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What Does ‘Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged’ (Matthew 7:1) Really Mean?

What Does ‘Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged’ (Matthew 7:1) Really Mean?

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. – Matthew 7:1

Has anyone ever said to you: “Don’t judge me!” In Matthew 7:1, Jesus famously explains that we are not to judge...and if we do, judgment will be measured upon us. That begs the question: What exactly does Jesus mean by “judge?”

We know that He will be the final judge of all things (Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10). But what about other kinds of judgment by those who profess Christ? Let’s look at three primary kinds of “judging” referred to in Holy Scripture:

What Does 'Do Not Judge' or 'Judge Not' Mean?

Passing a final, condemning judgment over someone as being destined for Hell is a judgment that God alone is capable of rendering. Such a sentence can only be rightfully adjudicated upon the death of a person, based upon evidence that can only be known by an omniscient God.

God alone knows the thoughts and intents of a person’s heart, as well as his/her deeds.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.Luke 6:37 

Context of Matthew 7:1

The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7, is one of the most significant portions of Jesus' teachings in the New Testament. Matthew 7 is the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus addresses various aspects of Christian ethics and behavior. It calls for a higher standard of love and compassion.

Jesus warns against hypocritical judgment and emphasizes the need for self-awareness before criticizing others. He teaches that the standard we use to judge others will be the standard used to judge us.

Who Can Judge the Heart?

Judging what is in someone’s heart is assuming you know the thoughts, intentions and motivations for someone’s actions without revelation of such things from the person we are judging (John 7:24; Galatians 2:6).

What’s more, a person might not know their own heart (Matthew 13:14-15; Ephesians 4:17-19; Hebrews 4:12), rendering a confession inaccurate or incomplete. Only God knows what is in the heart of a man (1 Corinthians 4:5b), so such a judgment on our part is both presumptuous and impossible (Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 Peter 1:17; James 4:11-12).

The judging of other believers by designated leaders in the Church is using known and corroborated evidence revealed by the defendant and/or by at least 2 or 3 witnesses (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).

This kind of judging is permitted for designated church leaders for the protection of the flock. 

The Difference Between Judging and Bearing Witness

When in conversation with someone about one kind of sin or another, the other person will often try to end the discussion by saying “Who are you to judge me?”

At that point, we need to check our hearts to see if there is any judgment on our part. Are we condemning them? Are we presuming to know what is in their heart? Are we criticizing them for doing the very things that we do or have done?

In some cases, however, our words are not judgments, but a witness to judgments that God has already made. We may be genuinely concerned over their eternal fate. Our motivation is love, not judgment.

In such cases, our response should be:

“I am not passing judgment on you. I am merely trying to convey to you judgments that God has already made which have been revealed in His Word. My concern is not to condemn, but to warn you of the consequence of things that He has already declared judgment upon, and thus, your need for a Savior who will take your judgment upon Himself. It truly matters to me what might happen to you when you are made to stand before Him to give an account for your life!”

Often, this will expose the real problem: they don’t trust or believe that the Bible is God’s revelation. If so, then the conversation really needs to begin there.

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'Judge Not' Do Not Judge Your Fellow Believers

Having been forgiven for every sinful thing that we have done or will ever do, (no matter how horrendous or evil), believers now have no right to judge anyone.

Since it is God who judges all things, (even our hypocritical judgments of others), it is somewhat frightening that we pay so little attention to this matter (1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

I am as guilty of this as anyone else.

We sometimes make the same mistake as the Apostle Peter. Upon asking Jesus about the fate of the Apostle John, Jesus said to him:

What is that to you? You must follow Me.John 21:22

And so, our mean-spirited judgments of those still trapped in sin, (even serious sin), must stop. We must become known for our love of sinner and saint, displaying the same grace that has been offered us through Christ Jesus.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:34-35

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another...if we love each other, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.1 John 4:11-12

Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. – 2 Corinthians 5:14

Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? – Romans 2:4

How Then Shall We Judge?

The Bible is clear that God alone will judge the secrets of men’s hearts through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 10:30; Hebrews 12:23; Hebrews 13:4; James 4:12; 1 Peter 4:5).

We are to leave judgment to God Himself, who alone knows how to judge righteously (Romans 14:13). The only exception found in the Bible is when designated leaders of the Church weigh known evidence against a defendant and pass a Bible-based judgment on (or exonerate) the one being charged.

Once again, it is important to note that when someone says to you: “Don’t judge me!” they are often objecting to having the scriptural judgments of God communicated to them and are mistaking them as your thoughts rather than God’s.

But if you are relaying biblically verifiable decisions that God has already made against sin in a loving, grace-filled attempt to enable them to see their need for a Savior, then you are only doing what the apostles did, as led by the Holy Spirit.

And so, let the Holy Spirit lead you in these matters. He is the only One who can actually bring in the harvest, so allow Him time to do so.

The very best approach is to show the love and grace of God. Rather than focusing on their sin, talk about Jesus...and His love and forgiveness for those who surrender their lives to Him.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Joaquin Corbalan

Dr. David Kyle Foster is the host of the Pure Passion Podcast and author of Transformed Into His Image and Love Hunger. He is also the founder and director of Mastering Life Ministries. Read more of his take on sin and brokenness in his newest book, The Sexual Healing Reference Edition.