“Thou shall not judge…” -One of the most misinterpreted verses in the Bible

Anyone that gets into much conversation about Christianity or the Bible would probably agree that one of the most commonly quoted verses in Scripture is Matthew 7:1. It goes as follows:“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”What does it mean to “judge?” Is Jesus forbidding all kinds of judging? Is he implying that nowadays it is wrong to make a judgment about who would be the best president, and then vote?? Isn’t any decision we make a “judgment” on our part?

 

The Problem

According to common understanding of this verse, we aren’t to judge people at all. In other words, if my roommate points out a sin in my life to keep me accountable and help me continue to mold my life into the likeness of Christ’s, he would be sinning….because he would be disobeying Scripture.

This cannot be a correct understanding of Matthew 7:1, for only 15 verses later in this chapter Jesus says that we will we recognize false prophets by their fruits! In other words, we look at their lives and actions (fruits) to figure out (judge) whether or not they are false prophets! Also, in context with the rest of Scripture, to not judge ever (by this understanding) is folly. Look at the following verses:

“The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.” Psalm 37:30
Paul said in I Corinthians 1:10 to “. . . be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Why would Paul make such a statement if judging is wrong?

In I Corinthians 2:15 Paul says, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” There are many more that I could list, but these are enough to conclude that the most common understanding of Matthew 7:1, in context with the ENTIRE Bible (as well as just in context with this ONE chapter), is not accurate. Jesus does not want us to avoid pointing out sin in other believers’ lives.

Consider verses 3 through 5 of that same chapter: “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? 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.”

Once again, Jesus by no means forbids taking the speck out of a brother’s eye. He instead says to make sure to check yourself before you do so! If you are struggling with something that would impair your judgment or perhaps impair your ability to judge in love, then correct yourself! The point is not to forbid going to a brother, but to forbid going with an arrogant attitude, or go to correct him when you yourself would not be willing to be corrected.

 

The Answer

So in Matthew 7:1, Jesus is not condemning all judging, but instead a particular type of judging. To quote a short explanation of this verse by R.C. Sproul:

“Jesus prohibits one kind of judging, but approves a different kind. Condemning others for their faults is failure to exercise forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15); only a gentle and humble criticism that first recognizes one’s own greater faults can help. There is also a necessary, discerning kind of judgment that does not condemn but distinguishes unbelief from belief (v. 6). The method of discernment is given in v. 16.”

I cannot tell you how much I value (perhaps not immediately) being corrected on something I’m doing wrong. 1st of all, I may not have known about it. Someone pointing it out makes me aware of it! 2nd of all, if I WAS aware of it, that person correcting me is someone who can pray for me and also offer advice for how to come out of it! 3rd of all, whether I want it or not, correction and rebuking is a something that is NEEDED for a growing, healthy and consistent walk with Christ.

 

There are three summary points I want to make to conclude:

1). As believers, it is immensely important to be able to confront, correct, and rebuke other believers.

2). As believers, it is immensely important to be able to be confronted, corrected, and rebuked by other believers.

3). As believers, it is immensely important to be able to both correct and BE corrected with an attitude of love. Gentleness is immensely important most of the time, but some of the most important times that I’ve been corrected were made with a very forward attitude, especially after I had already presented prideful opposition to the thought of accepting any sort of criticism.

 

One last note before I conclude is this: There are times when complete and thorough honesty with someone about what they’re doing wrong is NOT appropriate. Each Christian goes through his or her own struggles and changes at different times. For my past college minister and mentor to have bluntly told me my freshmen year every little thing that I needed to work on would have been much for destructive than constructive. So, obviously, there is biblical and prayerful discernment needed to determine what might be most constructive and when. On the other side of this, sometimes a person will not take what you say to them well. This does not necessarily mean that you were wrong in saying what you said. Sometimes people won’t like what you have to say. I myself have many times gotten upset with people who corrected me, and even blamed them for being too forward, when in fact they were not.

LOVE should be the motivation for all of this! In fact, if I love my brother, I WILL be honest with him! Just as my brother, if he LOVES me, should be honest with me! Do we care about our brothers and sisters enough to be honest?

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Love the post Ryan. Thanks for clearing this up for me. I’m always accused of being judgmental when I try and rebuke my friends, so I thought, “You know, you’re right, I’m not supposed to judge you, so I won’t,” when in fact I probably was just too harsh on them about it, or came on with an air of arrogance, or just can’t handle the criticism yet. It’s a delicate balance to know where everyone is in their ability to accept criticism, how gentle or how forward to be, and most importantly to assure that you can comfortably be on the receiving end of a discerning eye as well. I hope to see you soon. Are we going to do newlywed bible study?

    1. Ryan Gilbert says:

      Thanks for the comment Kyle. Unfortunately I really don’t think Lauryn and I are going to be able to. This is primarily due to my 3 part time jobs, one of which is a youth ministry. We’re trying to keep our limited time alone together as sacred as we can as far as not taking on any more scheduled events!!! Thanks for the invite though man.

  2. Thank you Ryan. I’ve been praying about this exact subject for a few weeks now due to a strain on my relationship with someone. I even thought about asking you opinion a few times. I didn’t think God would answer my prayers through the internet, but the Lord works in mysterious ways I guess.

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