Thou Shalt Judge

No, I didn’t get it wrong: I did not mistakenly leave a word out of my title. While I certainly have Matt. 7:1 in mind, my thesis here is that believers are commanded to judge. When Jesus told us not to judge in the Matthew passage, he is clearly referring to hypocritical judgment. The immediate context (Matt. 7:1-5), and the whole context of Scripture makes this quite clear.

In the Bible there are numerous passages encouraging believers to judge, to test, to discern, to evaluate, to discriminate, and to differentiate. Unfortunately we live in a world which shies away from all of those activities, and is trying to convince us that we must never judge anyone or anything.

A warped view of tolerance has infected the world, but sadly much of the church has been contaminated by this nonsense as well. On a regular basis believers are going around telling other believers how unbiblical and unspiritual it is to judge. The really ironic thing here of course is in so doing, these believers are being quite judgmental. They are quite happy to chew out and censure other believers for what they consider to be wrong and un-Christlike behaviour. What they are in fact doing in the process is strongly judging others!

I have had a number of fellow Christians berate me in quite strong terms about judging. They feel quite compelled to tell me how wrong it is to be judgmental. But they just can’t seem to make the connection here: they are full of criticism and judgment about me as they rebuke me for being critical and judgmental. Indeed, they are quite intent on rebuking me as they lecture me about how wrong it is to rebuke others.

The truth is, in the real world no one can get away from judgment. Even when one argues that judgment is wrong, one is still making a judgment! Judgment simply has to do with discerning or evaluating. One dictionary definition of judgment is this: “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing”.

And the word judge simply means “to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises … to determine or pronounce after inquiry and deliberation”. That all sounds like pretty good stuff to me. Indeed, it is. And Scripture everywhere orders us to do these very things.

Understanding Matt. 7:1

Before looking at some biblical passages which exhort us to judge, let me look in a bit more detail at one of the most misquoted and misunderstood texts in the Bible: Matt. 7:1. Here is how the whole pericope (vv. 1-5) reads:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So what is Jesus getting at here? Jesus is warning about those who condemn others, who self-righteously and hypocritically denounce others and act in a censorious manner. He is not saying we should never engage in moral evaluation and discernment. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “In trying to avoid the tendency to condemn, people have swung right over to the other extreme, and so again they are in a false position.”

David Turner comments, “Discipleship inevitably requires discerning ‘judgements’ about individuals and their teachings (e.g., 3:7…). Jesus himself makes such judgments (e.g., 4:10…). Jesus does not forbid here what he has commanded and exemplified elsewhere. What is forbidden is a rigid, censorious judgmentalism that scrutinizes others without even a glance at oneself.”

And of great interest is the very next verse which follows “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matt. 7:6): What is all this about? It sure sounds like judgment to me. Indeed, it has to be. How can one know what is sacred and what is not, unless one discerns, evaluates, tests, and, well, judges?

And just a few verses later in the same chapter, Jesus is at it again: judging! Here is what Matt 7:15-23 says:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

How can we tell if a prophet is true or false unless we judge, discern and test? We must, in fact, be fruit inspectors. The principle here is found in the old saying, ‘like root, like fruit’. R.T. France remarks, “The fruits are not specified, but the idea is clearly that profession must be tested by practice.”

But it is likely that the fruit of both behaviour and belief are what must be judged and assessed. As John Stott remarks, “The first kind of ‘fruit’ by which false prophets reveal their true identity is in the realm of character and conduct. . . . A second ‘fruit’ is the man’s actual teaching. . . . In examining a teacher’s credentials, then, we have to examine both his character and his message. Bishop Ryle summed it up well: ‘Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets’.”

The Need to Judge

From what I have already said, it should be clear that there are at least two vital areas which Christians must be discerning about: truth and error, and right and wrong. Scripture urges us to test, judge and evaluate both areas. We are to examine doctrinal teachings and beliefs, and we are to evaluate a believer’s conduct and behaviour.

Consider some passages which speak about the need of judging doctrine. A classic passage in this regard is Acts 17: 11: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Like the Bereans, we must not uncritically accept everything we hear – even by great men of God – but we must carefully test the message as to how it lines up with God’s truth.

As William Larkin notes, the Berean’s noble character manifests itself in two ways: “There is great eagerness to receive the message. Yet the people’s enthusiasm is not gullibility, for they subject Paul’s message, the word of God, to thorough scrutiny.” Or as John Stott puts it, “They combined receptivity with critical questioning.”

And as John Polhill reminds us, “This was no cursory investigation either, no weekly Sabbath service, as at Thessalonica. They met daily to search the Scriptures.” What a great model for all believers to follow.

Another passage is 2 Thess. 2:3: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” The idea is that deception is all around, and we must guard ourselves against it. Only by the prayerful testing and judging of what people say in the light of Scripture can we avoid being deceived. As  G.K. Beale reminds us, “Deceptive ideas can be conveyed in a variety of ways that make them appear attractive and true.” But we are called to look beyond appearances, and carefully judge what is being taught.

We are also told in Scripture to judge behaviour. That includes both us and others. Jesus made this quite clear. In Luke 17:3 he admonishes us with these words: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Joel Green comments, “What Jesus counsels is, first, confrontation, and, second, readiness to forgive.” I am not sure if today’s church is very good at doing either!

Darrell Bock further explains what this rebuking is all about: “Disciples are to share in each other’s commitment to pursue righteousness. Thus, Jesus exhorts them to rebuke a believer who sins, not because he wishes disciples to meddle in the affairs of others, but because he wishes the community to desire the righteousness that results in accountability to one another for the way they walk. Such exhortations are common in the NT.”

Paul also exhorts us to judge others. In 1 Tim 5:20 he says, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” In an age where believers are loathe to confront anyone, and where church discipline has all but disappeared, such remarks must sound quite alien indeed.

Gordon Fee comments, “This may seem a bit harsh and unloving, but … it is for the sake of the whole community. The point is that the others will experience ‘the fear of God’ by such a public rebuke”. If ‘judgment’ is a rarely heard term in today’s church, so too is ‘the fear of the Lord’.

Of course there are a number of such passages which speak about the need for, and the right way of doing, church discipline. This is not the place to go into detail on the subject. Suffice it to say that all church discipline has as its aim the restoration of the wayward brother. But it starts with confrontation, judging, and rebuking.

And of course we are to judge ourselves as well. Here are two passages – of many – which speak to this. In 1 Thess. 5:21-22 Paul exhorts us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” A number of commentators have noted that this passage draws upon the imagery of testing metals, or coins, and can be thought of in terms of distinguishing true or genuine coinage from false or counterfeit coins. Just as judgment and discernment are needed as we assess coins, so too they are needed in the spiritual life.

As Leon Morris remarks, “All things must be tested. And not simply tested, but accepted wholeheartedly or rejected decisively as a result of the test. ‘Hold fast’ denotes the firm acceptance of the good. There must be no half measures.”

A specific example of judging oneself comes in 1 Cor. 11:28: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” Without such self-examination, the presumptuous believer opens himself up to divine judgment (vv. 29-32). As Paul warns in v. 31, “if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment”.

Peter had said similar things: “Judgment must first begin with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). David Prior comments, “Each Christian is obliged, not to reach some moral or spiritual standard of perfection (imaginary or otherwise), but to pursue rigorous and honest self-scrutiny.”

Paul sums this up all very nicely in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”


Many other passages could be mentioned here. The point is, believers are called to judge. We are called to judge the teachings we hear. We are called to judge ourselves and our conduct. And we are called to judge the conduct of others.

So the next time you hear someone recklessly throwing around Matt. 7:1, remind him that he must proclaim the “full counsel of God” as Paul said in Acts 20:27. Ripping one passage out of context is not helpful. Yes we are to avoid censorious judgmentalism. But we are also called to test, approve, discern, evaluate, discriminate, and judge. To do anything less is to renounce our Christian calling.

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38 Replies to “Thou Shalt Judge”

  1. (Le 19:17) Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
    (Ps 141:5) Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.
    (Pr 27:5) Open rebuke is better than secret love.
    (Pr 27:6) Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

    John Nelson

  2. Thanks John

    Yes there are heaps of such passages in Scripture – in both Testaments. Thanks for drawing our attention to a few more of them.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. James Patrick Holding on Tekton refutes the usual lefty non-judgemental twisting of Mt. 7:

    A couple of things to notice here:

    1. The further exposition clearly indicates that what is condemned here is not judging per se, but judging hypocritically.

    2. It also clearly indicates that once you take the “plank” out of your own eye, you will see clearly (the Greek here is diablepo, meaning according to Strong’s, to look through, i.e. recover full vision) to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Thus one is quite free to judge — if one is not a hypocrite!

    Now of course, there is a lot more that could be said about how one should go about the process of “judging”, and we can discuss in this particular case the relevance to the sins of a national leader, and so on. But the bottom line is that this verse is not an outright forbidding of judging at all. In fact, it’s right in line with John 7:24, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (I’ll bet you’ll never hear that verse quoted, eh!)

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  4. Whoa, slow down a bit! You are not supposed to touch the annointed! Judgement is reserved only for the politicians and dubious characters in society!

    You are quite bold but rightly so. Christians need to discern and speak up.
    Barry Koh

  5. I think the key is the line about being judged in the same way you judge others. In other words, if you hold up a certain standard and expect others to adhere to that standard then you yourself should also be judged by that standard.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, if it is God’s standard that I am holding up.

    Kevin Clark

  6. I attended the briefing of the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem, in London, at All Souls Langham Place in July of this year. This was chaired by Peter Jenson, Archbishop of Sydney, Gregory Venables, Archbishop of Argentina, Jim Packer and Hernry Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda. As a non-Anglican I was sat amongst around 800 delegates, mostly men. At lunch-time we exited the building for a break, only to be greeted by Peter Tatchell, shouting from his usual high moral platform and accusing the Archbishop Akkinola of Nigeria of violence towards homosexual in that country.

    Understandably, like Jonah wanting to treat Nineveh as beyond the pale, he was ignored as we good Christians filed past, distancing ourselves from this sin-soaked character. What I am about say will sound insufferably self righteous but it is not meant to be. I did not ignore him but spoke to him as did one of two thieves to the other, whilst hanging either side of Jesus Christ on the cross:

    ‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
    But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” ‘ Luke 23: 39ff

    The moment I saw Peter standing at the door, I was made aware of my own sinful nature, starting with pride. My remonstration with him was not so much what a sinner he was but an attempt to warn him of the danger we were both in, of judgement and hell.

    In Luke 21:36ff Jesus said ,“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

    David in Psalm 51 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

    Watchmen in the crows nest are not just there looking out for their own safety but have a responsibility towards all others in the ship.

    David Skinner, UK

  7. John MacArthur is worth a read on this subject; his commentary on Matthew reflects your p.o.v.
    Ken Laffer

  8. Bill, you’re right. Mt 7:1 is often quoted in the name of tolerance by Christian and pagan alike. Thank you for pulling together a good set of comments that will help us next time we hear someone bring up this furphy.

    Graham Keen, Melbourne

  9. Excellent post!

    The Bible has a lot to say about judging rightly:

    Luk 12:57 Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?

    Jhn 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

    Act 10:42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God [to be] the Judge of quick and dead.

    1Cr 6:2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

    1Cr 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

    Jhn 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

    Christine Watson

  10. Thanks, Bill, for your enlightening article! We must be very thankful that our God has left us with such a clear guide for our daily lives. This guide, His Holy Word, has absolute authority over all areas of life! It has an answer to all the questions and a solution for all the problems that our society is faced with, including matters of life and death! May this Word be a lamp for our feet and light on our path.
    Hans van der Linde

  11. Thanks so much for this excellent article. It came at the perfect time for me. Just this week, I received a comment on my blog from a woman who chided me for being judgmental and condemning in one of my posts. This woman (a believer) tried to convince me that speaking the truth is judgmental and has no place in in the life of the believer. I’ve been mulling this whole thing over since having this discussion with her, and your post really helped me “flesh out” what I was thinking. Thanks again!
    Linda Gantz Difino

  12. Many thanks Linda
    I know the church is losing it big time, but this believer actually said ‘telling the truth is judgmental’? Yikes, No wonder the church is in such a bad way. Would she prefer that we speak lies instead?
    Thanks for your kind words.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Great biblical study Bill. When Christians choose not to discern, evaluate, test, or discipline (all forms of judging) it is excused in the name of love and tolerance. As Australian Christians we need to obey the challenging parts of Scripture and be more hardened for the battle.
    Graham Lawn

  14. Thanks Graham

    Yes you are right. It is exactly because Christians are not discerning and evaluating and judging that we are in such a mess. Thus we have Christians afraid to speak out on the most basic of issues, be it defending the unborn, biblical marriage, or the truth of Scripture, etc. The early church grew and thrived because it could discern truth from error, right from wrong. Today we are afraid to make any evaluation, for fear of being intolerant and exclusive. But the church must be intolerant of sin, of falsehood, of heresy, and so on. And we must insist upon the exclusive truth claims of biblical Christianity.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  15. Not only are we not allowed to judge but neither are we to hate. All laws that are being brought in that make it a criminal offence to hate or incite hatred are to do with social engineering: the creation of a docile and unresponsive society that can be easily controlled and manipulated.

    -Revelations2:6 But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, (who practised unrestrained sexual perversions) which I also hate.
    -1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,(homosexuals)
    -Proverbs 6:16 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
    -Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

    Let us never cease to hate with every fibre of our bodies all that is contrary to the nature and character of God.

    David Skinner, UK

  16. G’day Bill. The article on judgement is so excellent and extremely helpful. You sort of know it is the truth in your spirit but the ‘do not judge’ mantra is so widespread across the church. Thank you for putting that together.
    God bless you, Ryan and Michelle Foley

  17. Thanks Ryan and Michelle

    Yes you are right: I think deep down most people know this is a lot of baloney, but real fear has crept in, and many are worried about appearing to be judgmental or intolerant. So we have allowed the world to effectively silence us. A silent church is a useless church. Just what the enemy wants of course.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. The Scriptures also tell us to ‘Hate what is evil”.
    Ps 45:7; Ps 97:10; Pr 8:13; Amos 5:15; Ro 12:9; Heb 1:9.
    Christine Tabe

  19. Thanks Bill, I really appreciate the way you’ve thrashed the issue out! May the Lord continue to bless you and your family for your faithfulness to Him.
    Jessica Dornan

  20. This must head up the list of “Common Misconceptions among Christians”.

    I love what C.S. Lewis had to say about it in the Screwtape Letters – that the devil has systematically nullified the effectiveness of Christians by promoting “Judge not…”, or you have a “judgemental attitude”, yet we are called to “abhor what is evil” (Rom 12:9) which is a bit hard if we don’t judge evil. Ironically, the majority of scriptures about judging others seems to be in context of judging our brethren in Christ – something which the western church sadly lacks the guts to do, happy to allow (& even promote) sins of pride, gluttony, sexual immorality, backbiting/gossip, etc. etc. to continue to flourish in their midst.

    Garth Penglase

  21. Thanks for this informative and, to many, thought provoking article.

    My short question: Can I translate this text into Swedish and publish it on my website

    I’d like more people to get a better grasp on this in Sweden (the ignorance about judgment is not only in the English speaking world…)

    In Christ,
    Rolf Lampa, Sweden

  22. Thanks Rolf

    Yes feel free to make use of this, or anything else on this site. The usual attribution will do: who wrote it and where it was written, a link to it, etc.


    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  23. Brilliant! Finally someone has had a “revelation” about this sacred cow called “judging”. I have had so many conversations with otherwise well meaning Christians about the scriptural requirement that God places upon His people to “judge all things”. Political correctness and misguided tolerance have served to soften the body to the point that “even the elect” will indeed suffer the deception warned about in scripture. I’m amazed at the foolishness of those who use the line, “touch not the anointed of the Lord” when we are told to beware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. The very reason that these “wolves” look and behave like sheep, is why we must judge their doctrines, lifestyles, values, speech, etc – against the guiding standards espoused for us in scripture. And those practicing sin will end up in hell wondering why Christians never explained that what they were doing was in fact *sin* (idolatry, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, abortion, false gods, etc) – but graciously wrapped them in non-judgmental arms while proudly declaring that acceptance and love has become their highest value.

    Thank goodness for Jesus and his loving straight talk. We need more of it.

    Peter Jackel

  24. Excellent Bill! Praise God for such insight!! This is one of my favorite quotes on Judgment: “”Judge not, that you be not judged” is often the wailing cry of false teachers and hardened sinners who misapply the verse to ward off censure for their evil deeds. Do not be intimidated by such people, for Jesus has commanded us to judge with righteous judgment.” — Roy Davison He did not come to bring peace but a BATTLE!!
    Bobby O’Dell

  25. It’s been a long time since you posted this. I did a search on the page including comments, but could’ve missed it so this might repeat. I just wanted to add a couple other references.
    1) I Cor 6:2 & 3 is pretty clear in the Greek, though toned down in the NIV. We are to judge the world.& ‘the smallest matters’ & angels. Most of chap 5 is a prologue to this, the need to be discerning so we can know what to drop from our lives, what to keep (discerning of course being a form of judging, as in the reference in Acts to the Bereans). Of course, many commentators really disagree with the text here.
    2) Mat 18:14-20 is about discerning wrong in the church.
    I wish more Christians would read Ryan Dobson’s book “Be Intolerant.” (He’s Dr Dobson’s son, of Focus on the Family.)
    J Stuart

  26. Thanks again Bill, for highlighting yet another area where Christians have given in to the devil’s lies!
    In both Old an New Testament, there are many scriptures exhorting us to discern, to exercise right judgment and be ‘fruit inspectors’.
    Why are God’s people perishing – for lack of knowledge of God’s Word and allowing sin into the camp!
    If Christian’s would get back to being biblically discipled under 5-fold ministry, be trained up and equipped to walk in our God given authority, then Churches today would not be weak and powerless and many enjoying friendship with the world!!!
    Barb Hoc

  27. One of the most important judgements we make regards choosing a spouse. Believers and non-believers are constantly ruling in or out when evaluating their, hopefully, lifelong partner. Great points, Mr. Muehlenberg!
    Wayne Cockfield

  28. Yes quite right Wayne. Every day we make judgments as we reject some things and accept other things. Woe to us if we do not exercise such discernment and judgment.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  29. Imagine if Jesus, His Apostles, and Paul were apathetic and did not “reprove the world of sin?” Yet this is what “Christians” are called to do. (2 Timothy 4:1-5) It is disobedient to preach only what our Lord said in John 3:16 and not include what He said in the same breath through verse 21. Secular political correct progressives have no foundation for how boundaries are to be established. Instead they use the thus far successful, culture war plan of deflecting and defaming. Instead of “We the people” being on the offensive, we’ve become “We the sheeple,” on the defensive, for fear of being falsely labeled intolerant or haters. We’ve allowed the despicable to incorrectly use “do not judge” to further their deviation.

    John 3:19-20 – And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

    This and more at Judging and Reproof

    Gary Kelly

  30. Great article. This is exactly what many churches need to be communicating in world where any thought of judging is deemed sinful. Sadly, most people take a verse and use it way out of context. Thank you for sharing this others.

    Billy Edge

  31. Again, a great article Bill. I know you wrote it some time ago, but i’m progressively getting through your site!

  32. Hi Bill, I picked up on this article when you referred it to one of your contributors because of their response to your current article on Church Discipline. Bill, this is a great exegetical essay. It has given a lot of fresh light on how both Jesus & Paul correctly used judgement from a Biblical standpoint. I will probably read this article several more times. There are a lot of “juicy bits” worth praying & meditating over. Kind regards, Kelvin. P.S. Bill, are we allowed to draw on your material for Cell Group lessons & Christian Education lectures, or would you prefer us not to?

  33. Thanks Bill. I remember reading this article a few years ago and have meant to find it again, what a blessing to see you reposted it for me. Great work, great wording and great teaching, thank you again.

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