To Judge or Not to Judge?

Dear Sunny,

“I had a question that has laid on my heart that I wanted to ask and felt that you would be able to help clarify about.

So maybe people, including non-believer's are quick to misphrase "judge not lest ye be judged" without taking the scripture into context and then cite the "Sermon on the Mount" as the "Golden Rule" yet, from personal reading, there is no reference to a "Golden Rule".

It is like they are trying to rewrite the Bible into human terms and to justify sinning.

What is the true meaning of "judge not lest ye be judged" and your thoughts of the "Golden Rule" that is often thrown about and use to "justified" no judging at all and if we are watering down Christ's message and the message of salvation by taking out conviction, sin and righteous judgment and trying to paint Christ's sacrifice as a "love one and all unconditionally-sin and all?"

This is a wonderful and truly relevant question as this “Golden Rule” is thrown around so carelessly and callously by Christians as well as non-Christians in today’s society.

What’s ironic is that it seems acceptable to pass judgment and gossip about other brothers and sisters in Christ behind their backs as long as we present it as a “prayer request”. But if anyone were to confront valid sin issues with another believer, we are called Pharisees and legalist. Then, before we can respond we are slammed with the judgment of breaking the “Golden Rule” (the truth about the "Golden Rule" is below). Seems a tad hypocritical doesn't it?

The reader is absolutely correct in their assessment of the prevalent hypocrisy and misinterpretation of this Scripture by many, who use it as an excuse and freedom to sin; which is shameful for anyone who claims Christ as their Lord and Savior (1 Pt 2:16).

The precious and pure blood of Christ was shed to free us from the captivity of sin, not so that we can more freely sin, say “I’m sorry” and do it again. None of us should ever take God’s forgiveness lightly, for if we do, God says in His word:

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
~ Hebrews 10:26-31

But let’s not quibble about words and discuss our opinions on this matter. Instead, let’s seek The Judge, who wrote the perfect Law, speak on what He meant in Matthew 7:1:

Judge not, that you be not judged.

It’s so easy, tempting and foolish to rush to an interpretation of God’s holy Word based on our own opinions, personal experiences or what we’ve heard people whom we respect say on a matter.

According to Scripture, it is wisdom to discern Scripture with Scripture; to test the heart of God’s message with much prayer and counsel from the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth, with the truth – God’s Word (John 16:13); and not with our skewed and biased measures.

So instead of separating Matthew 7:1 from the context in which our Lord Jesus spoke these words, let us read our Lord’s entire thought , so we might clearly understand the heart of His message regarding judging one another:

“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. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 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 7:1-5

The Greek word our Lord Jesus uses here for judge is "krino" which means “to pick out, to separate”. So what is the Lord saying?

Just so we aren’t confused, He makes it clear: don’t be a hypocrite. In other words, don’t think you can pick out or separate the “speck” from someone else’s eye if you have the whole trunk of a redwood tree in your own eye. Instead, first take that large piece of redwood out of your own eye, so that you may safely, lovingly and clearly help your brother/sister with what is hindering them and causing them to stumble—if they are in fact, stumbling.

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
~ 2 Corinthians 13:5

“But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.”
~ Galatians 6:4

When our Lord Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He was clearly speaking against hypocritical judgment (like the Pharisees), and not against Christians practicing wise judgment that is not based on human tradition; our finite experiences, knowledge or understanding; personal biases or opinions. But rather, our Lord Jesus is clearly commanding His disciples to practice wise judgment that is solely based on God’s Word (Jn 7:24). That’s why Jesus says before you take the speck out of someone else’s eye, first take the large piece of redwood out of your own eye, so that you can truly be of help to others.

Our God and Father commands us to love one another as Christ has loved us. And because Jesus is God, He is holy and righteous and loves us enough to gently reprove, strongly rebuke, or sternly admonish us when we are sinning. If we strive to die to self so that we may live more fully in Christ, we will, with much prayer, love, kindness, long-suffering, gentleness, with God's Word, urge others to repent of their sin and walk in the new life Christ died to give them. He wants us to love one another enough to humbly “wash” each other’s feet. As a matter of fact, our Lord Jesus, the night He was betrayed, commanded it:

“Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
~ John 13:10-17

Not only does our Lord Jesus command us to “wash” one another’s feet (and we can only do this by clearly judging that they are dirty), but He says those of us who know this and does it, is blessed and commended by Him.

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?”
~ Romans 2:1-3

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
~ James 4:11-12

The Lord Jesus is clear; one of the ways we demonstrate His love for one another is by washing each other’s feet, that is: rebuke, correct and admonish one another in love (1 Timothy 3:16).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
~ 1 John 5:3

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
~ James 5:19-20

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
~ Galatians 6:1

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
~ John 13:35

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
~ John 15:8

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
~ Hebrews 5:14

“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.”
~ Psalm 141:5

"But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
~1 Cor 5:11-13 (emphasis mine)

There are many more Scriptures to cover this point, but I think you get the picture. God is not against one of His children who, by His wisdom (James 3:17-18), rightly judges a brother/sister in Christ who is in sin, and lovingly rebukes them, just as Christ our God has done for us–with great compassion, mercy and grace.

We see all throughout Scripture that God honors those who truly display the love of God by caring not for self, or what might or might not happen to them, but instead is willing to rebuke others and suffer possible reproach for the sake of a brother/sister who is obviously (by God’s standard) in sin. 

“And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
~ 2 Timothy 2:24-26

As for the question regarding the term, “Golden Rule”; well, the reader is correct again, it is not Scripture, but merely a section heading placed there by Bible publishers to help us quickly find specific topics our great and awesome God has spoken to us through His Word.

Not only is the "Golden Rule" only a section heading, but it also does not refer to judging—at all. While it is in Matthew chapter 7, the section heading only applies to verses 12-14 which refers to exercising Christ's sacrificial love and eternal salvation.

"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
~ Matthew 7:12-14

Below is an excerpt from my ESV Bible (published by Crossway):

Section Headings

Section headings have been included throughout the text. While the headings are not part of the Bible text itself, they have been provided to help identify and locate important themes and topics throughout the Bible.”

In closing, I’d like to exhort every one of you:

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
~ Proverbs 27:6

So don’t be a Judas and only say things that tickle people’s ears, but step out in Christ's love, and courageously, lovingly, humbly judge with the wisdom from Heaven, using God’s Word to restore a wandering brother/sister back to an intimate fellowship with Christ and His Body.