What did Jesus really mean when He said, “Do not judge?”

What did Jesus really mean when He said, “Do not judge?”

No text in the Bible is more familiar, more misunderstood and more misapplied than Matthew 7:1 which says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” because it is often taken out of its original context. Many people, even Christians, quote this to mean that one should NEVER judge anyone.

But is this really what the text means? In order for us to properly apply the verse, we need to have a proper understanding of what Jesus really means when He said those words. You know what Bible scholars and theologians say? That “wrong interpretation will lead to wrong application.” Let us study Matthew 7:1-6 and see how it should be applied.

When Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He couldn’t be saying that judgments should never be made. He is sure not asking us to just sit back, keep our mouth shut, turn a blind eye on sin and pretend it is not there when it is actually destroying the person and the church. “Do not judge” could not mean you can’t say anything critical to another person.

You may ask, “Well, how do you know that? How do you know that’s not what Jesus is saying?” Because when we jump 6 verses ahead (Matthew 7:6), we read how Jesus Himself alludes to some people as dogs and pigs. He tells His disciples not to give to dogs what is sacred and not to throw pearls to pigs. Also in Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus warns His disciples of false prophets.

What exactly is Jesus doing here? He is making judgments for various people. He’s  calling them dogs and pigs; He’s calling out false prophets. So how could Jesus tell His disciples not to make any judgment when He Himself is judging people?

By the way, dogs and pigs are those who deliberately and repeatedly rejected the gospel message of salvation. Jesus is telling us to identify those who do not have any intention at all whatsoever of coming to Christ. We are not to keep offering them something that they despise. We’re better off sharing the message of salvation to those who are hungry and are willing to receive it.

On the other hand, false prophets are those who are teaching what’s contrary to the word of God. They seem to be genuine teachers of the gospel but the truth is, they are twisting the Word of God and are out to deceive many. But how do we know who they are? By making judgments; and when we do, we will know them by their fruits.

Righteous Judgment vs. Self-righteous and Hypocritical Judgment

How do we identify who are the dogs and pigs? How do we know who are the false prophets? By exercising righteous judgment. Righteous judgment is the judgment that Jesus commends. Jesus tells us in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” To judge with righteous judgment is to judge with humility, not superiority. That way, we can actually judge people without being judgmental.

In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus was warning against self-righteous and hypocritical judgment; that is, someone with a log in his own eye judging someone with a speck in his eye (Matthew 7:3). Ever wonder why Jesus used the eye to illustrate this truth?

The eye is a very delicate part of the face. If you poke it by accident, you may suffer permanent blindness. Someone with a log in his eye cannot see clearly to remove the speck in someone else’s eye and if he tries to do it without first cleaning his eye, he might cause more damage to the other person’s eye.

So Jesus is not saying that we are not to judge under any circumstances. He is saying we must consider our faults before considering the faults of others. Jesus is warning us not to make the same mistake the Pharisees made. He wants to make sure we are qualified to judge that’s why He said, “First take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). We as believers are to judge error and sin, but in a gracious and nonjudgmental manner.

What did Jesus really mean when He said, "Do not judge?"

It is very common for us to note how “terrible” some people’s behavior is, but fail to notice our own shortcomings. We often inflate and magnify the faults of others while at the same time underestimating our own. Jesus urges us to look at our self before we take a look at others. Before even attempting to correct someone else, we must first deal with any areas of disobedience in our life. Because if we are committing the same sin, we will be judged for it.

After thoroughly examining ourselves, it is then acceptable to note the fault of others. We should point it out to them and help them get rid of that fault or sin. Often times, we are only good at pointing out the sins of others but we tend to forget that we must also help them get rid of that sin in their lives.

Passing Final Judgment and Judging the Motives of Others

Matthew 7:1-2 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.” Jesus is saying we are not to pass final judgment because final judgment belongs to the Lord. It’s none of our business condemning others because God Himself can take care of that.

Jesus is referring to being judged at the “judgment seat of Christ.” We will all stand to be judged by God (1 Corinthians 5:10) in the future and He will be using the same standard of measurement we used to evaluate others when He evaluates us. It means if you are gracious in dealing with the failures and shortcomings of other people, you will also receive mercy when the Lord evaluates your life at the judgment seat of Christ (Matthew 5:7).

What did Jesus really mean when He said, "Do not judge?"

A good example is when we try to determine whether a person is saved or not; whether he’s a true follower of Christ or not. When we hear that a brother or sister in the Lord who used to be on fire in the ministry suddenly stops coming to church, we are quick to say that he/she was not really saved to begin with.

It is not for us to know that because that is between him and God. We have no business determining a person’s standing before the Lord. Yes, we do our part to share the gospel, we do our part to pray for them, but we must let God do His business of dealing with them.

Another thing that we should avoid is judging the motives of others. Often times we are very quick to come to negative conclusions about others based on why we think they did something because we don’t see the entire picture, we only see the outside.

We do not have a clue on why people do the things they do so we are not to judge their motives. Only God sees the inner motives of people; only God sees the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “… man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” We can judge what people do but we cannot judge why they do it. We can judge what people say but we cannot judge why they say it. People have their own reasons for doing the things they do and saying the things they say.

At the end of the day, it is God who will judge if our conscience is clear. So we should judge nothing before the time when the Lord comes, for He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will expose the motives of the heart (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).


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14 Replies to “What did Jesus really mean when He said, “Do not judge?””

  1. I would like to thank you for the great explanation about the righteous judgment. I personally believe that the quantity of wrong judgments, gossips, and consequently hatred – which are all connected together – that are spreading on planet earth is more than the quantity of air and water .

    I would like to note also that the phrase ““Do not judge ……….. it will be measured to you.” coincides with the recent psychology that what you give out to the world returns to you. And we should not judge because we do not know what hell people are living in.

    Thanks for the great insights and explanation of the verse for us .

    1. Sam,

      Thank you so very much for the visit and your comment.

      Critical judgments are what Jesus condemns. Sadly this is what we commonly get not only from the world but even from fellow Christians. Exercising righteous judgments is what’s expected from the followers of Christ; Christians must by all means avoid wrong judgments.

      By the way, it’s not at all surprising for Christians to be hated and judged wrongly by the world because Jesus said this will happen (John 15:18).

      Shalom!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! It is just unbelievable how many people take that verse out of context. Jesus is definitely not saying you shouldn’t judge at all, but like your article says, there is a righteous judgment and you want to make sure that the log is out of your eye before you do cast judgment on what is sinful in another person’s life! How often have you come across people that have told you that you’re not supposed to judge?

    1. Hello Brian,

      Taking verses out of its original context is one of the most common mistakes Bible readers commit. There have been several occasions where I was told not to judge especially when I asked them to cite specific biblical texts to support their doctrines. When they find themselves pushed to the corner and have nothing else to say, they quickly say, “Don’t judge!”

      There is a right way to judge and that’s what Jesus is telling us to do. We exercise righteous judgment and careful discernment to distinguish between right and wrong. But before trying to correct the faults of others, we must make right our own faults first. Otherwise, we will be causing more damage to the person than good.

  3. This is such an important topic you have written about here. I totally agree about reading the bible in context. Many do not and that lead them to false judgements/interpretations of single verse in the bible. It is definitely about looking at yourself first before you say anything about anyone else, not about letting sin slide.

    I also agree about not passing judgement of if someone is saved or not. Paul tells us in Philippians to work out our own salvation. We have no idea what is in a person’s heart, lets just focus on making sure we ourselves are right with God.

    Great article

    1. Shalom Thea!

      Proper biblical interpretation is absolutely necessary to avoid misapplying the Word of God and we do this by reading the passage in its original context. Many people, even Christians fail to do this and that is why they come up with contradicting interpretations.

      It often amazes me how people use the words, “Do not judge” when caught in their sins and so we need to understand what Jesus really means when He said those words. And clearly, Jesus is talking about examining our self first and correcting our own faults before looking at the faults of others.

      Determining whether a person is saved or not is another thing that we as believers shouldn’t be looking into because only God knows the heart. You’re right! Instead of questioning somebody else’s salvation, we must focus our energy on serving God, obeying Him and loving Him with all our heart.

      Thanks Thea, God bless you!

  4. Hi,
    I think you have a wonderful post and especially like how you point out that it is important to consider our shortcomings and failures first before automatically assuming that we are better than someone or know better than they do. I believe that it is only human nature for us to want to see ourselves in a good and positive light just like I believe it is human nature for us to want to see someone punished or condemned for doing something we perceive to be wrong. Jesus calls us to strive beyond human nature and to practice some pretty difficult things like looking to our faults, forgiveness, humility etc. These are great lessons to follow no matter what religious path one decides to take and I really appreciate your post on this.

    1. Hey Krystal,
      You’re absolutely right! It’s human nature to want to see people get what we think they deserve. And we are also quick to point out the errors of other people without first looking at our own mistakes. Jesus never told us to keep mum on the faults of others and pretend everything’s okay. His emphasis was fixing what’s wrong with us first before trying to fix somebody else or we might do more damage than good.
      But at the end of the day, God will be the one to judge whether we have followed what He has been teaching us all along. God is a righteous judge and everyone receives what he deserves, either reward or punishment.

  5. Hi Alice,

    Congratulation for sharing God’s word through your website. This is what we really need in our secular world. I found your site and this particular post very informative. I wish your articles will reach a lot of Christians and other people around the globe. 

    Judgment on other people is an actual topic. Especially people who are connected with the church have to be aware that judgment is bad and immoral habits.

    God bless you
    Igor

    1. Hi Igor, 

      Judging may sound like a negative thing but like what I explained in my article, there’s a kind of judgment that Jesus commends (righteous judgment) and another that He said we must by all means avoid (self-righteous and hypo/hypercritical judgment). Jesus commands us to judge but with righteous or proper judgment (John 7:24).

      For us to obey God’s commands, we need to exercise judgment in order to determine between right and wrong. Even the apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth to judge one another in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. But we are not to judge the unbelievers as we have no business doing that.

      Shalom and God bless you!

  6. Although I am not very familiar with the bible, I did find the article interesting. And I thought your article was well put together and you explained it really well. I know some of my friends who are very religious would be interested in learning this; I will definitely pass it on to my friends. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Hong,
      I wanted to tackle this topic because this is one of the most misquoted texts in the Scriptures. You might be surprised to know that Christians are not the only ones guilty of doing this but even people who hold a completely different worldview. Anyway, thanks for your comment and I appreciate it very much if you could share this to your friends.

      God bless!

  7. The article is very articulate on what we should do and what we should not do. The author brings out the notion that we examine ourselves before we condemn others. I find the layout very nice with many visuals to bring out the real picture. The website theme also comes out very nicely.
    The message itself is laced with a lot of links for ease of referencing.
    Great piece of work.

    1. Hello Peter, thanks for your comment.
      I’m glad you find this article right on point on how believers are to properly apply the words of Jesus in the passage quoted. This all comes down to how we understand every passage in its original context.

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