I believe this verse is one of the most misunderstood and misused verses in the whole bible. It is probably one of the favourite verses for unbelievers who want to carry on doing what they want to do, usually in rebellion to God and His ways. They direct it at God himself. “Who is He to tell me I am wrong what I am doing? It’s my life, I’ll do what I want.” “Don’t judge me God.” And if they direct it at Him, they will most certainly direct it at His followers.
In today’s society, judging other people is very wrong, but is Jesus saying we shouldn’t judge at all? I don’t believe so, because there are other passages that call us to exercise judgement;
You have to exercise judgement to fulfil these two verses:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
And what about:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? (1 Corinthians 6:1-2)
It is so important, as in all scripture, to look at passages in context. This verse should not be taken in isolation. Jesus has been talking in ‘The sermon on the mount’ about our attitudes, about our humility and singling out the religious leaders who led in a hypocritical way. They pronounced moral judgements on others whilst being guilty of those same sins themselves.
Jesus is not condemning all moral judgement or accountability but rather the harsh, prideful, hypocritical judgement that condemns others without first evaluating one’s own position and spiritual condition. We should judge lovingly, not self-righteously. There is a big difference and it is all in the attitude.
Jesus said himself in John 7:24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.”
Let’s look at what sort of judgement is right:
Not judging superficially– We shouldn’t judge solely based on appearances, ensuring we don’t jump to conclusions before establishing the facts. If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13) We do not judge motives and intentions of the heart, only God can do that.
Not judging hypocritically– Jesus has already been confronting, in this same sermon, hypocritical behaviour (see Matthew 6 verses 2, 5 and 16) and He will continue challenging this behaviour as He goes on.
Not harsh, unforgiving judgement– We need to be gentle towards one another. to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people. (Titus 3:2)
True judgement– The bible clearly forbids ‘false witness’ A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape. (Proverbs 19:5)
The world says “Do not judge, do not make moral evaluations, don’t condemn anything!” but Jesus is not saying that. He is saying don’t be hypocritical in your judgements or judge people with different standards than you would hope to be judged by. When you judge; be loving, kind and gracious with a spirit of restoring people to their right relationship with God. But don’t tolerate sin!
We will start to look at the consequences of judging wrongly next week.