“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2, esv).
Doesn’t it seem like everybody knows this verse? Especially that first phrase. People who don’t even believe in God’s Word quote this one little sentence with all the authority of an Old Testament prophet. Doesn’t the Bible say, “Judge not, that you be not judged”? Yes, it does, they’re quick to remind you. As if nobody ever has any right to comment on another’s behavior or confront them with biblical truth, even for the purpose of trying to be caring and helpful.
Because that would be “judgmental,” right?
“Part of being authentic as believers is admitting we’re still in process.”
These words of Jesus do not amount to a categorical ban on evaluating people’s actions. Instead, the context makes it abundantly clear—He was decrying the double standard where we expect behavior from others that we don’t expect from ourselves. He was condemning the practice of picking at slivers in other people’s eyes when obvious logs are protruding from ours. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). But He wasn’t saying we can’t make discerning judgments based on others’ actions. We just need to be sure the first person whose actions we’re judging—by the same or even a more rigid standard—is ourselves.
Actually, a person’s actions are among the few things we can judge. As Jesus said, “Each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44).
The things we can’t judge are these things the Bible says we have no business or capability judging:
1. Motives. We can never really know why people do what they do. Only God knows a person’s heart. We don’t even fully know our own hearts, much less somebody else’s. Paul warned, “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5). God doesn’t want us barging into territory that is His alone to monitor. Judging people’s heart motives is His job, not ours, and He doesn’t need any help with it.
2. Appearances. We also can’t make accurate judgments of people based solely on things like the clothes they wear, the car they drive, the job they hold, or the place where they live. As God said to Samuel in the Old Testament, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Forming quick opinions of others based on surface judgments of their appearance is how we allow false, incomplete information to determine how we treat people.
3. Harsh judgments. Even when we do need to make a judgment call on someone’s actions, our desire shouldn’t be to bring the hammer down. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10). Every delicate matter must be approached with maximum humility.
Part of being authentic as believers is admitting we’re still in process. All of us. Nobody has arrived. And though living responsibly with each other does require making judgments at times, back and forth, based on the fruit of our actions, humility grows by keeping ourselves under the scrutiny of God.
The life you spend the most time judging should be yours, always remembering that “with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Being real about the awesome weight of your own sin will temper the tone you take with others.
Lord, You are the Judge of all the earth. You alone are perfectly holy, perfectly just—the only one able and entitled to stand in righteous judgment. Help me not to take lightly Your rule over me, Your insight into me. Help me approach You with the honor and God-fearing respect that You rightly deserve, knowing I stand here only by Your gracious choice to have mercy on me through Your Son. So in those situations—as a parent, a friend, or a leader—when Your Spirit directs me into having a hard conversation with another person, help me see them through eyes that are equally dependent on Your forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, amen.