A casual reading of Matthew 7:1 seems to give a clear answer to this question. "Judge not, that you be not judged" appears to be a blunt command from Jesus that as Christians, we are not to judge others. Or so it seems. These words are often misconstrued to prohibit all forms of judgement. However, in verse 6, Jesus exhorts us to beware of “dogs” and “swine” so that we don’t waste time giving them knowledge of God. Under the Mosaic Law, dogs and swine were unclean animals and here the terms are used as an allusion to depict ungodly or wicked people. And how do we identify a metaphorical “dog” or “swine”? We have to exercise judgement on others!
How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Are we to judge or not to judge?
Matthew 7:1 taken in its context does not forbid all judging and intolerance, but only hypocritical judging and intolerance. Jesus suggests that it's not the act of judging, but the attitude with which we do it that He is most concerned about—we are not to ignore our own sins while condemning the same sins in others. To do this is to judge with a double standard, to judge hypocritically. He identifies His audience in verse 5 with the words “You hypocrite”. In that way, Jesus is not forbidding Christians to judge (unless He is calling every Christian a hypocrite).
The text in its context of Matthew 7:1-6 reads as follows:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure and use, it will be measure back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck out of your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces.”
Notice that in this passage, the person and his brother both had a piece of wood in their eye. The difference between the two faults is only one of size: one is smaller while the other greater. For one in sin to condemn another for the same sin, regardless of size, is hypocritical. So what is clear from the context is that Jesus was talking about people making personal judgments against others, when their own behaviour is much more seriously compromised than the persons they were judging.
In verse 2, Jesus gives the reason why He cautions them not to judge: “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”. So, His warning against judging others is primarily aimed at those who think they are superior to others. In other words, a woman who is aborting a fetus is in no position to rebuke a man who commits murder, and an unfaithful person in a heterosexual marriage is in no position to criticize a homosexual. In doing so, we become a hypocritical judge without credentials.
In Romans 2:1-3, we are again warned: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things…that you will escape the judgment of God?” Here, Paul's point is also to warn against hypocritical judging and that we can expect God's judgment upon us, if we live in the same sins that we condemn in others! Nevertheless, the text does not forbid us to judge rightly!
The word ‘judge’ has been so perverted that to judge anything is now considered by many to be anti-Christian behaviour, and anyone who does so is likely to be labelled as an “accuser of the brethren.” This has caused much confusion about a Christian’s right or obligation to judge, or if we are to refrain from judging altogether.
Casting the First Stones
In John 8:3-12, we have the story of the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees. In verse 7, Jesus says to the Scribes and Pharisees: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." In verse 11, He speaks to the woman: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more." The advocates of tolerance often use this story to argue that one should not condemn others, because he is no better than they, and no one has the right to cast the stones as they too are guilty of other sins.
However, the first thing we should notice is that there are some major problems with this story. Although the Scribes and Pharisees supposedly cite the laws of Moses, they didn't get it quite right. The law states that both the man and the woman are to be executed—so it would seem that they "forgot" to bring the man!
Jesus' answer to the Pharisees exposes their hypocritical judgment in the matter. Their primary purpose, of course, had nothing to do with the woman; it was merely to trap Jesus in His own words. Yet Jesus knew that the Pharisees prided themselves in their self-righteousness, and responded in light of this fact. Jesus reminds them that they were also guilty of sin, and specifically of adultery, whether in the act or in the heart. Because they were also not free from sin, they were as worthy of death as she was. So by wondering what judgment she ought to receive, they revealed their own hypocrisy and wrong motivations.
Jesus handled the situation by writing in the dirt. Although the text does not say what He wrote, it is likely that He was writing down the sins of those who wanted to stone the woman. And probably, the ones who had accumulated the most sins left first. Did Jesus excuse the woman's sin? No! By telling her, "Go, and sin no more," Jesus indicates that she did sin. In itself, the Pharisees' accusation was correct, and Jesus judged sin to be sin. Thus, Jesus did in fact judge this woman, but He did not condemn her.
When one judges, he gives a verdict: guilty or innocent. After one is judged, he is sentenced: the guilty person is condemned (sentenced to punishment) and the innocent is set free. Judging and condemning are two distinct actions, related but not identical. We are called to judge but not to condemn.
If Jesus does not want His people to judge other people's sin, He certainly did not take His own advice and set a good example. Where is the balance and what is our mandate: to judge or not to judge? In this article, we want to examine the Scripture humbly, carefully and diligently to determine what are the things and issues we are supposed to and expected to judge, and what are the things we are not to judge.
God Expects Us to Judge & It is a Christian Duty to Judge
In John 7:24, Jesus says: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." What is to be deduced from this scripture is that we may judge, but when we do so we must judge righteously. God does not forbid us to judge, but He sets up conditions for us to make judgements. Jesus' major concern is that people do not make snap or undue judgments that are not based on true facts and information.
If we cannot verify the truth about an accusation, we should withhold judgment. The primary stipulation given for Christians regarding judging is that we are not to proclaim our own judgements (based on our opinions) but to pronounce the judgements of God (based on truth).
Righteous judgment is carried out using the standard of God’s Word as the divine plumb line by which to discern what is right or wrong. As believers, we are called to make moral judgments and to instruct and admonish those who practice sin. In fact, the Church is directed to condemn and remove sin from among its ranks first and foremost. We must not divorce His love from His justice and holiness.
Things We Are Not Supposed to Judge
1) We should not judge things that are indifferent.
Romans14:1-13 deals with important principles that guide God’s people in dealing with matters of secondary importance in the faith. These are things that often cause conflict among believers, prompting Paul to say we are not “to dispute over doubtful things”. His point is that we are forbidden to judge others in things that are indifferent, that is, neither good nor bad. Should someone feel bound by conscience to do something that we would not do, we may not judge him to be wrong, as long as his actions are not clearly contrary to God's Word. Whether or not we eat, drink, or regard a day as holy, our choice must be motivated by faith and love for the Lord, and we must not condemn the actions of others in matters that are indifferent. “Let us not judge one another anymore but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way”. Christians can have good fellowship without agreeing on nonessentials.
Although the Son has made us free, we can only walk in this liberty to the degree that we have faith in God. For that reason, we are told to be “fully persuaded in our own minds” because “whatever is not done in faith is sin.” (Rom.14:5, 23)
If someone—whom the Scripture describes as having weaker faith—chooses to adhere to such ordinances, they are doing so unto the Lord. It could be about a Jew eating non-kosher food or working on Saturday (as some Jewish Christians still look on the Sabbath as a day of obligation, or one with a weak conscience who has qualms eating pork, shrimp, cow, etc. To judge them is to place a stumbling block before them, because we are attempting to get them to commit what in their minds is sin. Those who make judgements in these areas are in fact mistaking matters of faith for matters of doctrine.
Likewise, those who are walking in the liberty of Christ should not be judged by those who choose to adhere to such ordinances as stated in 1Corinthians 10:29-30: "Conscience, I say, not my own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I gave thanks?”
We must be able to give each one a freedom of choice to decide what is right and wrong in their own lives and to live in the light that they have received and respect one another’s choices. However, we should be clear that such a principle applies only to matters that are morally neutral. When it comes to fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, there is no room for individual opinions.
2) We are not to judge others or even our own fruitfulness in the Lord.
A major requirement in stewardship is to be faithful. However, faithfulness in the ministry, unlike success in the world, is a difficult thing to evaluate. In view of this, we should be extremely careful in our appraisal of Christian service. We tend to exalt the spectacular and sensational, and depreciate the menial and inconspicuous. For that reason, Paul exhorts us not to judge out of season, especially in regards to fruitfulness or success in the ministry: “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you…In fact, I do not even judge myself…he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1Cor.4:2-5)
Reputation and esteem among men is a good measurement for our success and effectiveness in the ministry. However, one who is truly faithful to Christ must learn to disregard and despise the censure of men. Even the best of men are quick to judge rashly, harshly, and unjustly. Like Paul, we must learn to look upon the judgement of men as a very little thing (if his Lord approves him). People may think very meanly or very hardly of us as we serve the Lord but it is not by their judgment that we must stand or fall. To think that way may cause us to fear man more than God.
It is not even judging well of ourselves that is going to make us happy. Thus, as faithful servants, we should well be patient under unjust censures when we know such a day as this is coming, especially when we have our consciences testifying to our integrity.
Things we are Supposed to Judge
1) Judge Doctrine
We are mandated to judge doctrine. However, judging of doctrine is often taken to mean one of two extremes. Many refuse to judge anything for fear of being called divisive, while others cause senseless disputes by making everything a matter of doctrine, judging others in legalistic areas that are not significantly related nor relevant to salvation.
Romans 16:17 makes it clear what constitutes a division and how to treat those who cause them: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them." First, this Scripture does not say to simply mark those who cause divisions or offenses, but instead to mark those who cause divisions or offenses by espousing doctrine that is contrary to Scripture. This is an important distinction because it implies that there are divisions or offenses that are not contrary to Scripture.
In fact, Scripture itself can be a division or offense. Both the written and the incarnate Word of God are referred to as a rock of offense (Rom. 9:33; I Pet.2:7-8). Every Christian needs to settle in their minds that the Word of God will be considered divisive and offensive by those who rebel against God. If we have determined that we will not "judge" so as to avoid these accusations, then we have essentially chosen not to be a witness for Christ.
Why is judging doctrine so important? Because not all doctrines are sound! In fact, we are told specifically that devils also have doctrines: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons” (I Tim. 4:1). These doctrines can jeopardize our faith and we are exhorted not to have any fellowship with those who teach them: "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God…if anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him” (2Jn.9-11)
1Timothy 4:16 also states that it is not only important to take heed of Christ’s doctrine but to continue in it: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you”.
This is also what the Apostle Paul was addressing in Galatians 1:6-7: "I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." We are further warned that in the last days these doctrines of devils will be more prevalent and persuasive than ever, even to the point of deceiving the elect of God—if it were possible to do so. (Matt. 24:24)
2) Judge Immorality
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul reprimanded the Corinthian Church for not judging the brother who lives in sin. Apparently, it had become widely “reported that there is sexual immorality among you and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles – that a man has his father’s wife”. That means a member of Church in Corinth had committed a very extreme form of sexual sin; he had illicit intercourse with his stepmother.
Instead of deep mourning and taking disciplinary action against the man, they were proud and haughty: “you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you…” Perhaps there were proud of their “grace” towards their sinning brother.
In contrast to their indifference, Apostle Paul states that even though he was absent, he had “already judged… in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… with the power (or authority) of our Lord Jesus Christ”. His mandate was to “to deliver such a one to Satan.” Many commenters understand this disciplinary action as the act of ex-communication from the local Church, as outside the Church is the sphere of Satan’s dominion (1Jn.5:19).
It is vitally important for the Church to exercise righteousness and godly judgment to retain and maintain the holy character of the Church so that the Holy Spirit may work ungrieved in the midst.
In 1Cor.5:9-13, Paul further goes on to urge them to exercise judgement on any Christian among them who practices wickedness and “not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person”.
We are not responsible for the judgement of the unsaved. Wicked men in the world will be bought to judgement by the Lord Himself in the coming day. But we do have a responsibility as far as judging “those who are inside” the Church.
We are not supposed to tolerate impenitent sinners without exposing them. We must judge sin to be sin and separate ourselves from them who refuse to repent: “put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1Cor.5:13).
3) Judge domestic issues
Frustrated, he rebukes and demands that the Church should exercise judgement on domestic matters pertaining to personal dispute and settle it within the body of Christ rather than bringing it before the law to be judge by the unbelievers.
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteousness, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judge by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life.”
Paul asked this question to move them to “shame” and to show them that they were entirely wrong in not exercising judgement when they needed to: “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you…”
4) Judge our own lives
Failure to exercise self-judgment had resulted in God’s disciplined judgment upon some in the Church of Corinth. In 1Cor.11:27-31, Paul teaches that as we come to the Lord’s Supper, we should do so in an attitude of reverence.
“Let a man who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eat and drink judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason, many are weak and sick among you and many asleep. For if we judge ourselves, we would not be judged” 1Cor.11:28-31
In other words, physical illness had come upon some, and some were even taken home to heaven prematurely because they did not judge sin in their lives. We should realize that the Lord’s body was given in order that our sins might be put away. If we live a sinful lifestyle while at the same time partaking of the Lord’s Supper without a repentant heart, we are taking his sacrifice very lightly, “not discerning His body”.
The author of Hebrews gives us a further warning of people who regard their salvation carelessly for they may face a real danger of falling into apostasy, as they have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them (Heb. 10:29) and have become enemies of God with raging fire awaiting them (Heb. 10:27).
“Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. Anyone who refused to obey the Law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or more witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people (Heb.10: 26-29).
Apostasy is not the same as spiritual backsliding. Backsliding is where a Christian falls into sin (and continues for a while there) due to a momentary weakness in the flesh. A true believer may at times wander away from the Lord, get trapped in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, stop attending Church or Christian fellowship and even reach the point where he is no longer recognized as a Christian, but should he repent, God’s forgiveness is never too far to reach him and he can be restored to fellowship again. That means that anyone who fears that they have fallen so far from Christ that there could be no hope of restoration and redemption for them, is not an apostate. An apostate is one who is devoid of such godly fear, for his heart is so hardened that he actually brought himself to renounce Christ and walk in unrighteousness.
Apostates are people who choose to live sinful lifestyles. They willfully disobey the commandments of God; disregard the work of Christ and His sacrificial blood shed for them. They know the truth, yet choose to rebel against it – sinning with their eyes wide open. It is a deliberate hardening of their hearts towards a loving and merciful God, who is slow in anger and abounding in mercy. In so doing, they not only insult the mercy of God but they have also deprived themselves of any atonement for their sins. In fact, the Bible says that even the sacrifice of Christ will not deliver them from their guilt because they have rejected Him as a sacrifice and shut the door of repentance behind them. Therefore, nothing awaits them except the wrath of God that comes with His judgment.
For that reason, the Apostle Paul said: “if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (I Cor.11:31-32) If you are a true Christian, then we are God's child. If we refuse to judge and improve ourselves as a child of God, then God will take it upon Himself to judge us. Many of the troubles that we face in life are nothing more than God's way of judging us since we often neglect to judge ourselves. Not only does judging one's self keep us in a place of being sanctified by God, it is only then that we are made fit for the Master's use. "If a man therefore purges himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." (2 Tim 2:21)
5) J 5) Judge False Christs, Teachers & Prophets
Many are deceived to think that to judge another person is unloving and against Scripture. However, throughout Scripture, God continually warns about the presence of false prophets, false teachers and false apostles in the world. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (I John 4:1). The end times, we are told, will be specifically marked by a great apostasy as people are drawn away after false gospels. If we do not exercise judgment, how then can we sift out the false prophets in our midst? In Revelation 2:2, God commends them for their good judgment: “you have tested those who say they are apostle and are not, and have found them liars”. It is impossible to find someone a "liar" without judging them!
Even more disarming, Scripture also tells us that these deceivers will be mixed in with the church itself. "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
God is telling us that there are ministers of Satan in the church who are actually transformed so that they appear as ministers of righteousness! We are even told that some of these false ministers will have Satanic power to perform supernatural signs, wonders, healings, and other miraculous events (Matt. 24:24; Mk.13:22; 2Thess. 2:9). As a result, God commands us to judge whether they in fact are members of the Body of Christ by discerning the signs, testing the spirits, examining the fruit and thus be purged of them!
As Christians, we are grafted into part of a spiritual family of brothers and sisters, with whom we can fellowship, learn, share, and grow in the faith. We have been birthed into a body of believers who can encourage, strengthen, support, and yes even admonish each other when necessary. "And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." (Rom. 15:14). (To admonish means "to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner.")
We are also specifically told to admonish and rebuke those brethren who may be in error "But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man does not obey our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (2 Thess. 3:13-15)
The Bible even shows that it is sometimes necessary to specifically name those who are erring in the faith in order to protect others whom they may influence. "But shun profane and idle babblings: for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who has strayed concerning the truth…” (2Tim. 2:16-18)
When a brother or sister is in error, it is an extension of God's grace and mercy to have another member of the Body provide correction. This gives the one in error an opportunity to repent and it serves as a witness for others in the faith. Letting a brother or sister continue in error is the most unloving and self-righteous act, because it allows them to continue in something that may result in them falling away from the Lord. Our fellowship with each other is but one of the ways in which God helps to steer us in the right direction when we go astray.
According to the Bible, the act of judging righteously is a benefit to the individual Christian and to the body of believers as a whole. Judging protects us from heretical doctrine that jeopardizes our faith.
Some passages of Scripture seem to forbid judging, while others clearly require it. Studying the contexts of those that seem to forbid judging, we find that what is forbidden is not actually judging itself, but a wrong kind of judging. God hates hypocritical judging! But God loves righteous judgment. He commands it, and has given us His standard in the Word by which to do it. It is, therefore, the Christian's duty to judge. To fail to judge sin is to condone sin.
Our prayer for the reader is the same as that of Paul for the Philippians: "this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ…” (Phil.1:90). Yes, may we be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt.10:16), discerning, yet full of grace and truth that we shall be instruments unto His glory and praise. Amen!