By Melissa McLaughlin

“Don’t judge.”  “Judge not or you will be judged.”

That is straight from the Bible. Perhaps among the most frequently quoted words, in fact.

But what did Jesus really mean?

Does it mean that my friend, who was physically and sexually abused by her father and brother, should pretend they have done nothing wrong?

Does it mean that my neighbor, whose spouse struggles with alcoholism and pornography, should turn a blind eye to all of this?

Where do these words “do not judge” leave them?

In the end, we know that God is Judge and He is a righteous Judge. He sees the depths of our heart and our underlying motives. God is the one Judge we can trust to be true, just and perfect through and through.

Thankfully, He is also gracious and merciful. Therefore, He sent His Son, Jesus, to stand in our place exchanging His righteousness for our sin. Believers are forgiven and heaven-bound, based on Jesus’ perfect goodness. Hallelujah!

But what are we to do in the meantime. In this lifetime. Until that final day of judgment when God will make right all that is wrong?

Is Jesus asking us not to think or discern?

Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus said…

In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus said these words: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 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. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the verb “judge” is defined with such phrases as:  to form an opinion through careful weighing of evidence, to sit in judgment or try a case, or to be critical.

Clearly, the act of judging can take one of two forms. One is a type of discerning or ascertaining truth, using careful thought and evidence. Another assumes an air of condemnation.

Is Jesus asking us not to discern? Certainly not. If we read the whole paragraph to obtain the context of this passage, we see that Jesus explains we must first take the log out of our own eye, then we can help a friend. He is asking us to begin with self-examination before examining others. Afterwards, if we see others who are struggling with sin, the goal is for us to be compassionate, humble and helpful, keeping in mind our own “log and timber pile”!

Jesus then goes on to say that we should not give dogs what is holy or cast pearls before pigs.

Wow! That’s a pretty strong statement for someone who just asked us not to judge others, to then turn and call some people dogs and pigs! How would we know who to guard against if we didn’t conduct some sort of evaluation? Jesus is inviting us to discern when others are taking advantage or misusing our kindness, faith or love. He makes it plain, stop giving to them.

I love this bold teaching. Jesus sets firm boundaries for those who are abusive or misuse others.

Just a few verses later, in this same chapter, Jesus teaches his followers to beware of false prophets (or teachers) who walk about like wolves in sheep’s clothing. By their fruit we will recognize them. Matthew 7:15-20  Once again Jesus is asking us to be watchful and aware, to observe carefully and discern whether or not people are truly following God and His Word, based on their actions.

In another passage of scripture, Jesus actually teaches his followers to judge correctly. John 7:24

When we read these three words “Do not judge” in context, combined with the whole counsel of scripture, it is abundantly clear, Jesus is teaching us to refrain from any form of judgment that is unforgiving, condemning, tears others down, that exalts ourselves or that inserts ourselves in God’s role as final Judge. However, Jesus does encourage wise discernment.

Does this mean we should not address sin or hold one another accountable?

In Galatians 6:1 we read, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”

How do we go about this delicate and difficult task of restoring one another when caught in sin?

Though it is never easy for someone to help me see the logs and specks in my life, out of love for one another, we should pray, ask for the leading of the Holy Spirit and try our best to help one another grow to reflect the image of Christ. How do we tackle this? Here are some Bible verses that provide clarity in this matter.

Let us speak in truth and love. Ephesians 4:15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Let us approach one another in total humility. James 4:6 – God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

May we be kind, compassionate and forgiving. Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

May we speak with gentleness and hope. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

May we be encouraging, patient and careful. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

What are my takeaways from all of this?

1.Jesus does not ask us to put our brains on a shelf.

2.Jesus teaches there is a difference between discerning with wisdom and judging with condemnation.

3.Jesus asks us to evaluate ourselves first.

4.Jesus asks us to gently and compassionately help others who are struggling with sin, while humbly remembering that we are also sinners in need of a Savior.

The beauty of all this is that God defines sin, according to His Word. That responsibility is not put on our shoulders. Praise God, He provided His Son to forgive our sins! His Word is true. His Son is our Savior. His Spirit helps us. This is reason to rejoice! If we turn to Jesus, we can rest in His truth, power, justice, forgiveness, mercy and love forever! This is amazing grace!

What are your takeaways?

Please join me in prayer.

Heavenly Father,

We praise you, for only You are God! Thank You for sending Jesus to forgive us and draw us into Your eternal family of love. Holy Spirit, help us lay our hearts, minds and lives before You to examine truthfully and help us grow. May we remember that only You are Judge and we can rest in Your judgments for You are good, true and merciful. Give us a heart of compassion for all who are hurting, wandering, or caught in the enemy’s sin-laden traps. May Your kindness flow through us, splashing over the edges and refreshing those around us, for it is Your kindness that leads us to repentance. We love you, Lord. Help us reflect Your beauty, truth and grace in all we do. In Jesus’ name and for His sake we pray. Amen.

Additional Resources:

Who Labels or Defines Sin? By Melinda V. Inman

The Power of Sin is Broken! Past, Present and Future! By Melissa McLaughlin

Judge Not? By Desiring God

What is the Whole Counsel of God by Got Questions

For an amazing story of someone who has overcome childhood abuse, please read more about Lori Cunningham at Not Alone Because of Jesus.

For a remarkable story and helpful teaching about overcoming spousal abuse, please read more about Alice Mills  at Poema Chronicles.