What People Really Mean When They Say “Don’t Judge Me”
- Aaron Brown Crosswalk Contributing Author
- 2021 25 Feb
Just the other day I was participating in a dance class and a song was played that I had never heard before. As the lyrics sounded from the speaker box, I quickly realized I knew the artists. The newly developed interest in the song though was quickly drowned by the tired trope they sang about – judgment.
Please don't judge me by the clothes I wear,
Please don't judge me by the songs I sing,
Please don't judge me by the way that I'm dancing.
During my time in college some years ago, I heard people talk like that. There seemed to be this fad where people kept telling others, “Don’t judge me.” People even said that to me at times. With enough observation, I learned that people didn’t mind hearing compliments (who doesn’t), but what they did not want to hear was disapproval, of any kind.
That’s where the “no judgment” plea came in. Offer praise, but no disapproval. The only one who could judge was God. So they said then and so they say even now.
The issue with this sentiment, especially for believers, is that God is in fact not the only one who judges.
Hate is an extreme emotion, but nonetheless, the Bible itself provides examples of hating evil. Hate in itself is a form of disapproval. The aforementioned proverb comes from former King Solomon, a man known for his wisdom (1 Kings 3:10-14). If anyone knows the importance of doing right instead of wrong, I’d wager King Solomon knows a little something.
The apostle Paul even seemed to advocate for kicking the sexually immoral from church (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
If Solomon and Paul have expressed disapproval for wrong actions, are we also allowed to express disapproval? The Bible’s clear answer is yes, and the evidence is overwhelming.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
“And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24)
How do we as Christians, let alone as people, help one another without sometimes expressing disapproval? Do we naturally do everything perfectly? Are parents judging their children when they admonish their behavior? Is a friend judging when they urge someone not to make an unhealthy decision?
What I have noticed is that people call out others for judging but offer no alternative for receiving feedback. They seemingly just want to be affirmed.
Thus, I suppose if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. That’s the idea, but as sinful people, everything we do isn’t nice. Everything we say isn’t nice.
When we encounter unpleasant words or actions, we should have something to say about that.
What Is Judging Really?
To dismantle the whole “don’t judge me” idea, we have to first understand the meaning of the word judge. That should be easy enough. One way to discern the meaning is to turn to the courtroom. The task of judges is to...judge. They hear a claim and the supporting evidence and come to a conclusion. In certain cases, they determine whether or not they believe someone is innocent.
They are determining if someone or something is good or bad. That’s what we do when we choose what to eat, who to grow close to, where to live.
According to the dictionary, judging means “to form an opinion or an estimate.” The definition is not exclusively coming to an unfavorable conclusion. Rather, coming to any conclusion is judging.
People must be confused when they say, “don’t judge me.” What they really mean is “please only approve of me.”
But let’s analyze the other idea behind “don’t judge me.” People sometimes add, “Only God can judge me.”
What does the Bible say about judging? Let’s find out.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
Some people cite this verse when they advocate for not judging others. They interpret this to mean not saying anything negative about another. After all, if we don’t judge others, we won’t be judged. Right? Sounds innocent enough, but we need to see this verse in a more complete context.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First, take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
For starters, is calling someone a hypocrite judgmental?
The Bible acknowledges that people in fact do judge. We form conclusions about others based on what they do or don’t do, say or don’t say. A person’s actions naturally inform our understanding of their character. What Scripture makes clear too in this passage is that the standards we apply to others, God will also apply to us.
Forming opinions of others is not bad, but the way we need to be careful about our perspectives. We should not set higher standards for others than we do for ourselves.
If a parent seeks for their child to stop gossiping, but they themselves gossip, they are acting hypocritically. Or in the case of a friend trying to encourage another to leave an abusive relationship, while they themselves are in one. The ways we encourage others should be an area of strength for us, or at the very least, an area we recognize as problematic within ourselves.
However, we will always encourage someone better in areas where we already excel.
Though we have an idea of how God judges, is there any verse that gives us a clearer idea?
How Does God Judge?
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7)
God’s insight into humankind is much more personal, intimate, and informed than anyone ordinary person can manage. This makes sense considering God formed each of us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).
God knows us better than anyone can. When we die and we receive our fate, only He knows where our souls will go. He knows the fate of every believer and nonbeliever. Only God judges someone’s fate. No one else.
That’s the distinction to make between how God judges and how people judge. However, through God Himself, we learn how to judge between right and wrong behavior.
Through Adam’s relationship with Eve, we see this truth. Before God called out the duo for disobedience in the Garden of Eden, He created Eve to “help” him do right. (Genesis 3).
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.’” (Genesis 2:18)
If Adam was not fit to be alone before sin even entered the world, who are we to deny others who are correcting our behavior?
We are to judge one another, but the way we go about doing that is important.
How we encourage one another is just as important as the message we want to share. A parent can’t correct their child by yelling everything. A friend can’t encourage their peer to change their behavior by insulting them.
Instead of seeing judging as someone putting others down, we can see judging as moments of healthy communication where one person encourages another.
Thankfully, through God and the example He sent us through Jesus, we can discern how we are supposed to properly encourage one another.
How Should We Judge?
Receiving feedback about our flaws does not have to be perceived as judging but could instead be reframed as encouragement. Of course, this depends on how the speaker delivers the message to the receiver. However, the receiver still has to be open to hearing honest feedback.
When someone shares their thoughts, they are expressing some level of care. When someone takes the time to mention our flaws to us in a helpful manner, we can conclude that they care for us. The same applies to us when we share our thoughts. What we have to ensure is that we deliver our ideas appropriately.
How do we do that?
1. Discuss Actions, Not Character
We know that our understanding of others is far more limited than God’s. We often see a person’s actions and quickly assess that person’s character, but when we do this we judge their character instead of their actions (1 Samuel 16:7).
People are not as eager to change if we say things like, “You are a mean person,” “You are evil,” “I hate being around you.”
Instead, when we can practice vulnerability and talk to people about how their actions make us feel, they are more inclined to listen. Then we can gently offer suggestions for improving communication, the relationship, etc.
2. Seek Understanding
When we discuss actions instead of character, we open ourselves up to better understanding the other person. Without having a personal relationship with someone, we can easily see bad behavior from someone and come to a quick assumption.
Much harder to do is understand why someone behaves the way they do. When we seek an understanding we can better comprehend someone's motivations. Not only that but we also humble ourselves to the fact that we all sin (Romans 3:23).
3. Share Love
In any conversation, and in every action, we can fulfill the second greatest commandment by loving others (Matthew 22:39).
Loving someone does not mean every word we say is a compliment, affirmation, or word of approval. What love means is encouraging someone to be better in any and every way possible. When we love others, just as we love ourselves, we seek to build others up, not tear them down even in moments of offering critique.
When we master this ability to love, we can be like Jesus with the adulteress, not offering condemnation, but clear and definite encouragement to others to go and be better people (John 8:11).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Deagreez
Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo.