Judge Not

“Judge not” (Matthew 1:7) is the mandate of many seeking to vindicate themselves. Some interpret it as an appeal to Jesus to accept any lifestyle. It is often used by individuals who don’t understand the true meaning of this statement by Jesus Christ.

Christ’s initial statement about judgment cannot be ripped out of context to stand on its own. We must understand it considering His whole explanation, which includes recognition of others’ sins and their disposition.

In this same passage He gives instruction to discern people by the fruit of their life (Matthew 7: 15, 16). This necessitates discerning assessment, that is, sound judgment. 

Jesus commands unconditional love. He does not demand unconditional acceptance of all actions. However, it is often difficult for a person engaged in self-exoneration to comprehend being loved without their actions be approved.

The Greek word for “judge” is krino, means to condemn, avenge, damn, sentence, or levy a punishment. It does not mean not to discern.

In context proper evaluation of other’s conduct is essential so that a proper understanding is gained and justice is done.

We are to discern—judge—what is right or wrong, based on God’s standard as revealed in His Word.

Hebrews 5:14 exhorts believers to exercise good sense “…to discern both good and evil.”

An understanding of what Christ meant by not judging is gained by noting two instructions He gave in the same passage which require judgment.

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine….” (Matthew 7:6)

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7: 15, 16)

Jesus commanded us to know ourselves and others by the fruit of their life, and some sort of assessment is necessary for that. The Christian is called to show unconditional love. But the Christian is not called to unconditional approval.

Both of these require discerning judgment.

For emphasis Christ repeats a significant teaching twice in this passage: “…by their fruits you will know them.”  (Verses 16 & 20).

In this same chapter Christ instructs individuals to judge themselves according to God’s word and not to rationalize or excuse their own sins. He uses a bit of Eastern humor by encouraging individuals to get the 2×4 out of their own eye before trying to get a speck out of the eye of another person. Honest self-judgment using God’s standards is constructive.