What Does it Mean Not to “Judge” Others?

*Posted by Joe Wooddell

Definitions or meanings of words are important. Lets talk about definitions and meanings regarding the idea of judging others. We live in a culture (both within the Church and without) where judging others is often condemned, but seldom do advocates of non-judgmentalism tell us what, exactly, it means not to judge others. The Bible says not to judge, claim such advocates, but further explanation is usually not forthcoming. Without such explanation observers are left, well, to observe what such advocates might mean. Here is what I have observed to be their meaning: Dont make people uncomfortable about their looks, their beliefs, or their practices, and especially dont be mean. In other words be nice, dont make waves, and for goodness sake dont argue about anything!

I should begin by saying I prefer the word kind to nice. In fact, I detest the word nice. Nice seems sniveling, pathetic, wishy-washy, and uncertain. Kind strikes me as strong, loving, caring, and sure. Jesus wasnt nice, but He was kind. It is also certainly true that we should not be mean. That is, we shouldnt be jerks, punks, or unnecessarily confrontational. Jesus was never mean on this definition.

So what should we do? Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV) says, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Luke 6:37 is similar: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Does all this mean believers should never point out sin, inconsistency, hypocrisy, or falsehood in others? No, it cant possibly mean that. Heres why: In the Matthew passage, just three verses later, we are told to remove the speck from our brothers eye, and of course we cant do that unless we know theres a speck there. In fact, specks are rather small, and require a good deal of judgment or discretion both to identify and to remove. The Luke passage is nearly identical.

Another reason Matthew 7 and Luke 6 cannot mean we shouldnt point out sin, inconsistency, hypocrisy, or falsehood in others is because Scripture as a whole cannot contradict itself, and several other Scriptures also say we should, in fact, be critical, judgmental, or discerning with respect to others behavior and teachings in some sense. Matthew 7:6 says not to give sacred things to dogs or valuables to pigs, but this requires us judging whether someone is doggish or piggish. John 7:24 says we should judge with righteous judgment instead of according to appearance (NASB). 1 Corinthians 6:3 says we will one day judge angels, in Galatians 1:8-9 Paul curses those who preach a different gospel, in Philippians 3:2 he warns us to beware of dogs, evil workers, and the false circumcision, and John tells us to test the spirits because false prophets abound (1 Jn. 4:1). All of these passages require believers to pass judgment, to be critical (in an analytical sense), and to evaluate others beliefs and practices.

So if the passages in the second half of the previous paragraph are, in fact, perspicuous (that is, relatively easy to understand), and if Im even close to being correct about what they mean or require, and if Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, then Matthew 7 and Luke 6 cannot mean never to point out others sin, inconsistency, hypocrisy, or falsehood. But this all invites the question: What do Matthew 7 and Luke 6 mean when they tell us not to judge? Answer: There seem to be at least two broad types of judging in Scripture. First, there is judgment reserved exclusively for God to mete out. Second, there is judgment in which humans (especially believers) can and should be involved. Matthew 7 and Luke 6 seem to be condemning the former. I cannot tell the state of a persons heart. I cannot say whether he truly has repented, whether he is a true Christian, whether he has (in Kants terminology) a good will, and I certainly cannot stand in judgment over him as if I am, on my own, an inherently better person than he. Only God can do these things.

So yes, we should not be mean and unnecessarily contentious (Lord, help me with this!), but neither should we live and let live. Rather, believers should speak the truth in love. This of course requires that we judge whether something is true, and that we judge what it means to be loving. Again, Lord help us.

Acknowledgement: D. A. Carsons commentary on Matthew in The Expositors Bible Commentary was helpful for this post.

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