If there is one verse from the Bible that is universally known nowadays, it is “Judge not, that you be not judged.” I think it has replaced John 3:16 as the best-known verse in Scripture.

Christians and non-Christians alike quote this verse to imply that a person should never criticize the bad or sinful behavior of another person. However, that is not what the passage means at all. Quite the contrary. Let’s look at this passage in context.

Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”39He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (See also Matthew 7.)

The context of this passage is clearly speaking against hypocritical judgment, where you point out the failures or problems in another person, but won’t deal with your own. The end goal, according to this passage, is for you to eventually help your brother, but in order to do that, you have to get rid of the log in your own eye first. Both the log and the speck are viewed as problematic here, but they must be dealt with in order of priority.

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus commands us TO judge in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Paul judged other Christians, and he commands us to do the same:

“The spiritual person judges all things.” (1 Corinthians 2:15a)

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 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 Corinthians 5:3, 12-13, ESV)

Paul says, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3, ESV)

So it is clear that there is a right way (just as there is a wrong way) to make a judgment (in the sense of declaring some things to be right, and others to be wrong). To avoid duplicating needless efforts, I want to refer you to an excellent, detailed analysis of this issue in an article by Wayne Jackson, entitled, “Don’t Judge Me.”

The main point that I want to focus on here is the definition of the word, “judge.” What does a judge do? He not only makes a declaration that someone has broken the law (something we SHOULD do), but he also hands down a sentence (something we should NOT do). His role is to make sure that the lawbreaker gets what he has coming to him. There is a punitive aspect to his role. I believe this is specifically what Jesus is telling us to avoid.

When taken in the context with the rest of Scripture, we see that are required by God to allow Him to punish those who harm or sin against us. We are to let Him be the judge who carries out sentence.

Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave iti to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

It is the mandate of the Christian to declare wrong and sinful behavior to be a violation of God’s law. It is NOT our duty to personally prosecute those who do those wrong things (although there is a place for both Church discipline and civil magistrates). God, the Righteous Judge, will make sure that sentence is passed, and that each person receives the proper punishment or reward for His deeds. THAT is not our personal domain.

It should also be added that it is the Word of God that is the standard by which a person is judged, not a human being. We simply declare what God says, and allow His Word to condemn or vindicate.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:18-19, ESV)

Israel Wayne is an Author and Conference Speaker. He is the Director of Family Renewal, LLC.