What does the Bible say about judging others? This question can be a sensitive one. There are different thoughts and convictions, many of which are held with great passion. However, I believe that we need to have a proper understanding of this topic because it affects our relationships with others.
Can We Judge Others According to the Bible?
I know many people who say that they refuse to judge others because God says we shouldn’t judge. “Do not judge…” Matthew 7:1a NASB
I understand this thinking.
However, is this what this passage is really saying? Does the Bible say not to judge others? Is there a time and a place to judge one another? Is it a sin to be judgmental?
Before looking into these questions more deeply, let’s take a look at the definition of the word ‘judgment’.
The Definition of Judging Others
Our friend Webster defines the word ‘judgment’ as “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; a formal decision given by a court”.
The Strongs dictionary defines the original meaning of the word as “properly, to distinguish, i.e. decide (mentally or judicially); by implication, to try, condemn, punish:—avenge, conclude, condemn, damn, decree, determine, esteem, judge, go to (sue at the) law, ordain, call in question, sentence to, think.”
Looking at these definitions, we can conclude that judging others is when we form an opinion about someone, then take some kind of action based on that opinion.
Let’s look at that verse in Matthew chapter 7 with some more of its context.
Bible Verses About Judging Others Righteously
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 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
According to my understanding, this verse is not telling us to never judge others. Rather, it’s a warning to be careful how we judge.
- The measure of judgment we use against another will be used against us
- Examine your own heart and actions first (Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?)
- Don’t be a hypocrite! Acknowledge your own weaknesses so you are able to approach your brother in love and humility (…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).
Here is another.
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 ESV
This is another passage of scripture that would seem at first to be saying that we shouldn’t judge – but look a bit closer.
We can get a bit more insight by looking at what the author just got done telling them in the previous chapter.
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” – Romans 1:29-32 ESV
Again, this passage is not a command to not judge, but rather a warning to be careful in how we judge. These Christians were not judging others rightly because they failed to examine their own lives before passing judgment.
What Does the Bible Say About Judging Non-Believers?
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NASB
This passage makes it very clear that our only responsibility to non-believers is to love them.
God alone is their judge.
What does the Bible Say About Judging Those in the Church?
However, these verses in 1 Corinthians 5 (see context) seem to be clear that we are to judge those in the church. We read that Paul is telling the church in Corinth to remove the person from among them who is practicing sin.
There seem to be two specific reasons Paul instructs them in this way.
- Sin influences others. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.” – 1 Corinthians 5:6-7
- The goal of removal is repentance and restoration. Paul tells them to judge this person with the hope it will cause them to repent and be restored. “For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to turn such a person over to Satan for the destruction of his body, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5:3-5
When NOT to Judge Others in the Church
Let me be clear. We are all sinners. We all fail to miss the mark. That is why God’s grace is so beautiful.
These are not the sins we should be judging.
It’s the continual and habitual sin that should raise our concern. Are there any patterns of sinful behavior in another’s life? It is this kind of continual sin that is discussed in 1 John 3:1-21
Also, it is God alone who knows and understands hearts and motives.
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of human hearts; and then praise will come to each person from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5
Note – If you were to look at the context of this verse in 1 Corinthians, you would see that the church in Corinth was exalting and praising certain men over others. Paul is telling them not to judge others in this particular way. Don’t judge as to show favoritism and partiality.
So, we don’t judge motives, but we can inspect the fruit of other believers. Look at that verse in Matthew 7 again.
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 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
We can, and should, as brothers and sisters in Christ be looking out for each other.
The Bible says that the enemy prowls around like a lion seeking anyone whom he can devour. (1 Peter 5:8). That includes believers.
I don’t know about you, but I want peeps in my life who will tell me if they think I may be giving him a foothold in some area of my life.
We all need these people.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17
Follow the Biblical Model for Judging Others Rightly
As we have seen, there is a time and place for Christians to judge each other – as long as it is done rightly.
Matthew chapter 18 gives more, very practical, instruction as to how we are to go about this process of judgment.
“Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. 17 And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17
Process of Judging Others Rightly
- Go to the person one-on-one. Approaching this initial conversation with an attitude of wanting to learn is very helpful. Ask questions to help give yourself clarity. Maybe you are the one who is perceiving things incorrectly. If it is clear that there is sin involved, exhort them gently. Hopefully, there is confession and no further action is needed. However, if they refuse to listen…
- Take one or two more with you. When two or three are in unity on a certain matter, it helps to bring confirmation. There is a deeper level of authority in having multiple witnesses.
- Take the matter to the church. Hopefully, the process won’t make it to this point. If the person refuses to listen to their congregation, the next step is to remove them from fellowship. The verse in Matthew 18 says they are to be like a Gentile and a tax collector. The Jews back in that day did not associate with Gentiles and tax collectors. When Paul makes this reference, he means to not continue in fellowship with them.
This should be a cause of great sorrow and mourning for any church family. However, the purpose behind these extreme measures is the hope of reconciliation.
Remember what we saw in1 Corinthians 5. Paul said “… I decided to turn such a person over to Satan for the destruction of his body, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5:3-5
This process of judging others MUST be done in humility, love, and always in hope of reconciliation.
Example of Judging Others in the Bible
So, we read in 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul told the church in Corinth to remove the sinful person from among them with the hope that they would be reconciled. If we read in Paul’s next letter to them, we see that there was evidence that this person had repented. Paul instructs the church at this time to affirm him and welcome him back into fellowship.
Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 2 Corinthians 2:6-8
Summary of What the Bible Says About Judging Others
- Examine our own heart first – Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 1:27-2:3
- We don’t judge unbelievers. That’s God’s job. – 1 Corinthians
- Don’t judge motives. – 1 Corinthians 4:5
- We are to inspect the fruit of our brothers and sisters in Christ. – Matthew 7:1-5
- Follow the Biblical model in Matthew 18
- Repentance and reconciliation is the goal – 2 Corinthians 2:6-8