Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. Matthew 7:1-2

This passage has been a challenge to many in the church – including myself. Jesus seems to begin with an emphatic statement, only to follow it with a process for doing the very thing He said not to do (vv. 3-5, and our subject for next time). Many have harmed themselves (and the church) by misinterpreting Matthew 7:1 to mean that we are prohibited from identifying the sin in our sister or brother and helping them remove it.

Serious students of the Bible learn that singular verses must be interpreted in the full counsel of Scripture. A more careful reading of this and related passages reveals that Christians are responsible – and obligated by love – to actively weed out sin in our sisters and brothers, and in the church (Ezekiel 3:16-21, Matthew 18:15-17, 1Corinthians 5:1-5, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20).

There is a second important thing not being said in this passage (but assumed by many). This passage is not saying – it cannot be saying – that we will not be judged. In the end, many will be surprised to find themselves judged before the White Throne (Revelation 20:11-12), and every Christian will stand before the judgment set of Jesus Christ (Romans 14:10; 2Corinthians 5:10).

Indeed, we discover in Hebrews 6:1-2 that God’s judgment is eternal (meaning, it has no beginning or end). You can discover more on this elementary principle in The Foundations – Eternal Judgment.

So, what are we to hear and do with this saying? Discovering the full meaning requires our digging deeper (as most treasures do). For that we turn to the meaning of “judge”, found in the Blue Letter Bible Outline of Biblical Understanding definition for krinō:

  1. to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose
  2. to approve, esteem, to prefer
  3. to be of opinion, deem, think
  4. to determine, resolve, decree
  5. to judge
    1. to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong
      1. to be judged, i.e. summoned to trial that one’s case may be examined and judgment passed upon it
    2. to pronounce judgment, to subject to censure
      1. of those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others
  6. to rule, govern
    1. to preside over with the power of giving judicial decisions, because it was the prerogative of kings and rulers to pass judgment
  7. to contend together, of warriors and combatants
    1. to dispute
    2. in a forensic sense
      1. to go to law, have suit at law

First, notice that krinō means more than “to judge”. This is not unusual. Greek words often carry a richer and more varied meaning than the English word chosen by the translators. For the seeker of truth, this is an exciting find. The broader meaning invariably adds to our understanding.

For example, consider the primary meaning of krinō – to separate, put asunder. Perhaps the judging that Jesus prohibits is that which separates the body of Christ, the judging that involves “to contend together, as warriors and combatants”. This aligns with Jesus’ prayer for our unity in John 17:20-23, as well as Paul’s strong words against one Christian taking another to court (1Corinthians 6:1-7).

So, what is the judging that creates enmity and division in the body of Christ? Looking back at krinō, we find an interesting contrast in the two meanings of “to judge”. The first is “to pronounce an opinion”; basically, to say what one thinks about a person or situation. The second, “to pronounce judgment”, is the final act of judging; including the pronouncement of penalty. This seems to be the heart of the matter in this saying of Jesus.

Jesus goes on to say something very important for our understanding: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Again, searching out the meaning of the words that Jesus chose to use brings clarity to our understanding.

The Greek word for judgment is krima (the noun form of krinō): A decree, judgment, condemnation of wrong, the decision (whether severe or mild) which one passes on the faults of others; the sentence of a judge, the punishment with which one is sentenced, condemnatory sentence, penal judgment, sentence (Outline of Biblical Understanding, http://www.blueletterbible.org).

As you can see, krima is the final phase of krinō (i.e., the final judgment). The judging that we are not to do is that which has been reserved for God Himself: The final judgment, sentence, and punishment for our sin.

Circling back, this does not excuse us from participating with God in the loving separation of our sisters and brothers from their sin. In fact, this is one of the ways God has provided for the Body of Christ to sanctify itself in preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-8); a process we will explore in our next article.

For now, it is enough that we examine ourselves and the way we respond to the sin in our spheres of influence. We must develop a loving desire for God’s best in the lives of our sisters and brothers. We must humbly ask God to prepare us for the sacrifice of difficult conversations.

Some of us need to invite the LORD’s examination of our minds for a judgmental spirit. I can personally testify to the destruction such a spirit inflicts on self and relationships. You might think this obvious, but please consider my lack of awareness for many years as a Christian. It took God’s revelation through others to open my eyes.

So, until next time, God bless you with courage, humility, and love in your judgment of self and others.

Humbly yours and forever His,