To Judge or Not to Judge?

Conflict within the church Paul planted at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11) spilled over into their worship (1 Corinthians 11:18-19) and sadly even into the public sphere, with “brother [going] to law against brother, and that before unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 6:6). In addressing this last point, Paul asks a question worthy of some consideration: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:5).

In the eyes of some, the answer to this question would be a categoric, “No,” and the reason for this answer surprisingly would be another passage of Scripture. To these individuals, when Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” He forever forbad Christians from intervening in the lives of others (Matthew 7:1). So, how could Paul expect a Corinthian brother to judge his fellow brethren when Jesus had forbidden any judgment to take place in the lives of believers?

First, to assume that Jesus categorically condemns judgement is to assume that He not only contradicted Paul but Himself. On another occasion, Jesus actually encourages His audience, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24). The problem clearly is not judgement, but unrighteous judgment.

Contextually speaking, Jesus’ instruction to “judge not” is surrounded by a lot of judgement. Before Jesus said, “Judge not,” He had already judged some individuals who gave, prayed, and fasted to be hypocritical (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). Before you pass that off as Jesus being the rightful judge of people’s behavior (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10), note that Jesus goes on to encourage His audience to use the skill of discernment to identify spiritual dogs, pigs, and/or wolves in sheep’s clothing by judging their fruit (Matthew 7:6, 15, 20). Jesus judged, and He expected His audience to judge.  

So why did Jesus say, “Judge not”? Consider what Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 7: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2). The problem Jesus is addressing isn’t judgement; it’s 1) hypocritical judgement (judging others while giving no thought to how you will be judged) and 2) unreasonable judgment (applying a different standard to others than you apply to yourself). If a person follows the example of Jesus by deferring judgment to God’s revealed Word (cf. John 12:48) and applies that standard of judgement to himself, he has obeyed Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 7:1. In fact, as Jesus goes on to say, the aim of His teaching in Matthew 7:1 isn’t to create a community of faith where people ignore the proverbial specs in their brethren’s eyes but instead to encourage believers to remove things from their own eyes so they can “see clearly” to help their brethren (Matthew 7:3-5).

Jesus doesn’t contradict Paul or Himself when He says, “Judge not.” Instead, He merely encourages people to be careful and consistent whenever they exercise judgement so as to avoid hypocrisy and unreasonableness. Some thoughts from James and Paul seem appropriate in closing: “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty […] For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (James 2:12; 1 Corinthians 11:31).
-Patrick Swayne






1 Corinthians 12 1 Corinthians 14:15 1 Corinthians 14 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 1 Corinthians 7 1 Peter 1:6-12 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 3 1 Peter 5:6-7 1 Peter 1 Samuel 4 1 Thessalonians 5:18 1 Timothy 4:1-3 2 Corinthians 6 2 John 1:9 2 John 9 2 Kings 2 Peter 2 2 Peter 3 2 Peter 2 Samuel Abel Abraham Absalom Acts 17 Acts 19 Acts 2 Acts 8 Acts Alcohol Alleged Contradictions Apostles Ark of the Covenant Attitude Authority Autonomy Autumn Balance Baptismal Regeneration Baptism Barnabas Benevolence Bible Contradictions Bible Questions and Answers Bible Study Bible Biblical Interpretation Bishop Body of Christ Borrowing Broad Way Cain and Abel Cain Calvinism Catholicism Catholic Celibacy Challenges Children Christian Living Christmas Church Funds Church Leadership Church Membership Church of Christ Church Circumspection Citations Citizenship Colossians 3:16 Communication Communion Community Confidence Congregations Contend for the Faith Contentment Covetousness Creation Credit Current Events Dating David Debt Forgivness Deconstruction Degrees of Punishment Deity Deliverance Denominationalism Devil Difference Different Discipleship Divine Nature Doctrine Dragon Drinking Easter Ecclesiastes 7:10 Ecclesia Eldership Elders Elder Elijah Elisha Encouragement Enoch Ephesians 2:8-9 Ephesians 5:15 Ephesians 5:16 Ephesians 5:18 Ephesians 5:19 Ephesians 5:5 Ephesians 5 Esther 4:14 Evangelism Ezekiel 36 Ezekiel 6 Faith Alone Faith Only Faithfulness Faith Fall False Teachers False Teaching Fathers Fear Feeding of the 5000 Fornication Free Will Fundamentals Galatians 4:9-10 Gender Roles Generosity Genesis 22 Genesis 4 Genesis Gift of Tongues Gifts Giving Godhead Godhood God Gospel Meeting Gospel Grace Gratitude Greater Sin Greed Grief Grieving Hallelujah Praise Jehovah Hallelujah Hebrews 13:4 Help Hermeneutics Holidays Holy Spirit's Deity Husbands Hymns Hypotheticals Idolatry Imperatives Influence Insomnia Instrumental Music Instruments in Worship Intertextuality Isaac Isaiah 2 Isaiah 6 James 1:19 James 1:27 James 1 James Jehovah Witnesses Jehovah Jerome Jesus Temptation Jesus' Deity Jesus\' Deity Jesus Job John 11 John 19:11 John 4:24 John Calvin John the Baptist Jude 1:11 Jude 3 Jude Judgement Judging Judgment Kindness Lamb of God Lamech Lazarus Leadership Leaven Lemuel Lending Levites Limited Atonement Living Sacrifice Local Church Lord's Supper Luke 1:28 Luke 5:1-11 Mariolatry Mark 1:12-13 Mark Marriage Martin Luther Mary Matthew 5:13-16 Matthew 5:3-12 Matthew 5 Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:1 Melchizedek Men's Business Meeting Men\'s Business Meeting Men\\\'s Business Meeting Men Metaphors Minor Prophets Miracles Miraculous Gifts Money Mormonism Mothers Mount of Olives Mountain of the Lord's House Mountains of Israel Mountains Murder Music Mutual Submission Narrow Gate Narrow Way No Elders Non-Denominational Olive Trees Olives Olivet Olive Once Saved Always Saved Parenting Pastor Patience Patriarchs Pattern Paul Peace Pentecostalism Persecution Perseverence Perspective Philippians 3:20 Philippians 4:6 Plagiarism Poetic Language Politics Prayer Praying to Saints Praying Pray Preacher Preaching Priesthood Priests Proverbs 31:6 Proverbs Providence Psalm 148 Quotations Reader Response Redeeming the Time Relationships Relationship Religion Religious Pluralism Religious Syncretism Remission of Sins Restoration Movement Restoration Revelation 12:9 Riches Roman Catholic Church Romans 12:1-8 Romans 12:10 Romans 12:15 Romans 12:1 Romans 12 Sacrifice Saints Only Salvation Satan Scarecrows Sermon on the Mount Serving Others Sexual Sin Silence of the Scriptures Singing Sin Sleep Sobriety Song Studies Sons Sovereignty of God Spending Spirit and Truth Spiritual Death Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Leadership Stephen Straight Gate Stress Student Debt Submission Suffering Temptations Thankfulness The Beatitudes The Problem of Pain and Suffering The Problem of Suffering The Way of Cain The Way Tongue Speaking Total Hereditary Depravity Tradition Trials Trinity Types and Antitypes Uncleanness Unconditional Election Understanding Unity Unknown Tongue Vulgate Wealth Wide Gate William Kirkpatrick Wives Women in the Church Women's Roles Word Study Work Worship Zechariah clergy death sickness