Believe it or not: Judge That You May Not Be Judged

Jesus says: “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). But I now write to you: Judge that you be not judged; for if any man does not judge, he will be in danger of hell fire or of a lesser reward in heaven.

Jesus’ statement is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. It is commonly supposed that Christ forbids us to judge. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Christ wants all people to judge—to judge things, institutions and people. He who does not judge is not worth his salt. He is not even a Christian. Christians—and especially good ones—will judge.

A matured Christian will judge the paperbacks he reads, the TV shows he watches, the games he plays and the music he sings. He will not read pornographic literature, nor waste time on inane TV programs nor sing about Christ in a rollicking, jazzed up manner, as thoughtless Christians do today. He will judge.

But, somebody demurs, of course a person must judge in that sense. But Christ meant you ought not to judge people, either in institutions or individually.

Yet, that is not true either. He must judge a school that practices racial discrimination.

He must judge college students who do not like the rule of the majority and therefore, like spoiled children, riot and rampage.

He must judge hippies, who are self-centered and immature.

He must judge a person’s character and Christianity. Paul says: “Bad companions ruin good character” (I Cor. 15:33). To obey this implied command, a Christian has to judge who is a bad companion.

He is obliged to judge whether or not a church is Christian, even though it has an 11 o’clock Sunday morning worship and sings the Doxology after the offering. He must realize that many churches have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (II Tim. 3:5).

He must be ready to judge if certain missionaries are Christian or not and then refuse to support those who are modernistic—that is, who deny Christ as God. For no Christian may promote a false gospel which is not a gospel at all.

He must judge preachers, for even “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14), and John commands his readers to “test the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1). He must judge theologians who deny the inerrancy of the Word of God or the historicity of Adam and Eve or the factualness of the Infancy narratives, the resurrection and ascension a la Bishop J. A. T. Robinson.

Paul instructs the church at Rome to judge those who are causing splits contrary to sound teaching and to turn away from them (Rom. 16:17). And the Corinthian church is admonished to judge incestuous persons and excommunicate them (I Cor. 5).

Paul ordered the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, but to separate themselves from them (II Cor. 6:14–18). If a young man is to obey this command, then he must judge the girl he dates as to whether or not she is a Christian. A young Christian couple who does not judge the church they join to see whether or not they would he fellowshipping with iniquity, darkness, Belial or unbelievers, as Paul describes the situation in II Corinthians, is derelict in their Christian duty. A person has to judge in order to keep the Biblical injunctions.

The very context of Matthew 7:1, where Jesus says, “Judge not,” repeatedly presupposes that his listeners would judge—and would judge people.

Only five verses after 7:1, Jesus says that we ought not to give holy things to dogs nor pearls to swine. In order to fulfill this command, it is necessary first of all to judge whether someone is a dog or a pig, or not. Some people are.

Later on, he commands his followers to beware of false prophets who come dressed up like sheep but really are ravenous wolves (7:15). It is obvious that in order to be on our guard against evil prophets, we must judge people. It is even necessary to judge if they are true or false, that is, if they are Christians or not. And Jesus even goes on to give a standard to use in judging. He says that a person should look at their fruits and then he will know (7:16).

In other words, the Bible does not forbid us to judge -neither things nor institutions nor people. On the contrary, its attitude is: Use your head; don’t follow the crowd; judge what is right and wrong in your own actions and in the actions of others; and do not join in with or assist those who have evil goals. Judge!

But—and this is what Jesus was driving at in Matthew 7:1—don’t be a hypocrite in your judgment. When he says, “Judge not,” he does not mean “judge not.” That is clear from the context, as we have pointed out.

What Jesus does mean, however, is this: Don’t judge hypocritically. Don:t start pointing your finger at your neighbor, when you are not sorry for your own lustful heart. Don’t criticize the non-churchman and then go out of church and bite someone’s head off. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see to take the flyspeck out of your neighbor’s eye (Matt. 7:5).

And be sure you get the facts before you judge. Don’t judge hastily. Don’t jump to unwarranted conclusions. Listen and judge your own motives before you judge others.

But, with all this in mind: judge, judge, judge. Judge as if your eternal life depended upon it. Judge that you be not judged.

Dr. Edwin H. Palmer is executive secretary of the committee of Bible translation of the New York Bible Society.