Hey You Christians: “Judge not”!

Landon ChapmanChristianity32 Comments

(This is the first part of my two part series on judging and discernment.  Click here to read part 2 entitled, “Wolves Are On the Prowl and the Sheep’s Clothes Are Missing…)

I recently read a story of woman standing on a street corner holding a sign extolling the virtues of traditional marriage that read, “Thank your mom today for not being gay.”  While, as a devout Christian, I do not feel as though this method of evangelism is all that effective, the woman was peacefully standing with a sign, nothing more.

Throughout the day, a number of people voiced their opinions both in the positive and the negative positions (including a “tolerant” teenage girl throwing a red slushy in the woman’s face).  Inevitably, at some point during the day, a man stood next to the woman holding a sign that read, “Thank your mom if you’re not a bigot! ‘Judge not…’

And there it is, the old “Judge not” routine (nevermind the fact that he’s actually judging the woman by calling her a bigot…).  Regardless of the issue at hand, Christians are often chastised for “judging” others when attempting to uphold the Truth of the Bible, even by other Christians; more examples of this are found here, here, here, here, and here.

So, why are Christians so often told by secularists to “judge not”?  The issue comes down to having a “judgmental” attitude versus simply making a right judgment based on scripture.  We are called by God to judge according to his Word, not our own feeble rules.  God’s people are to exercise fairness and impartiality when called upon to exercise judgment in legal or church matters, and are commended for exercising a discerning attitude on issues of Biblical Truth.

In this article, I’ll begin by defining the word “judge” before moving into what the Bible has to say about judgment in a legal application.  I’ll then address the Bible verses that are often contextually twisted to condemn Christians for judging, lay out what the Bible actually has to say about judging, then illustrate the difference between making a right judgment and being judgmental (having a critical spirit).  Finally, I’ll briefly touch upon Biblical discernment and next week’s article will address that concept in-depth.  Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Before diving into scripture, let’s define the word “judge” from a worldly perspective and a biblical perspective.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to judge is to “to form an opinion about (something or someone) after careful thought”.  According to the LOGOS Bible Sense Lexicon, the word “judge” is a verb which means, “to form and often express a negative, critical opinion of something” and its relationship in the Bible traces from “to think (reason) –> to evaluate –> judge”.  So the biblical meaning of the word “judge” is to think, evaluate, then make a right judgment.

I’d like to begin with the less controversial aspect of judgment in the Bible which is that of a legal nature.  Considering that most, if not all, civilized countries have some sort of judicial system in place it’s no surprise that this was a biblical mandate from very early on.  In fact, the speech of Moses to Israel in the plains of Moab at the end of the 40-year wilderness period and immediately preceding the conquest under Joshua is recorded in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 saying, “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  The book of Deuteronomy emphasizes that its laws, including this one, are not a new law but rather the preaching of the original law given to Israel at Sinai.  This scripture deals with the responsibilities of the officials who were to maintain pure worship within the Land and to administer justice impartially.

The bottom line is that justice derives from the Character of God and our legal judges should not be partial in judgment.

In fact, Deuteronomy 10:17 makes it clear that impartiality is a prerequisite for good judgment as well as a characteristic of God himself.  (See also Ex 23:6-7, Le 19:15, Dt 1:16-17, Pr 24:23, and Eze 18:5-8)  Therefore, it makes sense that judges are appointed by God.  Nowhere in the Bible is this greater exemplified than in the story of Solomon’s wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

So, it’s easy to see that God had a lot to say about legal judgment and righteousness.  With that biblical Truth established, let’s have a look at what the Bible has to say about judging others in a non-legal environment.

For those who are not familiar with the Bible, the phrase mentioned in the title of this piece and in the story with which I began stems from what Jesus said in the book of Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  That seems pretty cut and dry doesn’t it?  Jesus went on to say in verses 2-4, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and  with the measure you use it will be measured to you.    Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but  do not notice the log that is in your own eye?    Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”

It’s easy to see why secularists and even some Christians use these verses to rebuke those who make judgments according to the Bible.  In fact, as postmodernism in the church continues to swell, Bible-defending Christians are going to continue to be beaten over the head with these first four verses of Matthew 7.  It sure feels like a losing battle, doesn’t it?

I’d like to direct you back to an article I posted a couple of weeks ago entitled, “Where Do I Begin?!  How to Effectively Study the Bible” to remind you of Chris Rosebrough‘s three principles for sound Biblical exegesis which are “context, context, and context”.  As I mentioned in that article, “… always be sure to read at least four verses before and four verses after the verse you’re studying.  This tactic is especially helpful when testing a Pastor’s scriptural references in a sermon to ensure they are treating the text properly and not removing the verse from its context in order to further the point they’re wanting to make.”  Or, in this case, when testing a secularist’s or fellow Christian’s use of Matthew 7 to condemn your rightful judgment.

Let’s do just that.  The two verses that those folks abstain from mentioning provide context to what Jesus was saying in such a way that completely undermines their admonishment of the Christian attempting to judge or discern Truth from error.  Matthew 7:5-6 reads, “(5) You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  (6) Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”  Jesus isn’t telling us not to judge, He’s telling us how to judge!

Jesus in verse 5 completely debunks the entire spirit in which critics cite Matthew 7.  The ESV Study Bible says it best that, “Jesus does not forbid all evaluation or even judgment of others, for ultimately the one who feels grieved and humbled over his own sin can help remove the “speck” from others. What Jesus does rule out is pride that views oneself as better than others (Gal 6:1).”  Dr. MacArthur astutely adds, “As the context reveals, “judge not” does not prohibit all types of judging (v. 16). There is a righteous kind of judgment we are supposed to exercise with careful discernment (John 7:24). Censorious, hypocritical, self-righteous, or other kinds of unfair judgments are forbidden; but in order to fulfill the commandments that follow, it is necessary to discern dogs and swine (v. 6) from one’s own brethren (vv. 3–5).

Believers are to be loving, merciful, forgiving, and slow to judge, but at the same time we are called to wisely discern a person’s true character.  In verse 6 Jesus specifically tells us that to continue to proclaim the Gospel to folks who doggedly reject it is folly as it does not allow us to move on and proclaim the Good News to others who need to hear it.  We need to do this out of respect and reverence for what is holy, not simply to be contemptuous.  Further, verse 6 is not in conflict with the principle addressed in Matthew 5:24.  As Dr. MacArthur states, “That verse governs personal dealings with one’s enemies; this principle governs how one handles the Gospel in the face of those who hate the Truth.

So you see, we are called by God to judge but we are not to have a spirit of carping criticism and constantly seeking fault in others.  Eugene Hessel once said that a legend is told of how Moses once heard a shepherd praying, “O God, show me where you are that I may become your servant. I will clean your shoes, and comb your hair, and sew your clothes, and bring you food.” Moses rebuked him with the words: “God is Spirit and needs not such ministrations.” Thereupon the shepherd rent his clothes in dismay and fled to the desert. Then Moses was rebuked by God, saying: “You have driven away my servant!  I regard not the words that are spoken but the heart that offers them.

The issue here is that Moses had a critical spirit.  He was looking for fault in others rather than simply discerning truth from error.  Judgment is tricky, but fear of “getting it wrong” should not keep us quiet in the midst of misdeeds and misconduct.  Instead, we must speak up—let’s just be sure that we first pray and examine our thoughts in light of the Bible.

I must admit, I have not always been so merciful and loving in judgment.  As I’ve grown in my walk with the Lord in recent years, I’ve taken a keen interest in defending the hope that is in me as directed in 1 Peter 3:15-16 especially in light of the attacks on the Christian faith both outside and inside the church.  However, we are specifically instructed to speak the Truth in love and it was that which I was severely lacking.

As I mentioned previously, however, we cannot fear getting it wrong.

I’ve been thumped on the head more times than I can count and I have plenty of bruises (and apologies) to show for putting myself out there to proclaim God’s Truth and make right judgments for Him.  But through those trials and missteps, I learned how to be merciful, forgiving, loving, and slow to judge in order to be an effective witness for Christ and not compromise His message.  Like Moses, I had to rid myself of a critical spirit such that I could spread the Gospel in a way that was pleasing to Him.  I am still learning this tact, but the more one puts themselves out there on the battlefield, the more battle tested one becomes.

So how should a Christian respond to the man who held up the “Judge not” sign that I mentioned at the beginning of the article?  The woman who was the traditional marriage advocate simply ignored him, which is much better than sparking an argument with him.  However, I think that woman missed out on a golden opportunity to evangelize to that man.  If you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, engage the man in evangelism and share the Gospel with him.  You might be surprised how receptive a person is to listening when they are engaged in a civil manner.  If you are unsure how to evangelize, please have a look at the Living Waters website and YouTube channel for great examples of how to preach the Gospel using God’s law.

That brings me to my final topic in this article, Biblical discernment.  In my opinion, this idea differs from “judging” ever so slightly in that I see it as more aptly applied to those preaching the Word (pastors or otherwise) and testing what they’re saying in the name of God to the Word of God.  We must be a discerning people in order to prevent “wolves” from leading our flock astray.  Even a small twisting of scripture can have devastating effects to the souls of those listening.  The problem is that all too often, myself included, we tend to gleefully lap up everything the comes from the pulpit, or radio, or television in the name of Christ.  We ought not so readily accept the accuracy of those providing these teachings.  Richard Hooker once said, “Men will not bend their wits to examine whether things to which they have been accustomed be good or evil.”  In many of today’s churches, this could not be more true.

Next week, I will lay out how we are to apply Biblical discernment to those claiming to preach the Word of God and what to do if we come across someone preaching erroneously.

Landon Chapman

Landon Chapman

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Founder of Entreating Favor, writer, and host of the Fire Away! podcast. He is an architect by vocation and professes the Bible to be the infallible, inerrant, Word of God. He and his wife Holly have two children.

32 Comments on “Hey You Christians: “Judge not”!”

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    1. Always judge everything – just make sure that it is, according to the Lord’s words “righteous judgment”.

  2. While you are judging me for judging other people I will point out that Jesus stated what he is who is without sin cast the first stone while writing in the sand. The traditional interpretation of this verse is that the people who were going to Stone her were actually her clients who had been having an affair with her for using her services as a prostitute and we’re doing so to cover up their sin.

    Since I am a expecting to be judged I will be more than happy to be judged by the same standards I use to judge others.

    1. Landon Chapman

      Thanks for your thoughts Peter. Forgive my ignorance, but I couldn’t quite tell which position you are advocating. Do you agree the Bible calls is to judge rightly or do you believe we are not to judge, ever?

    2. I take a “tradtional interpretation” of this verse and it in no way incorporates the fanciful, unfounded notion that the scribes and the Pharisees were this woman’s clients – that is simply inordinate supposition. The Lord said “Judge righteous judgment” – that is the template for judgment.

  3. Its funny how people view Christians as being ” perfect “. Why do you think we go to church and try to follow what Jesus said we should do? How we should act? How we should treat others? We are not perfect we are just like you. The only difference is …. we are trying to be better human beings by following Christ and his commandments. When we fall short we believe in Jesus and that he was the ultimate sacrifice to forgive us of our short comings when this world ends. You should read the bible before condemning it. Its ultimately the sin of us as humans that non Christians see. No where in the new testament does it tell US to judge people. But, it does say that God WILL judge each of us on that day.

    1. Landon Chapman

      Hi Rob thanks for your comments. Just a couple quick responses for you… I agree that people accuse us churchgoers of thinking we’re “perfect”. In my own experience, I have to be very careful not to give off that vibe, but I know that many will still hate us (John 15:18-20).

      You mentioned I should read the Bible before condemning it. That statement makes me wonder if you’ve actually had a chance to read the article. The title is not indicative of the content (I use the Bible extensively to make my points).

      Finally, as the article lays out Biblically, we are called to make right judgments of people. However, you’re right, only God can make eternal judgment (I also mention that in the article).

      Again, thanks for taking the time to respond, I very much appreciate it. When you have a moment, take another look at what I wrote and I think you’ll like what you see.

      All the best.

  4. No there is only on judge. Hopefully people will wake up and realize that it’s not about people judging you here on earth. It’s the lord all mighty that will judge us for our sins.

    1. Landon Chapman

      You’re right, only One will judge us eternally. However, that same God calls us to make right judgments of people and teachings here in this world (as illustrated in the article).

  5. It’s difficult to tell the perspective of some of the comments above…believers will stand before the judgement seat of Christ (though not condemned, our acts will be tried). Non-believers will stand before the Great White Throne Judgement. No one denies that Christ is the absolute end-all to this subject(as far as believers are concerned). That does not mean we’re supposed to sit on our hands, because, after all, we’re not God…”live and let live,” right? No Christian worth his salt would support this secular view. Yet, that doesn’t make us above anyone…I’m guilty of many of the faults I see in others…it’s not wrong that I call that fault out in others, so long as I heed it myself; and we should do both: call it out on others, and heed it ourself.

  6. You caught me. I judged by the picture and caption. What a lesson I was just taught. I’m so used to trying to defend my faith that I assumed. Ha ha. I’m in the early stage of taking my walk with God seriously, this time. I’ve always believed in God from an early age but, I turned to the ways of the world for many years. I tried putting myself out there this time and happily I accept my thump on the head and continue to grow in my maturity with Christ. Thanks for responding to my comment with patience and caring. I appreciated that. I’ll be looking for your next post I really enjoyed your article.

    1. Landon Chapman

      Interesting thought, Paul. That said, the type of righteous judgment I mention in the article is a matter of brothers and sisters helping other brothers and sisters to stay on the path toward Christ. What good is it if the Church is full but they do not know Jesus?

      Further, we must trust in The Lord regarding the Church. Regardless how thin our soldiers may get, Jesus Christ founded the church and Jesus Christ protects his church (Matthew 16:18). The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Fear not brother, and fight for doctrinal Truth to be spoken each Sunday.

      And again, thanks for chiming in!

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  16. John 7:24 says “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with the righteous judgement”. I reference this verse only for the word “righteous” because I believe that is the most important thing to understand when we think of the right way to judge. If someone here doesn’t know, righteousness is living by God’s standards (very big topic). So when I think of judging someone I always think to myself “am I in a place right now where I can truly say I am living by God’s standards?”. If I have a log in my eye, if I’m not living righteously, I don’t feel like I should be judging someone. So right there I believe will take a lot of Christians out of the right way to be judging someone. Also, right after John 3:16 we find it written the Jesus was not here to judge the world. Reading that also makes me be cautious because I don’t want to ever put myself in a situation where I put judging someone in front of loving someone first. So, I want to say that I agree with almost all of your article. Only part I am not in total agreement about is “we cannot fear getting it wrong”. Now, I am VERY much aware of how we learn through our mistakes and trials but I believe that speaking the truth in love and judging are not the same thing (maybe I didn’t understand your view so if I didn’t then I am sorry). To me speaking truth to someone doesn’t have to deal with calling out the person’s wrong doing. If they are a Christ follower then the Holy spirit will convict them. If they are a non-christian then they can’t receive the conviction. So for me I struggle with where I can judge someone especially if I am not living righteously.

    1. Landon

      Appreciate your thoughts. I think the key is to avoid self-righteousness. If you can help a brother by pointing out his sin (non hypocritically and in the spirit of Matthew 18) then I think you’re inside scriptural guidelines to do so.

      That said, naturally we must make judgments based on fruit (or lacke thereof) exhibited in order to know whether we need to evangelize a lost person or to come alongside a brother.

      Great thoughts.

  17. Hi Landon – I agree with the thrust of what you set out – i.e., we must make righteous judgments – indeed, these are the Lord’s words (John 7:24). I don’t exactly agree with the “legend” as to Moses and the shepherd. It’s obviously made up to prove a point – and I cannot say that the point as it is fabricated bears the scrutiny of scripture. The way in which we approach others is, as you say, of all importance; however, if you, for example, point out to me some scriptural inerrancy in my Christian path here and I flee to the desert as a result, the fault is with me – not with you – I should, rather, be thankful for the admonition. Using this made-up story, should Moses have remained silent as to what would constitute gross spiritual unintelligence (see Ezekiel 33:1-9)?

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