“Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4:11–12)
One of the most favored verses in the Bible is, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) This is often used when someone speaks out against sin. Is that what the Bible means? Should we truly use the verse in that manner? Is it a righteous thing for us to use this verse in such a way? Is all judgment wrong, or is there a righteous judgment?
Our text speaks to us about speaking evil of one another. This is more than simply saying bad things, but it is about judgmental speech that passes sentence or declares what a person must suffer for something. It is also a matter of going beyond the bounds of the Word of God in our declarations regarding others and their lives in our judgment. This is very specific in that it declares that God is the lawgiver who has the authority to judge, and that His Word is the rule by which He judges. When we say that a person is sinning or condemned when God has not, we are judging unrighteously, wwhen we criticize folks over things that God does not condemn, we are judging unrighteously, and when we say that God will punish someone in a certain manner that God has not specified in His Word, we are judging unrighteously. Notice that God is the judge and His Word is the authority.
What about Jesus saying that we are not to judge? After all, isn’t that the standard? Let us remember that every verse has a context, both an immediate context and then the context of the whole testimony of Scripture. Let us see the immediate context:“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5) What is before us here? Is it not the fact that Jesus was censuring hypocrites who were judging others while they were guilty of worse offenses? This is not a blast against speaking out against sin. This is not a condemnation of all judgment because, if it were, it would be self-contradictory: Jesus would have been judging people for judging, and Jesus is by no means inconsistent or self-contradictory. Jesus was calling out people such as the Pharisees, who condemned others while doing things much worse than that which they condemned in others.
What about standing against sin? Is that forbidden by Christ? Again, if it were, Christ would have contradicted Himself, and He did not do so. What we do find is that Jesus continues throughout Matthew chapter seven and speaks quite firmly against evil. He declares that there are some whose spiritual state is akin to that of hogs and dogs. He continues and declares that there are some who are false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, corrupt trees that bring forth evil fruit, whose end is to be burned. Jesus goes on to warn that there are people who profess Christ who will be rejected in the day of judgment, despite all of the things they had done in His name. Finally, the chapter ends by Jesus contrasting the one whose life is founded on the Word of God with the one who does not build his life upon the Word. In all of these things, Jesus was standing against sin, warning of sinful people, calling out some folks as spiritual fakes, phonies, and liars, declaring that one’s spiritual fruit tells much, and teaching us that we all must submit to His Word if we are to be accepted in the day of judgment.
What about us? Is judgment forbidden to us in every situation? The short answer is, “no.” Jesus told some one day, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) Judgment should not be superficial, for sure; but here we see that Jesus declares that there is a righteous judgment. Furthermore, we find that Paul, as he commanded the Corinthian church to excommunicate the immoral church member, stated that he had judged concerning that matter and that the church was to judge the man as well. “For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,” (1 Corinthians 5:3) “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1 Corinthians 5:12–13) This judgment is two-fold: it is first a speaking out against sin and condemning the person who is sinning because of his immorality, and it is also a matter of passing the sentence of excommunication upon him, which declared that he was not living as one who professed Christ should live and then expelling him from the fellowship of the body.
“BUT!” Someone exclaims to the one standing against sin or false doctrines, “You’re sinning by judging!” This is something that happens too often, I’m sad to say. This person may be quite sincere in what they are saying, and may truly desire to be a blessing and a help. Sometimes, however, such folks simply despise the fact that their sins and falsehoods are being exposed. The latter has much in common with ungodly Ahab, who accused the godly prophet Elijah of troubling Israel, when it was Ahab himself who was guilty (See 1 Kings 18:17-18). Sometimes folks misuse Jesus’ command “Judge not” in an attempt to cover up, justify, or otherwise continue in their sinful ways. This is by no means acceptable to God because they compound their sin by the misuse and abuse of Scripture.
Another says, “I think I recall that the one who could have cast a stone did not do so.” This is in reference to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees, and a woman taken in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees were testing Jesus, trying to find fault with Him and accuse Him. They knew that the law commanded that adulterers were to be put to death by stoning. Jesus’ response to them was, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Did Jesus tell them that it was wrong to speak out against adultery? No. Did He tell them that they should never cry out against sin? He definitely did not. Jesus knew that these men were hypocrites who were willing to sacrifice the life of this woman in order to find fault with Jesus. They wanted to take her life. Jesus’ words to them and their response both demonstrate that they were guilty as well as she was. From the oldest to the youngest, they all walked away because they were convicted of their own sins. Jesus did not tell them that they could not speak against sin because they were sinners. Jesus told them that the one who was not equally guilty as the adulterous woman should be the first to cast a stone to execute capital punishment. For someone to use this text to claim that a person cannot speak out against sin and false doctrine is for a person to misuse and abuse the Scriptures.
Finally, we must recognize that much of the “Judge not” philosophy of today is due to folks acting upon emotions rather than logic and the direction of the Word of God. Sometimes it is due to the fact that folks would rather hold on to their opinions than to submit to the Word of God. Regardless, if someone is standing against sin and false doctrine and you insist that they are wrong, saying, “Judge not,” Brother, you don’t sound spiritual but you appear to be foolish and ignorant of God’s Word. Does that sound harshly? It is no time to mince words and dance around the sins of those who resist the Word of God. Please be sure that you are in the number of those whose allegiance is to the truth and not to emotions and opinions.