Few verses are more quoted than Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." The verse is almost always misquoted and misused. As far as I can tell, no English translation has the words in this fashion. The King James Version says "Judge not, that ye be not judged." While this made-up version says the same as the good English translations, the fact that we so continually misquote it is indicative of our misuse of it as well! The verse is almost always quoted (or misquoted) in a judgmental fashion, and with the understanding that the verse gives an absolute injunction against ever expressing a judgment.
It is true, the words "Judge not" mean exactly what they say. But is it absolute, as we hear others use it, or is there a context? The answer to that question comes simply by looking to some other scriptures:
· ""Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15; NASB95)
· "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;" (Ephesians 5:11; NASB95)
· "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6; NASB95)
· "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them." (Romans 16:17; NASB95)
How can we fulfill any of the imperatives of these verses without making some kind of judgment? One would simply have to choose total denial of these Scriptures to hold any kind of teaching that the "judge not" of Matthew 7:1 was an absolute for all times, places, and circumstances. The teaching, then, must be that there are certain kinds of judgments we are not supposed to make, or judgment in a certain way which we should avoid. An understanding of the context and other scriptures that warn about wrong judgment provide the only way to properly interpret the verse.
What kind of judgment?
In the context, the Pharisees are in view. Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 that one's righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. One of the perennial pharisaical problems was a nasty judgmentalism that went to the core of their being. Their attitude seemed to always be, "I thank God I am not like one of them." In the broader view of Scripture, here are six kinds of judgment we should avoid.
1. Judgment outside of our sphere of authority. If it isn't your business, don't make it so! (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Peter 4:15, Romans 14:4).
2. Judgment outside of authenticated facts. We often judge for motive, but we are not very good at accurately discerning the motives of others-or even of ourselves! In Job 1:8-11 Satan attacked the motive of Job. Judgment of motive is a satanic activity!
3. Judgment with hypocrisy. Sometimes we judge others for that which we have not overcome. (Romans 2:1, 2 Samuel 12:1-11).
4. Judgment with haste. How many times have we jumped to conclusions… and jumped into a swamp! Proverbs 18:13 says that fools answer before they even know the question, and John 7:24 says that we should not judge "according to appearance." Sometimes the facts call for a judgment, but sometimes the appearance is deceptive!
5. Judgment that is beyond God's Word. The Bible is clear in many areas, and when it is, we should speak clearly, too. But we like to make the Bible clear about our pet peeves! It is easy to bring in "don't handle, don't taste, don't touch" commands where the Bible does not do so. (Colossians 2:20-23).
6. Judgment that is unmerciful. When we have to judge-and sometimes we do-we should do so with mercy. Our goal is a judgment that leads to repentance!
What is at stake?
I think the second part of the verse is much more important than the first. When we judge, there is another judgment coming!
Many preachers proclaim that this second judgment is the one that our fellow man will give when we are judgmental. I have no qualms with the fact that when we are judgmental, others tend to be the same way toward us. However, I am not at all convinced that this is the focus of the passage. Jesus was kind in his demeanor but was severely judged by His fellow man. Paul said "we try to conciliate, but we have become the scum of the world" (1 Corinthians 4:13). The response of the world is fickle at best.
The judgment at stake is not the judgments of men, but the judgment of God! We too often teach, and believe, that no matter how much we have failed and how poorly we've lived, only glory and bliss await us in Heaven. The Scripture paints a different picture!
· "But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God." (Romans 14:10, NASB95)
· "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10, NASB95)
Someday all believer will be judged for their works. This judgment is not for salvation, but for rewards and punishments for the "deeds in the body." There are at least six things we know we will be judged for in this judgment-
· Judged for treatment of Israel. Matthew 25:40
· Judged for the quality of our teaching. James 3:1
· Judged for placing yourself into spiritual prominence. Mark 12:40
· Judged for removing yourself from authority. Romans 13:2
· Judged for hindering the Gospel of grace. Galatians 5:10
· Judged for judgment. Matthew 7:1, 12:37
With this in mind, I want to make sure that my judgments stand the Biblical test:
· Is it within my authority?
· Do I know the facts?
· Is my judgment hypocritical?
· Am I judging in haste?
· Is my judgment beyond the clear teaching of the Bible?
· Is my judgment given with mercy?Dr. Randy White is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Katy, TX and the preacher on the daily radio program Word for the World.