Of all the statements Jesus made, “judge not lest ye be judged” is probably the most quoted by anyone whether it be a Christian or not. In fact many people may not realize it’s a teaching from the Bible. What does this verse mean and what’s the relevance in our everyday lives?
In my own experience, which I believe to be common, it is usually quoted to justify something that is not good at best and sinful at worst. But just because Jesus said it, can it be true in any situation? Especially when dealing with hypocritical religious people?
In this article I will address the issue of judging others, the context given in the Bible and modern interpretations and misinterpretations. This should be interesting.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Definition – Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged
I searched for the definition of the word judge and found this is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
To form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.
To form an estimate or evaluation of trying to judge the amount of time required especially.
Historical Relevance – Judge Not Lest
Jesus was preaching the famous Sermon on the Moun. It was recorded in the gospel of Matthew chapters 5 through 7.
He was preaching to and teaching his disciples. They had already decided to follow Jesus.
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His words weren’t meant to show how to be saved, get to heaven, or how to be forgiven. They were meant to teach how to live as a true disciple.
The paragraph regarding the judging of others begins with chapter 7 verse 1 and ends with verse 5. It’s important to read the entire paragraph as one complete thought otherwise the passage can be taken out of context.
The speaker is sharing an idea and breaking it down into manageable parts. Jesus begins the paragraph by introducing the idea of casting judgement and ends by summarizing the reason, which is to avoid hypocracy!
If we only read and apply the first snippet we miss the point entirely.
The verses just before “judge not lest ye be judged” are about worry, and the verse just after 5 is about casting pearls before swine.
We can assume then the verses 1-5 are meant to be read as a complete thought since they address one issue.
People frequently take one verse out of the Bible and use it without considering the context in which it was used. This is a perfect example especially since so many repeat the quote without understanding the entire thought.
So let’s break it down.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged”
Jesus is issuing a warning. Remember that the word “judge” can mean both assess and condemn or both at the same time.
But He goes on to say,
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measure to you”
We will be judged. As a follower of Jesus we will finally be judged by God’s standard and no one else’s.
This is similar to Jesus’ teaching to treat others the way we want to be treated. If I judge harshly, I can expect to be judged harshly.
How are we to get to that last line where we take the log out of our own eye first? Well, if we are judging others with humility, without pride and perhaps with kindness then is it okay?
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye”
Jesus gave this example. You are looking at a person who is doing something wrong, and you want to let him know.
Meanwhile Jesus points out that perhaps you are doing something even worse.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye”
So first take a look at yourself, correct what is wrong and THEN help your friend. He doesn’t say don’t help. He just says work on yourself first.
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”
And because you have worked on your own issues you should have empathy and compassion with those who are needing help, direction or prayer. But in the end God does want us to help others in this way, just not with pride, self-satisfaction, harsh words or hypocrisy.
It happened to me. I have personal experience with this that I’d like to share.
I was raised in a Christian home but there was quite a bit of self-righteousness about our “poverty” or lack of riches. In fact, the belief in our house was that a person could not be wealthy and Christian at the same time.
It became obvious that with their words, my parents judged others by questioning other people’s Christianity when they had a higher-than-average income.
Of course, my family had enough money, but it was small compared to others. As a result of my parent’s self-imposed “poverty”, I attended a community college because it was almost free while many of my Christian friends were going to private universities.
I expressed a very poor attitude (and jealousy) and after one too many comments a friend called me on it. I said something to the effect that the money could be better spent on mission work instead of wasted on a fancy college – I probably said it enough times that I was apparently very bitter.
She finally just asked if I really believed that or if I was just parroting someone else’s thoughts. It made me realize I had been thoughtless, unkind, and jealous that others had more.
I was judging her and being very hypocritical. She judged me but did it nicely. She was right. I began thinking more about words I used and attitudes I exhibited.
The funny thing is that 50 years later she and her family are wealthy and blessed beyond belief and they use their material blessings for God’s work. The more you give to God the more he blesses. They have a lot to give and they do.
I judged others who went to expensive universities and my friend judged me. She was probably upset. However, she was kind and honest.
She corrected me with humility not pride and was certainly not hypocritical. I am thankful for a friend like that.
Everyday Examples – Judging
“Judging” others happens all the time. If we listen to the news that’s all we hear. Judgements about politicians, police, demonstrations, neighborhoods, preachers, etc.
In the neighborhood and with friends we may hear it or see it but often we don’t recognize what we are doing.
Many times it comes across as a joke. Light hearted teasing or outing of something private happens and it might be funny but hurtful.
Often, under the guise of “praying for someone”, gossip is passed on and judgements made.
Prayer requests should not involve lurid details and requests in prayer meetings are best kept to the needs of those in the room.
Some have used the time to describe and pronounce judgement on a friend of a friend or distant relative. This is not a good idea because it often turns into a gossip session for participants.
Gossip involves a lot of “judging”!
Judging others also takes the form bullying. A holier-than-thou attitude can make a person feel bossy or comfortable as a bully.
When one individual feels that way they can make life miserable for others.
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Bullies are full of pride and looking at others as “less than”. The internet has made all of the above worse and compounded judging from local to international and made it instantaneous.
We are often in families or groups of people who live differently or who hold a different world view but it is possible to disagree with people without condemning them.
The current political correctness standard submits that if you believe certain lifestyles are a sin then you are judging and labeled a hater.
When placed in a situation like that there isn’t much you can do except respond in a loving way.
Christians are called to love everyone but not necessarily love what they do.
The Bible is very clear about sin. It is also clear about adultery, promiscuity, and child sacrifice. All laws were written by God to highlight our human frailty and sinful nature.
No one is able to keep the law. Lying, stealing, coveting, etc. are done by everyone. The only way find forgiveness and mercy is through the blood of Jesus.
We need to judge ourselves first and find ourselves wanting. Then ask forgiveness.
Traps of Judgement
Christians can get caught up in group judging via prayer meetings, small groups, and airing their opinions on everything from choir, to music choices, to sermon preparations.
Christian churches are known to kick their injured while they’re down. But we are told repeatedly to love one another.
They will know we are Christians by our love! Love does not include hypocritical judging of our brothers and sisters.
Is judging ever appropriate?
Yes, but Jesus gives us the standard. Be sure the log is out of your own eye before trying to get the sliver in your friend’s eye. Be kind and don’t be proud.
Paul says if someone in the church is sinning go to them in private and chat with them. Do not gossip and do not be hypocritical but identify sin when needed.
At least once in my life I’ve said “don’t judge me”. I know what I meant and I know it was after I’d done something I wish I hadn’t.
I also know better now. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is probably the most misused quote of Jesus from the Bible.
Most of us don’t know the context or the complete thought that Jesus clarified in the rest of the paragraph. Even specifying paragraph instead of verses is unusual because of the way the chapters are laid out.
A single verse has a way of becoming isolated and losing meaning when quoted by itself.
I hope this article helps to clarify the teaching of Jesus and to encourage you to look deeper into context the next time a verse is introduced all by itself.