The One Thing to Avoid When Judging

The One Thing to Avoid When Judging

In Matthew 7:1 Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Second only to John 3:16, this might be the most well-known verse in Scripture, and the most misunderstood. There are people who have never opened a Bible, but if they’re corrected they’re going to respond with Jesus’ words and criticize you for judging them.

When Jessica Simpson received criticism from the Christian community she said:

It didn’t really surprise me because I grew up with a lot of that backlash. That’s why I didn’t end up going into the Christian music industry. I think that if they’re really good Christians the judgment wouldn’t be there. Jessica Simpson Not Surprised By ‘Dukes’ Backlash

That pretty much sums up the attitude of many people. This is the mentality in the world, and unfortunately it can even be a mentality that creeps into the church.

Everyone Judges

Some people love to throw out Matthew 7:1 as though you can never say anything is wrong. But there is a real inconsistency – and even hypocrisy – with these people. Those who condemn others for judging do plenty of it themselves. If you asked some of these people, “Is it wrong to murder, abuse children, or steal from others?” unless there is something wrong with them, they’re going to say, “Yes.” In answering in the affirmative they are doing what they condemn.

You might be quick to say, “They’re only judging the action, not the person and that’s different!” Then imagine asking, “What do you think of Hitler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Charles Manson?” Are they going to say, “Who am I to judge? They were just following their hearts. I can’t say what they did was wrong. They were simply doing what they thought was right!” Again, they’re going to recognize the wicked actions of these people. The real irony is people who claim we shouldn’t judge are doing what upsets them. They are judging people for judging.

People who criticize others for judging do plenty of judging themselves.

A Sign of Maturity

Mature believers have the discernment to distinguish – or judge – between good and evil. Immature believers or unbelievers do not have the maturity to discern – or judge – between good and evil:

The mature…have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Hebrews 5:14

Mature Christians can discern – or judge – between good and evil.


Those who are spiritual judge all things.

1 Corinthians 2:15

The word “spiritual” is synonymous with “mature.” These people evaluate everything around them:

  • How many fathers wouldn’t judge a young man interested in their daughter?
  • What parents don’t judge the actions of their children’s friends to determine if they should let their children play with them?
  • Who doesn’t judge the behavior of people around them to determine whether they’re trustworthy?

And when we judge something is sin, we have a responsibility to correct that person.

Commanded in Scripture

A few verses after Matthew 7:1, in Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus discussed good and bad trees that represent people. Twice He says “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20). The fruit represents the “produce” from a person’s life. The process of looking at fruit to determine whether it is good or bad is judging.

Consider these verses:

  • Eight times in Matthew 23:13-29 Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees.” Each time this was followed by a condemnation – or judgment – of their actions.
  • In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Judge with righteous judgment.”
  • Philippians 3:2 says, “Beware of dogs [and] evil workers!” We can only obey this verse if we have judged some people to be dogs and evil workers.
  • Titus 3:10 says, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.” The only way a divisive man can be rejected is if his actions have been judged as divisive.
  • 1 Corinthians 5 discusses a man who was in gross sexual immorality. In verse 3 Paul said, “[I] have already judged [the one] who has done this deed.” Paul had no problem telling the entire church he judged the man’s actions.

We Will Be Judged with the Same Standard We Use with Others

If Matthew 7:1 is not saying judging is wrong, what is it saying? The primary rule for interpreting Scripture is to look at context. Let the Bible be the commentary on the Bible. Let’s look at the context:

For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Matthew 7:2

If you judge someone for doing something, you better make sure you don’t do it. If you rebuke people for:

  • Lying, you better not lie
  • Losing their tempers, you better not lose your temper
  • Being late late, you better be on time
  • Watching or listening to things they shouldn’t, you better not watch or listen to anything compromising
  • Gossiping, you better not gossip
  • Not serving, you better be a servant

There’s nothing wrong with saying something is sin, but there is something wrong with saying something is sin while committing the same sin yourself. It’s similar to Romans 2:1:

You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

If we judge something to be sin in someone else’s life we’re showing we know it to be wrong, and therefore we’re without excuse if we commit that same sin. If you think something is wrong for someone else, you better think it’s wrong for you.

The Issue is Hypocrisy, not Judging

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

These verses reveal what Jesus is condemning.

How can you be concerned about a speck in someone else’s life when something as bad (or worse) is in your own life? That is the height of hypocrisy. It wouldn’t be too much to say these verses are not primarily about judging. They are primarily about hypocrisy. There is nothing wrong with saying that something is wrong. But there is something wrong with saying something is wrong while doing it yourself.

An example takes place with David before he repented of his sins of adultery and murder. Nathan the prophet shared a story with David about a rich man who stole a lamb from a poor man, then:

David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!”

2 Samuel 12:5-7

Remove the Speck, but Be Sure to Remove the Plank First

Jesus didn’t say not to judge, i.e. he didn’t say not to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. But He did say to make sure you have judged yourself first, i.e. removed the sin from your own life before trying to remove it from someone else’s life.

Why is this so important? When we confront others their flesh will flare up and they’ll want to find sin in our life. They’ll want to say something like, “Oh yeah, well what about you…” Jesus’ words allow us to have the credibility we need confronting someone else.

Discuss Questions: 

  • Have there been times when you judged people and they turned the tables and pointed out something in your life?
  • Have there been times when people judged you and that’s how you responded?

22 Responses

  1. It isn’t just a matter of hypocrisy, but what you choose to use as a basis for judgment. If you judge somebody’s abilities based on their past performance that’s fine, but if you judge their abilities based on their race or gender or something else that is unfair to use as a basis for judgement that is wrong as well.

    1. Hello LDM,
      I “think” I understand what you’re saying. Yes, there are certain things that should – and shouldn’t – be judged. Race and gender are amoral and shouldn’t be criticized. Am I understanding you correctly?

  2. This is such a great post. I love two things you said here,
    – Let the Bible be a commentary for the Bible. If we dig deep enough, God always has very clear answers in His word. I’ve known a lot of people, myself included, who have gone and talked to other people about certain things and not consulted the Bible personally. Intentions may be good, but all of our answers should come straight from the word of God.
    -“If you think something is wrong for someone else, you better think it’s wrong for you.” This was something I struggled with when I first started witnessing. It’s easy to have things turned around on you. We may be trying to judge righteously and we may be trying to share the Gospel, but we have to make sure that we’re actively seeking God out personally as well and aren’t being hypocritical!

    1. Thank you Kay!

      We’re studying through Revelation on Wednesday nights, and a few times I’ve said, “The symbols in Revelation are explained elsewhere in Revelation, and if not in Revelation than the Old Testament.” In a sense, this is true of most of Scripture that anything confusing is explained elsewhere: letting the Bible be the commentary on the Bible.

      We destroy almost credibility when we speak to people about issues in their lives while having the same in our own!

      By the way, I just saw your post about a study for 25-year-old ladies. Wonderful Kay! I’m looking forward to seeing how God uses you.

  3. Great point! Dealing with our own plank first allows us to have credibility. I think it also allows us to have sympathy and confront in a gentler way. In the end, our goal should be not to just point it out but bring them to the one who can clean it out gently.

    1. You’re right Kristi. I hadn’t really thought of that, but that is one of the advantages of first considering (and removing) our own sin. We’ll be gentler – and humbler – with others, recognizing that we’re no better!

      Yes, directing them to Christ – the true source of forgiveness – is the goal.

  4. I think we are quick to judge our spouses and not even think about it because we are so close to them. Our proximity makes us feel like we somehow have the right to judge. This is a great reminder that those are the ones we need to love first.

    1. Good thoughts Tara, thanks for sharing.

      I’ve said from behind the pulpit that those closest to us – unfortunately – often get the worst from us.

      This definitely allows our spouse, children, parents, etc to see the very worst off. This is why I think often they’re the ones we should strong to hear most clearly.

  5. We often criticise in others the things we dislike most within ourselves. This can happen without us even realising it.

    When we’re tempted to criticise, it may be helpful for us to examine ourselves to see if what we’re pointing to in someone else is really an issue that we haven’t dealt with in ourselves.

    1. Hi Rodney,
      I’ve actually heard it said that the reason we often see certain sins in other people’s lives is because they’re in our lives. We recognize the sin (speck) of others because we’re so familiar with that sin (plank) ourselves.

  6. Great post Scott … this is often a topic which is quoted out of context. I though it was great how you said “There’s nothing wrong with saying something is sin, but there is something wrong with saying something is sin while committing the same sin yourself.” I need to look at myself first before looking at others, and this is often the last thing we as humans tend to do 🙂 Thanks for the reminder! I love the photo at the top of your blog – you have a beautiful family!

    1. Thank you Sam.

      Right. Our flesh makes us more inclined to see the sin in others and less inclined to see the sin in ourselves. One quote I heard – which maybe I should’ve put in the post – is pretty accurate: “My sin on me looks like it should be shown mercy. My sin on you looks like it should be shown judgment.”

  7. I think if you focus on loving each other,correcting each other out of love and showing each other grace. Judging someone won’t be b an issue because you are helping and growing in Christ together.

  8. So important to pause and let the Holy Spirit direct us. This is a habit that has taken me a long time to do. Still not perfect but God has clamped my mouth shut (something told me to not say something) many times when I pause and silently ask Him to direct my words. 😉

    The How-to Guru (shan walker)

    1. Yes Shan, I’ve had to learn that the hard way :).

      Now, what I’ve often done is sat on e-mails for a day before sending them, and/or asked one (or two) of the other elders to read them first. Most of the time I’m glad I didn’t speak and/or write when I first wanted to do so!

  9. Sometimes we judge out of ignorance and inexperience. Through time and maturity we learn of our past transgressions of judgement and wholeheartedly repent, and try to guide our children from making the same judgements.

    1. Well said Mary.

      When we’re young we generally see only black-and-white. As we get older we recognize some things are grey; there are liberties regarding how the Christian life is loved out.

      Interestingly this week I’m studying Luke 7:31-35 and it looks to the differences between Jesus and John the Baptist. Very different men, but both wonderful.

  10. Ouch! What a great reminder. Just yesterday I was upset about a coworker gossiping to me about something and I went to another coworker to gossip about the gossiping. Thanks for getting me together with this reminder.

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