Vol. 107, No. 12
There is one passage of scripture that is known by every reprobate and enemy of Christianity. They may know nothing else of the Bible, but be assured they know this one: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). It is used as a weapon by the worldly, the lukewarm, trouble-makers, unbelievers, and false teachers in an attempt to disarm faithful children of God. We are told that condemning sin is judging. Reproving, rebuking, and exhorting is judging. Preaching and practicing the Bible doctrine of separation from the world is judging. Refusal to bid God- speed to false teachers is judging. Attempts to obey Bible teaching on church discipline is branded as the most shameful judgment of all. What does the Bible teach about judging?
The primary meanings of the words commonly translated judge, krino, anakrino, and diakrino are respectively “separate, select, choose; examine, investigate, question; separate throughout, discriminate, discern.” Sometimes judge denotes “sinful action,” but sometimes it means “permitted or even required action.” As always, the context will enable us to determine how the word is being used.
In the first few verses of Matthew 7, it is clear that the Lord is not condemning all judging, rather a particular kind of judging. Verses 3-5 show the Lord is condemning hypocritical or self-righteous judging.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).
What right do we have to condemn another when we are guilty of the same sin, perhaps to a greater degree? Paul makes it clear what our attitude should be in attempting to restore another: “Brethten, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-righteous and hypocritical judging is also condemned in Romans 2:1-3, 17-23.
The context of Matthew 7:1-5 proves that coming to a negative conclusion about someone is not necessarily unrighteous judging. In verse six Jesus warns against casting pearls before swine and giving that which is holy to the dogs. Since it is obvious he is talking about two-legged swine and dogs, it is necessary for us to come to a conclusion about who are swinish and who are doggish. This constitutes a necessary and righteous judgment. We are also forbidden to judge things we cannot know such as the motives and secret thoughts of others. “Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). No one has the right to draw conclusions without sufficient evidence. To do so is to violate what Paul commanded. But he did not forbid all manner of judging. In the next chapter Paul says that he had judged the fornicator in the church at Corinth and commanded the Corinthians to do the same. Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians what Christ said in John 7:24: “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
The Bible also forbids judging a man a lawbreaker when there is no law to be broken. When we make laws where God made none, we are guilty of sinful judging. This is the kind of judging Paul condemned in Romans 14:3 ASV: “Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” The same kind of judging is mentioned in Colossians 2:16-17: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day; which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ.”
The word judge is sometimes used to mean “to pronounce and execute sentence; to condemn.” It is used in this sense in John 12:47: “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” We as Christians certainly have no right to pronounce eternal judgment on anyone. We do have the right and the obligation to withdraw our fellowship from ungodly church members. Such is called “delivering them to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:3-5, 9-13).
These, then, are the kinds of judging that are condemned in the Bible:
- Hypocritical or self-righteous judging
- Judging without sufficient evidence
- Making a law where God made none
- Pronouncing eternal condemnation on another
As was pointed out above, some of the meanings of the words translated judge are “select, choose, examine, and discern.” Judging is examining evidence and drawing conclusions or making choices. It is possible to do this in unfair or ungodly ways. Such judging is wrong. However, certain kinds of judging are commanded. “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Since righteous judgment is judging according to reality, we have no right to prejudge, but we do have the right and obligation to draw conclusions about people or doctrine that are warranted by the evidence. If it is always wrong to draw conclusions about people, how could we obey the following commands?
Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine (Matt. 7:6).
Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matt. 7:15).
In the same context Christ said:
By their fruits ye shall know them (Matt. 7:20).
Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision (Phil. 3:2).
Them that sin reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear (1 Tim. 5:20).
For which cause reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:13).
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God (1 John 4:1).
We are commanded to preach the gospel, to contend for the faith, and to reprove, rebuke, and exhort (Mark 16:15-16; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 4:2). To obey these commands in an uncompromising, but kind way is not to be guilty of unrighteous judging. To teach truths from the Bible that imply that some will be lost is not ungodly judging. It is not sinful to arrive at conclusions based on what the Bible teaches and to hold fast to those conclusions. The Bible says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
We are commanded to judge those church members who are ungodly and will not repent. Such judging is not only not sin but is positively required of us. Paul said he had already judged the fornicator in the Corinthian church and urged the church at Corinth to do the same (1 Cor. 5:3-5). The word judge as used by Paul here means “not only to reach a conclusion, but to act upon that conclusion” by withdrawing from an ungodly brother. “For what have I to do with judging them that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Put away the wicked men from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
Let us be careful that we are not guilty of prejudging, self-righteous judging, or hypocritical judging, but do not let false teachers and ungodly brethren intimidate us from boldly preaching the gospel and steadfastly standing for the truth. Let us “judge righteous judgment.”