Mat 7:1 KJV Judge not, that ye be not judged.
What a tough verse to ponder! It sounds simple, but if you’ll bear with me, you’ll see that there must be more to this verse than what appears plain from a simple reading. Out of context, and all by itself, this verse seems to be a command not to judge…but in context, and using legitimate rules of interpretation and sound logic, I’ll show that this verse commands something different, and nearly opposite of that! When I’m finished, we will understand why false converts, false teachers and nonbelievers everywhere are shouting this verse from the rooftops, and you’ll be ready to defend your faith when you are accused of not being Christlike, because you are “judging.”
I. What is Judging?
I looked up judge at www.m-w.com and www.dictionary.com. The best definition seemed to be: “to form an estimate or evaluation of” or “to hold an opinion”. I will ask you to please accept my working definition, “to qualify or evaluate the righteousness of someone, something or some act.” Or, “to determine whether something is right or wrong or neither.” This requires quantification and qualification, as well as a standard with which to compare the measure. I can also judge whether something is tall or short, long or narrow, but that is not the kind of judging that is being discussed here.
Thus, the act of judging is essentially two parts:
- Observing or quantifying – This is rarely looked down upon in our society. It is the second step which most people degrade or bring to a low esteem. You can notice several things via observation: the time of day, your spouse’s weight gain, a blemish on your friend’s skin or that someone’s behavior is homosexual, for example. These are observable “items,” if you will. They have quantifiable attributes, such as 8:30PM, 13 pounds, a red spot about 4 mm in diameter and a same sex relationship respectively. Notice no qualification has been made, only statements of fact or measurements.
- Qualifying – This is the part so many people have a problem with. But let’s look at what it is. Qualification is the act of comparing the measurement made in step one to a standard and rating the item which was observed. In the example above, 8:30PM, if compared with 8:00PM for a start time of a ballgame would mean, “you’re late!” Of course, if you are asking what time it is and you don’t need to be anywhere until 9, then 8:30PM might mean “early.” Thirteen pounds of weight gain could be a problem or it could be a success story! A red spot on your friend’s skin could be a pimple or it could be a warning to your friend to go to the doctor. Observing that someone engages in same sex relationships, (not just friends, you know what I mean), must be qualified based on some standard, if at all. So to say it is right or wrong is to ascribe to same sex relationships a rightness or wrongness. If homosexuality is inherently wrong, then homosexual relationships ought be “judged” as wrong. If homosexuality is right, then the opposite. Neutrality is also possible, and we’ll cover this.
So judging, in the context that we are discussing, is the two part act of observing some behavior, comparing that behavior to some standard, and ascribing the behavior a value of right, wrong or neither.
II. Is it possible not to judge? Is it judging to even determine that someone is judging in the first place?
What’s the real problem people have? Do people really think engaging in the act above ought not be done? How would anyone ever choose a restaurant, or a babysitter for their child? How would organizations choose which employees to hire, sports team choose which players to fire and universities which students to accept and reject, if not for passing judgment? Clearly, judgment is a necessary and good thing, when used properly. What “non-judging” advocate walks outside on a cold winter day with a swimsuit on? None, because they judged the weather to require warm clothing.
The very act of telling someone else they are judging is a simply an observation. But for the ‘non-judgment’ crowd to cry foul when they see judging is, itself, a judgment. So to qualify someone’s behavior as judgmental and therefore wrong, is a judgment! There’s a pot calling the kettle black, eh? True to Proverbs 26:5, it would be folly for someone to tell other’s not to judge, and then to judge, themselves. You may tell people all you like that they are judging, but to tell people judging is wrong and that they shouldn’t do it, or can’t do it? Well, that’s just hypocritical!
Ultimately, it is impossible not to judge. We survive by making good judgments; many die from bad ones. Men and women prosper financially, success in business and school and relationships thanks in part to good judgment. And we all know someone whose miserable situation is the result of their own bad judgment. We must judge; it is how we determine who we would vote for, who to follow as a mentor at work, who to start at quarterback or tackle and whether to discipline children or reward them!
III. The problem is really: “How do you decide which standard to use for comparison?” and “Why are you judging me?”
Folks, let’s face it, the real problem you have with judging is you don’t like the standards that some ‘judges’ use. I’m the same way. I think slow, overweight men who don’t like getting hit should be in the NFL. Not really, but, for example, I don’t qualify for the NFL…but only by their standards! If you used a different standard, one that put me in the ‘top half’, then I could play! But that’s not reality is it? The NFL’s standard is its own, and they have a right to it, and they’ll adjust it as they see fit based on the number of teams they have along with other factors.
Let’s look at a more personal type of judgment. Let’s say I am told I am overweight. I may be. And if you tell me I’m overweight, because according to the American Heart Association I exceed their standard and that you are concerned because you care about me, that will likely be taken differently from if you just walked up and patted my belly and said, “maybe its time to take the steps some more!” There’s two reasons for this: reason one is that appealing to a higher authority for your standard will very often be taken with a better attitude because often the person may agree with the standard, or at least they’ll respect the standard; reason two is what the object of the judgment deems to be your motivation for the judgment. If I believe you are judging me because you care about my health, I may be more apt to listen and heed your words of advice than if I just feel mocked or insulted.
Looking at the example above, it is clear that if the American Heart Association is WRONG, then I am not overweight! But how does that affect the idea of judging. Is my friend wrong, or unloving, because they appealed to that standard and pointed out to me how I compared to that standard? In this case, probably not. That is a reasonable standard. And frankly, if they really believed that organizations standards for health are good, for them to point them out to me is helpful and loving. I might disagree with their standard, or I guess I could argue that their measurement is inaccurate, but the truth is, all they did was point out to me factually that I weigh more than the AHA standard. As a matter of fact, my friend did little more than hold up a mirror to me and just allow me to see what they already saw.
My friend may be very wrong, of course. The standard they choose could be a wrong one! Like my NFL player standard I listed above was. But I think what we can see is that the actual act of observing is not inherently a wrong act, (and if it is we’d all be in trouble), and actually judging cannot be a wrong act. The standards we use with which to judge are the points on which so many of us differ. And in many cases, that is ok. I like crunchy peanut butter. So I judge peanut butter based on crunchiness…a creamy peanut butter lover will definitely rate the same jars of peanut butter different from me! That’s ok. But when we are talking about people’s health, people’s eternity and morality and its effect on society, our standards DO matter.
That’s why it is so important to appeal to a higher authority. As in the weight example above. Appealing to the AHA makes the judgment more legitimate. In the case of morality, when people appeal to their own ‘self’ for authority, that carries no weight with other people. If we all judge ourselves by our own standards, then we would all be ok all the time. Most people generally live up to their own standards (or they lower their standards). No, we must appeal to a greater authority. We don’t let people (usually) drive whatever speed they feel like, we set up limits, or standards, to follow, for safety and for the good of society. Every law “on the books” is an attempt by the lawmaker to impose his or her will and morality upon the people who are subject to the law. Don’t try to argue that my morality doesn’t apply to you; that very statement is folly, as you are applying your morality to me in making it.
IV. So then, what ought not be judged…who ought not judge? What was Jesus saying?
Alright, here is where I’ll lose some of you. The very name of Jesus Christ is so offensive to you, you won’t keep reading. Or you’ll roll your eyes and start skimming because you’ve already decided Jesus isn’t worthy of your consideration. That’s your right…but if you ever find yourself quoting the verse Matthew 7:1 to a Christian by whom you feel judged, then you ought to pay attention. It is not only unreasonable, but a logical fallacy for you to deny Christ but try to use His words as suppositions.
Let’s look at this verse in context. Jesus was presenting what was commonly known as “The Sermon on the Mount” when he uttered these words. He was nearing the end of a long sermon concerning sin, repentance, faith and conversion. His particular attack was on the self-righteous, religious people of the day, mostly pharisees. (Matthew 5:20) Jesus finished chapter 6 with an exhortation for the people to seek the kingdom of God, to be content with what God provides. Then he utters “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Immediately following this statement, he warns the hypocrites of the day that with the same judgment they are passing upon others, they “shall be judged.” From Jesus’ perspective, he is warning the evil doers of the day to stop worrying about what they see other people doing, and instead be more concerned with the sin in their own hearts. You don’t believe me? Keep reading Matthew 7:3-6. Christ’s famous words about the plank in your own eye! So many people have interpreted this to mean that we must not look at the sin of anyone else, but to always and only look at our own. But read Jesus’ words. He says (Mt 7:5 KJV) Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (emphasis my own). Note that the command is to get your own heart right with God first, be cleansed of your own sin, be ye holy, THEN you will be capable and spiritual enough to help your brother or friend! (see also, Gal 6:1).
In Mt 7:6, Jesus makes an even greater case for discernment and judgment when He tell us not to cast pearls to swine, or that which is holy to dogs!
Matthew 7:15-16, furthermore, warn us of false prophets…how will we know them? By their fruits. By judging their fruit to be evil! In fact, we are commanded to judge. But the standard by which we are to judge is NOT OUR OWN, (Mt 7:1), it is God’s standard, His Word, His Holy laws and statutes. And we are to judge NOT for the purpose of puffing ourselves up, or for comparison, but for the edification of our brethren. To help others. In order to be able to warn people! Like a loving wife or a good doctor would warn an unhealthy man who is eating poorly. Like a loving mother would warn her son to stop his bad behavior before he ends up arrested. Like a loving friend would warn another person who they see in danger.
V. What can I judge then?
So when a born again believer in Christ preaches repentance and faith, are they judging? Is this the wrong form of judging? Let’s first start by saying that its possible that a person is preaching out of self-righteousness and that they truly don’t care to help others. But let’s assume for this example that we are talking about someone who is truly trying to warn others that there is a wrathful God who will not be appeased by the works of the hands of men. That this God is righteously angry with sinners because the Bible declares it, and that there is a way, only one way to escape this wrath, and that is in Christ. What is really going on here?
Of course, people will err, but this is the goal toward we aim. If the person is a decent preacher or evangelist, with sound theology, the following ought to be true.
- The speaker will be aware that it is only by grace they themselves are saved, and that only God’s grace keeps them in good standing with God. (Eph 2:8-9) Humility is the natural result of this knowledge and self-righteousness should be discarded quickly by bible-believing Christians. Jesus spoke harsher to none other than the self-righteous. (Luke 3:7, Mt 12:34)
- The speaker will have a heart that loves the things that God loves…and consequently, hate the things God hates. The speaker will love mankind, and wish for others to be saved. (2 Peter 3:9) He or she will hate sin, (Proverbs 6:16-19, Psalm 7:11, Psalm 5:5), and will want to tell people of the terrible damage that sin causes.
- And finally, and probably the hardest part, a good evangelist will try to use God’s standards to measure or judge their fellow man’s behavior, in order to show that man the true nature of his heart, that he might repent of his sin. A good evangelist will call another’s behavior what it really is. We use words like lying, stealing, adultery, hatred and blasphemy. We don’t sugarcoat something. We point out the sin of sex outside marriage, and the fact that marriage is only defined as between a man and a woman. We don’t “judge” in the conventional sense. We observe behavior, then compare it to a standard set forth in the Bible. We then allow people to see their true status before God. Naked, helpless, spiritually poor, and headed for judgment. No, my good friend, I do not judge, but God does, and will (Acts 17:31, Heb 9:27). We warn of the judgment to come. Since the beginning, the righteous have been accused in this way, (Gen 19:7,9). And by righteous, we always mean, those who have been made righteous before God, by His grace, through faith in Christ alone.
By all reason, it is clear that it is not only impossible to stop judging altogether, but to even attempt to would be a grave error (in judgment LOL). The act of judging is as natural to humans as any other survival instinct, and we are commanded by God to be good judges. I’ve shown it to be logically fallacious for an “anti-judging person” to actually ascribe to the act of judging a value of “wrong” in that their own argument refutes itself, and is considered “absurd” by academic standards. And finally, it is clear that ultimately, it is not the act of judging that people really abhor…it is the standard that some of us choose to us by which to judge. No one is offended when they are judged “right,” it seems. It is when they are on the “wrong” side that they cry out against any judgment at all. Homosexuals, fornicators, abortionists, idolaters, blasphemers, liars and thieves…they will all be judged by God, whether they like it or believe it or not! (Rev 21:8) as Penn Gillette, a well known atheist comedian said, (paraphrase) “How much do you have to hate someone, if you believe in Heaven and Hell, not to tell them how to avoid Hell?”
So clearly, the most loving act anyone can do is share their beliefs, and share them with reason and logic. Hate my assumptions all you want, I already wrote a blog post about presuppositions! Deny my thesis, but don’t try to argue with the logic; that’s a fool’s graveyard, it’s sound. But at least stop using my Savior’s Words improperly, it’s called perversion and there’s a serious penalty for it as well. (Mt 12:36) Flee the wrath to come, by embracing the loving abundant grace of God, who sent Jesus to die for your sins, if you will change your mind about your sin and put your faith in Christ as your Savior, the only way.
VII. Epilogue – Determining a standard by which to judge your standard?
For those of you who like extra credit, here it is. How do you decide which standard to pick? I mean, seriously, why should I believe the American Heart Association…why not appeal to an even higher standard? Why should I take your word for anything? The point here is that we all need to appeal to an ultimate standard at some point. If you do not, you always leave yourself open to being wrong. I mean, if you appeal to something that you admit is not an absolute standard or authority, why should anyone believe it’s true? Do you see? It’s essential that there is an ultimate standard or authority. I use the Bible. The Bible works for this purpose because the Bible appeals to NO OTHER AUTHORITY. The Bible declares itself to be the ultimate authority. (2 Tim 3:16-17, Psalm 19:7-12, Psalm 119:103-105). Creation and experience confirm the Bible’s truths, but they do not prove it. The Bible proves itself like a hungry lion proves itself in a sheep pen. It needs no outside help. Deny it all you wish, but what is your standard of truth and righteousness? What is your measuring stick? It is something in you? Beware! (Jer 17:9-10). Is it your friend, or group of friends? What do you think Hitler’s standard was? Stalin’s? Horrifying things have been done by men who make their own standards for judging right and wrong. Only one from an ultimate authority can do. Only God can be that ultimate authority. And only One God is true. Either He is or He isn’t. I take it on faith that He is, and I hope you will too.