What does “judge not” really mean?
By Pastor Doug Cox
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Jesus said it so it must be true. Jesus gave this mandate right after telling His followers they must have a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were good at overlooking their own faults and pointing out the faults of others. They wanted everybody to know when they were fasting, giving and praying. Jesus judged them and meanwhile taught us not to worry, how to pray and to not get caught up in materialism. He taught all these things just before He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
So, what does Jesus mean by saying this? Could there be a misunderstanding of what He was saying? No doubt, this is one of the most popular verses from the Bible that people like to use. And many of the people who like this verse rarely read or study the Bible. Could it be that Jesus didn’t mean what they think He meant? Many seem to think He was commanding universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching. That idea is far from the truth.
Verse 2 helps us understand that we need to examine our own life, motives and actions before judging others. Jesus says, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” He is not saying overlook everything and accept anything. He is saying you better expect to be judged yourself if you are going to judge someone else. A few verses down He warns us to watch for false prophets (wolves) posing as sheep. Then shifts gears and talks about how good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bad fruit. In verse 20 He clearly tells us to judge the fruit. “Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.”
Eating good fruit makes you healthy, bad fruit makes you sick. If we are going to use a Biblical verse to justify something we need to use Biblical definitions to define fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….” Notice how this ‘good’ fruit benefits others. It is not about serving and promoting selfish desires as listed in the previous verses. Things like adultery, fornication, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness and the like. These are all bad fruit. They are poisonous and unhealthy to those around them. And Paul warns that “…those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21)
No mistake about it, no one is perfect. We have all fallen short and participated in one or many of these bad things. We are to repent. The key is, we are not to continue to practice them. So when Jesus said, “judge not” He wasn’t licensing unhealthy behaviors or lifestyles. He wasn’t telling us to have blinded eyes concerning sinful lifestyles. No, He was telling us to humbly examine our own life before judging anyone else’s.
One last thing to consider about judging. Wherever God’s word condemns something that ‘settles the issue.’ Paul writes, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – 9) Notice Paul said do not be deceived. Maybe you would agree with me on this. The first thing each of us should do is to judge whether we are deceived or not.