Many people today love to quote Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that you be not judged.”

I heard recently that it has become the most well known Bible verse surpassing even John 3:16. Unfortunately, it seems to be the most abused Bible verse as well! People are notorious for taking its meaning out of context.

Here's a story that will help illustrate the point. Imagine a couple walks into a pastor's office. The wife is in tears because she has just found out her husband has been cheating on her for a year. She has found love notes, text messages, hotel receipts, and has the testimony of friends and family who have seen them together. The husband has even admitted to his adultery and given the wife full disclosure. Now, they are in the pastor's office at the wife's request to try and salvage anything they have left. The husband is distant and aloof. The pastor begins to tell him that his behavior is wrong, that he has sinned against God and his wife. And the husband quickly interjects "pastor, don't judge me man, for Jesus said "Do not judge lest you be judged."

Is the pastor to respond, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that verse, never mind what I just said, have a nice day."

Of course not!

So you might ask, "then what did Jesus mean when He spoke these words?" The following is a brief and concise treatment of the subject of judging from a Biblical perspective. The following six things are what we are not to do when judging:

1) We are not to judge by a double standard or hypocritically (Matthew 7:1-5).

2) We are not to judge superficially or by mere appearances (John 7:24).

3) We are not to judge people’s motives (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

4) We are not to judge on non-essential matters or matters of taste or opinion (Romans 14).
(Example: Whether someone eats meat or not, or worships on Saturday or Sunday).

5) We are not to judge what people’s ultimate rewards will be (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Rewards will be determined when God tests each of our work.

6) We are not to judge people’s ultimate destiny or salvation (James 4:12, 1 Samuel 2:6). We may have a pretty good idea by looking at fruit (a person's Christian walk, works, character, etc.) who is or isn’t a genuine believer, but God is the Ultimate judge - not us.

Other than the above we are commanded to judge! See the following verses: (John 7:24; Acts 17:11; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 14:29; Galatians 4:16; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Titus 3:9-11; Hebrews 5:12-14, 13:4-6; Revelation 2:2).

All of these verses point to the necessity of making judgments.

Let’s face it. We all make judgments every day. Where we will go or won’t go, what we will or won’t watch or listen to. We are hopefully discerning about Bible teachers, schoolteachers, literature we read, contracts or documents we are asked to sign. How about advice or counsel we receive, people we choose to spend time with or not! We must make judgments about friends, those who befriend our children, business partners, etc. (see 1 Corinthians 15:33). What about who you will marry or won’t marry!! We could go on…Food we eat, clothes we wear, cars we drive, etc. etc.
There are several Greek words used in the New Testament for this concept of judging: krino, anakrino, diakrino, dokimazo, peirazo. However, they are all basically synonymous. They carry the idea of judging, testing, examining, discriminating, discerning, deciding, approving or weighing.

1 Thessalonians 5:21A is a key verse, it says “But examine everything carefully (NAS) - “Test all things” (NKJ) – “Test everything” (NIV). The verse goes on to say “hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21B).

You cannot do what 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says without judging between what is right and wrong, good and evil. The Bible is filled with examples of judging in both the Old and New Testaments. The standard is always objective. For example in the Old Testament the law was the standard. If a person broke one of those commandments: murder, adultery, dishonoring of parents or adultery the penalty was stiff.

In the New Testament Paul shares these words: "For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present" (1 Corinthians 5:3).

The Bible does not forbid judging it commands it! What the Bible forbids is judgmentalism (a critical spirit and attitude that judges everyone and everything with the intent to run others down).

Here is a good guideline: We are to tolerate people and love them unconditionally, but we are not to tolerate bad behavior or false ideas. The great evangelist D.L. Moody said, "Love will rebuke evil, but will not rejoice in it. Love will be impatient of sin, but patient with the sinner."

People are talking a lot today about tolerance. But it has been well said that “tolerance is the mark of a man or woman with no convictions!” Now, before we run off to judge, we need to balance this out by looking at how we are to judge. There are clear Biblical guidelines that address our life and attitude when it comes to judging.  

Once we understand the truth about judging and testing we need to know how to apply that truth. Are we to walk around now as the “judgment police?” No. We are to love people and encourage them. But how do we approach people who are sinning? What do we do when someone we love and care about is blowing it big time!? How do we approach these people? Should we tell their pastor, family or friends? These questions are dealt with directly in a key New Testament passage found in the Gospel of Matthew, These are the words of Jesus "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen {to you,} take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. "And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (18:15-17)[1]

1) Go to them privately (18:15A) (at least at first) this is intended to protect them & their reputation. Frankly, most people don’t do this first step.

2) Go to them in love (if your motivation is love then you will have the right spirit). Love will speak the truth, even if it is uncomfortable, because love’s motive it to protect and heal. (See Ephesians 4:15, Revelation 3:19, Hebrews 12:5-14).

Jesus said “if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (18:15B). The idea of the language is that you will have saved him from further harm. This shows that the motivation on the part of the one who approaches a sinning brother is to keep them from severe consequences because of their sin. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

3) Go to them in gentleness making sure your are right spiritually (Galatians 6:1-3).

In Galatians 6 Paul makes it clear that those who approach others to correct them, should themselves be walking with the Lord faithfully. “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

Note: Many people object to judging or correction by pointing out that the person approaching them used to do the same thing or is a sinner as well. Obviously none of us are perfect. We don’t have a perfect past or a perfect life now. But, if a person responds this way it is typically intended to deflect attention away from themselves and their sin. In other words, they may bring up your past to shield themselves from the light of truth.

If this happens, we can certainly acknowledge that they are right. We don’t have a perfect past and we are not perfect now, but that does not change the fact that what they are doing is wrong! If we are walking with the Lord and walking in the Spirit now we are “spiritual,” that qualifies us to go to someone in love and express our concern for them. Galatians 6:1-3 makes it clear that the goal is to restore, not condemn, to bear their burden and thus fulfill the law of Christ (which is love).

Finally, always remember that the goal of Matthew 18 is restoration and reconciliation. If you find that you need to approach someone pray for a right attitude (Phil. 2:1-10). Pray that the person you approach will be contrite and repentant and see their sin for what it is.

This article was written by Pastor Michael Lantz. Professor Craig Hawkins provided much of the content for section 1.

[1] This is not an exhaustive treatment on these verses we are focusing mostly on Matthew 18:15