Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged—What Jesus Meant

Thankfully, He told us what He meant so we don't have to guess.

The best-known Bible verse used to be John 3:16. But our culture has a new favorite. In fact, it has become the trump card played to justify any and every lifestyle. It’s even a quote from Jesus.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged—What Jesus Meant

(Photo by Photodune)

The phrase is often quoted as “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” While the meaning is the same, it’s interesting we have learned the wrong wording from the 1611 King James Version. It should be: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The verse often is taken to mean nobody has the right to judge anybody for anything at any time.

The problem? The verse has a context. Jesus told us what He meant.

When Jesus spoke these words on the slopes surrounding the Sea of Galilee, He wasn’t saying never to judge. He simply warned about doing it the wrong way—by telling us how to make judgments the right way.

And believe me, it ain’t easy.

Jesus Isn’t Confused

Later in the same book, Jesus commands we do confront a fellow Christian caught in a sin (Matthew 18:15-17). This awkward obligation is supported elsewhere in the Bible (Galatians 6:1).

So, what did Jesus mean, then, when He said, “Judge not lest ye be judged”? The verse that follows explains—and often it isn’t quoted. Jesus tells us exactly what He meant:

Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. — Matthew 7:1-2

Jesus wasn’t confused in His teaching. He didn’t mean we should never make a judgment about right and wrong. As He explained, He meant we shouldn’t make a judgement hypocritically. The verses that follow make this patently clear (Matthew 7:3-5).

Please Pass the Perfection

We know no one is perfect, but we expect it anyway. Except in ourselves. We often excuse our own shortcomings because we claim God’s grace. But then we turn around and demand others be perfect—a standard we ourselves don’t meet.

This is precisely what Jesus was warning against.

The fact is, we never know all the facts.

  • How do we know the idiot driver didn’t just lose his spouse last week?
  • How do we know the rude saleswoman didn’t just discover she has cancer?
  • How do we know the Christian who cussed didn’t just accept Jesus and has no clue how to walk with God?

Wouldn’t it be better to tap the brakes on our judgment—especially when we don’t know all the facts? Before we call into question someone else’s walk with God, we should scrutinize our own.

NOTE: the Bible never gives us the responsibility of pointing out sins of the world as our priority. Unbelievers don’t need to hear lessons of morality as much as they need to hear the gospel. The judgment Jesus spoke of was primarily between believers, not unbelievers.

The world needs the gospel, not rules alone. Otherwise, they may confuse rules with the way of salvation.

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged —What Jesus Meant

Yes, there is a point when we must confront the sin in another Christian’s life. Otherwise, we’re failing to obey the process Jesus and Paul explained in Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1; and 1 Corinthians 5:3-5.

However, that process should only occur after we’ve gone through a more basic examination with our own lives.

“Judge not lest ye be judged.” Jesus meant that our priority for life change should first be to ourselves—then to others.

Tell me what you think: Has anyone ever quoted you, “Judge not lest ye be judged”? What did he or she mean by it? To leave a comment, just click here.

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