What the phrase “judge not” means for Christians
Not every verse lends itself to being referenced in everyday life by Christians.
For instance, there are a limited number of people and an even smaller number of situations where it would be relevant to remind someone that Deuteronomy says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.”
At the other end of the spectrum are verses that are quoted so often, in most people’s minds, they have been completely removed from their context and their intention has been lost.
In response to sexual assault allegations that have been recently exposed in Hollywood and the moral faults that have come to light in lives of politicians and Christian leaders, I have sadly seen many Americans cite Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Many times this is shortened to simply, “Judge not.”
But is it really that simple as Christians? Are we simply to go through life never confronting the sins of others out of fear of being called a hypocrite?
Based on the entirety of Scripture, I would say the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”
I will start with what I believe this verse is not. I do not think the verse is intended to diminish the concept of judgement. Our salvation as Christians is founded upon the fact that Jesus lived a perfect life, died and rose again in order to pay the punishment that was the result of God’s impending judgement on our sin. To take away that accountability is to steal the joy of the cross.
I also do not think this verse should be used to say that we should avoid discerningly calling out the sin we see in the lives of others. If confrontation was not biblical, we would not have much of the New Testament, as many of the epistles were correcting a wrong within specific contexts.
Contained within those New Testament books is the command to correct directions for how to do so. Galatians 6:1 says if anyone is caught in sin, a Christian should restore that person in a spirit of gentleness. In order to be restored, a person must first recognize that their current condition warrants a change.
The method of how this is done – in gentleness – is critical. I think many people say we should not judge others under the assumption that judgement is always done with a haughty, greater-than-thou attitude. This brings me to what I think this verse is saying.
Condemnation is not ours to determine. As sinners ourselves, we should be aware of our own weakness. The end of Galatians 6:1 emphasizes this, as it says we should keep watch in case we are tempted too. Recognizing our own propensity to sin should establish both a humility that does not look down on others for failing and a passion to prevent others from being slaves to sin.
Mathew 7:5 says that we must first remove the log of wood from our own eye before we can remove the speck from our brother’s eye. If every person waits until they have every single bit of wood out of their eye before helping another person recognize the speck in their own, fairly soon, the whole world will be blind.
Instead, embrace the tension of “judge not.” The tension between recognizing God is the ultimate judge as the only one who knows all and recognizing there is love in confronting lifestyles contrary to the Bible.