks on his arm standing on a crate, pretending to be a statue. At his feet was a box for people to drop money for him. My first thought was that this young man needed to find a shelter. “Probably deranged from drugs,” said one of my friends.
Soon thereafter a black car pulled up, and the young man jumped inside the car after which the car sped away. Months later, an article in the newspaper showed pictures of several little boys, and their corresponding photographs as young adults. All were found dead. And one of these was the young man I saw on the street.
The article described a boy who faced continual abuse, with an addict for a mother and a violent live-in boyfriend. Once I learned of this young man’s many hardships in life, I regretted that I had not done more for him. My bias judgment of the young man as someone who needed to “clean-up” changed to compassion.
Oftentimes our initial opinion of a person changes as we get to know them. Some of our snap judgments are wrong, some are right, but one fact always bears out – sin is present in everyone.
We have choices in life to sin or to not sin. And sin is sin, no matter what the circumstances. But when God judges a person, his judgment issues forth from His all-knowing. This explains the perfect judgment of God – the only perfect judgment in this world.
When we pass judgment on a person, we are doing so based on limited knowledge filtered through our pre-conceived notions. Sometimes we harshly judge ourselves and transfer our own insecurities onto judging others.
One of my favorite lessons from Heaven was when Jesus turned to me and said, “When you stop judging yourself, you will stop judging others.” From that point I realized that most of my tendencies to judge others flowed from my insecurities.
Judgment Forces Us to Look in the Mirror.
Our judging others gives us pause when we consider that God judges us based on the way we judge others. Always God judges us through the lenses of grace and righteousness, but too often our judgment lacks these two qualities. We sometimes lack compassion, and always we suffer from a dearth of complete knowledge.
So, it seems reasonable that we should look in the mirror before judging others. Asking ourselves: “Do I want to be judged by God with the same standard that I judge others? Probably not.
One of my key learnings from Heaven is that God wants to forgive us more than we want to forgive ourselves! The same applies to God wanting to forgive everyone who asks Him for forgiveness.
This explains why Jesus warns about the dangers of judging others. If we do not first look in the mirror, we are going to end up being judged by our own unfair standards.
We can and should call out sin, but only through the process of stilling our minds through God’s truth, and the wisdom He imparts to us. We should stand for righteousness and the truth described in God’s Word. We should defend the weak and vulnerable. We should not allow the victimization of the innocent.
But there is a huge difference between judging selfishly and judging with humility and truth.
Selfish judgment says, “That person deserves to be condemned.”
Wise judgement says, “Apart from the saving grace and redemption of Jesus, I would be equally guilty; and, apart from God, I would be condemned to hell.”
Selfish judgment says, “I would never do something like that.”
Wise judgment says, “Though I may not struggle with the same sins as the other person, I sin against Jesus in countless other ways.”
Selfish judgment says, “I’m superior to them.”
Wise judgment says, “We both need to grow stronger through Christ.”
Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” as a loving warning. If we judge others by our own standard, chances are pretty good that we will come face to face with our own sin at some point.
Consider that before my afterlife encounter in Heaven with Jesus, I used to mock people who professed to have a near-death experience. I called them liars, publicity seekers, and fantasizers.
Then I experienced my own NDE, and that not only blew my previous perspective away. Today, I host the most widely viewed Christ-honoring shows about NDE survivors.
Now I face the same criticisms that I once levied against others. How is that for justice?!
So How Should We Judge Others?
Everyone judges to some extent, even when people say they are “non-judgmental.”
The only One who judges righteously is Jesus. Jesus proposed a revolutionary concept to help us judge more like Him. Instead of an “eye for an eye” form of retribution, as practiced by religious leaders during His time, Jesus encouraged His followers to “turn the other cheek,” and “return good for evil.” This represented a revolutionary concept during that period.
But that does not mean that we should allow evil to triumph over good. It certainly does not mean that we should allow violent offenders to harm others.
A middle ground between vengeance and passivity is compassionate judgment. Judgement tempered by the love of Jesus. Christlike love imparted through the Holy Spirit allows us to essentially see others through the “eyes of Jesus.”
So, when we see someone sinning, we should recognize that the sin is damaging that person and impeding their relationship with God. In those cases, try listening to better understand the person’s reason for sinning, by saying something like, “Tell me more.” Or asking, “Why do you think that you did that?” And “What would Jesus do?”
We can acknowledge that a sin contradicts God’s Word while also attempting to understand the other person more.
When judging ourselves, we can acknowledge our sin without condemning ourselves by asking Christ’s forgiveness, praying for God to deliver us from temptation, and disciplining ourselves from seeing, thinking about, or participating in the things that cause us to sin.
But forgiving ourselves starts with introspection to identify the areas of sin in our life, and the causes for them.
The first part of addressing sin starts with uncovering the reason for sinning. How much of it flows out of past experiences? Were there generational sins passed down from parents or grandparents or other relatives? Was there abuse? What teachings imposed a wrong way of thinking?
Sin starts somewhere and grows in the darkness of misunderstanding.
Compassionate judgment seeks to stay faithful to the Bible while also loving the person who struggles. It strives to identify the speck in someone else’s eye while simultaneously trying to rip the log out of our own eyes.
Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” to make us stronger, not weaker. To make us able to stand up to evil we must stand down to rage, vindictiveness, and insecurities. Jesus said this so that we would be slow to judge and so that our judgment would be tempered by mercy and love.
One never knows the trials endured by those who appear to be our enemies. Certainly, Jesus acknowledged this truth when He said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Greater love reveals its power through the forgiveness of others.
Judging right from wrong, good from bad, produces positive outcomes when we uncover the root causes of sin and thereafter seek the wisdom of God to enact some form of corrective action, if needed.
The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6: “He disciplines those who He loves. For God’s children know that discipline is always in love.”
As to being ultimately judged in Heaven, know this one thing: as a believer in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, God’s judgment for you will be “not guilty.”
By Randy Kay