What is the right way to apply Jesus’ statement, “Judge not, that ye be not judged?
It’s pretty common to hear someone quote or paraphrase Matthew 7:1, in which Jesus says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (KJV). Sometimes the person quoting the passage is objecting to being criticized for his behavior. His implication is that Jesus’ statement forbids anyone from labeling anyone else’s behavior sinful. Is that really how Jesus would have us apply this passage, though?
The answer to this question is a very loud “No.” Keep in mind, the Bible elsewhere tells people to rebuke others (Luke 17:3; 2 Timothy 4:2). In some cases, churches are to discipline, or to “judge” members (1 Corinthians 5:11–13). Jesus even lays out a restoration/discipline process in Matthew 18:15–17 that requires an offended party to go to his offender privately and “tell him his fault” (KJV).
Matthew 7:1 has a context, of course—a context that people usually leave out of their quote. The verses following Matthew 7:1 show that Jesus did not mean to prohibit us from calling a spade a spade, but from doing so aggressively and without proper humility. It is out of line to criticize others without seeing one’s own faults.
God is the true Judge (James 4:12), so any person who judges must do so only according to the standards God has set. In practices where God has allowed for individual liberty, people should avoid passing judgment (Romans 14:1–13).
To sum up: it is proper and necessary for us to judge others at times, but we must do so humbly, judging according to God’s standards and not our own preferences.
How have you seen this passage applied or misapplied? Share your thoughts in the comments below. — by Beau Stanley
Beau Stanley is pastor of training and spiritual formation at Grace Polaris Church, a Grace Brethren congregation on the north side of Columbus, Ohio.