What did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, lest be judged?”
Should Christians judge people?
Yes and no.
It’s one of the most misused, misquoted, misunderstood verses in the Bible.
When someone wants to justify their life choices to you, they pull out their trump card, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”
Then they drop the mic…
…expecting you to immediately embrace the fact that they want to get divorced, have an affair, be a man, be a woman, be a goat, marry a goat, sell goats…whatever.
If you’ve spent any time studying that Bible verse, you know that when Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” he wasn’t saying that we can’t evaluate whether someone’s choices are wrong.
Jesus did that himself on a regular basis (see: Jesus flinging tables in the temple).
The Meaning Of Judge Not?
So what did Jesus mean in that particular Bible verse?
My problem is that I often forget about the REST of the verses that follow the command to judge not. While the verse itself may not be a ban on judgment, it is directed squarely at me…
…and I find myself disobeying it on a regular basis (gulp).
The verse is a solemn warning about a particular type of judgment – one I fall into constantly.
Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged Blind
Jesus immediately goes on to say:
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. (Matthew 7:1-2)
Notice the reason Jesus warns against judgment.
The danger in passing judgment on others is that we’ll have our own standard come back to haunt us, like the spirit of judgments past.
When I condemn someone’s behavior, whether it’s blatantly sinful or just different than my own, I almost NEVER use the proper standard of judgment.
I pass judgment according to my own strengths and opinions.
For example, take the issue of gluttony. Because of my DNA, gluttony has never been a huge issue for me. Plus, I don’t gravitate toward things like stress eating (I cope in other sinful ways).
When I see someone who struggles with overeating, I project myself onto them. I immediately assume that they are sinning, they lack self-control, and that all they need is a bit more discipline.
This is complete sinful nonsense and a profound lack of love.
I’m trying to remove the speck from my brother’s eye while I have a big log hanging out of my own eye.
When God evaluates that person, he takes into account everything about that person:
- sinful tendencies
- family history
- current struggles
- and a thousand other factors in their life
God’s judgment is perfectly just, my judgment is terribly skewed. Without omniscience, all my judgments are going to be off kilter.
For all I know, the person who struggles with gluttony may not actually be sinning in gluttony. They may not overeat at all, but because of their unique body makeup, can’t lose weight. Or, they may have been neglected as a child and use food as a coping mechanism. I’ve never experienced anything like this.
To be clear, I’m not saying that sin is relative. Sin is sin, no matter what the circumstances. But when God judges a person, his judgment flows out of his omniscience. That’s why it’s perfect.
When I pass judgment on a person, I’m doing so based on really, really, really limited knowledge. So often I’m blind.
Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged and Held Accountable
It’s a terrifying thing to think of God judging me based on the way I judge others.
So often, my judgment lacks mercy. It lacks compassion. And it lacks knowledge.
Do I want to be judged by God and others with the same standard? No! That would be crushing.
This is why Jesus warns about the dangers of judging others. If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up being judged by own crushing standards.
We can and should call out sin. We should stand for righteousness and godliness. We should defend the weak and vulnerable.
But there’s a massive difference between judging arrogantly and judging with humility.
Arrogant judgment says, “What a despicable, vile, weak person.”
Arrogant judgment says, “I would never do something like that.”
Humble judgment says, “Though I may not struggle like they do, I sin against Jesus in 10,000 other ways.”
Arrogant judgment says, “I’m better than them.”
Humble judgment says, “We both need Christ.”
Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” as a gracious warning. If I start playing judge, jury, and executioner to people,
I’m going to find myself on the business end of my own standard. That’s a frightening prospect.
So How Should Christians Judge Others?
It seems to me that there is a middle ground between Westboro Baptist judgment and Unitarian “we are the world” acceptance.
That middle ground is compassionate judgment. Judgement tempered by the love of Jesus.
When I see someone sinning, I can acknowledge that it’s sin in need of Jesus, but I can also say, “Tell me more.”
I can acknowledge that the sin contradicts the Bible while also working to study the person to understand them more.
I can work to understand all that’s going into their behavior. How much of it flows out past experiences? What did they see modeled in their parents? What have they been taught by others? Sin never comes out of nowhere.
Compassionate judgment seeks to stay faithful to the Bible and also love the person who struggles. It strives to identify the speck in someone else’s eye while simultaneously trying to rip the log out of my own.
Jesus didn’t say, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” in order to make us meek and mild people who celebrate everything and everything. Jesus said it so that we would be slow to judge and so that our judgment would be tempered by mercy.
I love how Rosaria Butterfield says it: