What does “Judge not that ye be not judged” mean?

should Christians judge?One of the most popular verses in Scripture¬†is Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” It is commonly referred to when the sin of an individual or group is condemned. But what exactly are we being told not to judge here? Does this mean that we should not condemn sin? Should we just ignore sin, or are we correct in calling sin, sin? To answer this question we must go to God’s Word (the Bible).

In John 7 the Lord Jesus has one of many run-ins with Jews who are critical of His ministry. In this instance they question His authority and rebuke Him for healing on the Sabbath day. In John 7:24 He says to the Jews “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Here we have our Lord telling a group of people to “judge righteous judgment.” If this judgement were the same as that of Matthew 7:1, it would be a contradiction, but there are no contradictions in the Bible. Instead, we have two different types of judgement mentioned in these two verses.

In 2 Timothy 4:2 the apostle Paul says to Timothy “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” Paul specifically tells Timothy here to “reprove” (reprimand or censure) and to “rebuke” (express sharp disapproval or criticism of because of their behavior or actions).

Looking at these passages (and many others not mentioned here), we see that the judgement mentioned in Matthew 7:1 is an unrighteous, hypocritical judgement. In Matthew 7:2-3¬†the Lord Jesus says “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?”

Here we see the context of His statement in verse one. In verse five we see the full fruition of this passage when the Lord says “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

If we’re looking down on others for embracing a particular sin (or multiple sins) while embracing the same sin ourselves, we are hypocrites and we should not be judging them! However, if we are not embracing that sin and we know it is indeed sin (determined by God, not us) then we should lovingly condemn the sin.

To judge sin for what it is, is not our judgement, but God’s. God tells us what sin is, so as long as our judgement is based on God’s Word and we have repented of that sin ourselves, we know that it is righteous judgement. However, even righteous judgement should be done in love! If we rebuke the sin of others in a hateful way, we are only pushing that person further away from the light. We should speak the truth in love with the ultimate goal of that person repenting and coming to the Lord.

Ephesians 4:15 “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:”