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Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:1-3 NKJV

This weatherproof command is difficult because it is something we do without thinking. We tend to be very judgmental people, and here, Jesus says to stop it, don’t do it. Do not judge others. 

The Message version describes judgment as having a “critical spirit,” which is in keeping with the Greek definition of the word translated “judge,” krino. Krino means “to decide (mentally or judicially); by implication, to try, condemn, punish.” (Strongs Concordance) 

And Jesus is making it clear here, in no uncertain terms, that we aren’t supposed to do this. Do not judge. This tendency of sizing people up on the basis of their faults and weaknesses, making mental assessments, forming negative opinions and condemnation, is wrong. The Message versions says having a critical spirit towards others is like a boomerang—it will come back at you! Judge not, that you be not judged.

But then we read the verse from the Apostle Paul, a few years later that seems to suggest the opposite.

The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: 1 Corinthians 2:15 NIV

So, Jesus tells us not to judge, and then Paul a few years later tells us that the spiritual person makes judgments about everything—what gives? 

The distinction is found in the subtle difference of the words used. Remember, Jesus is using the word krino, that is, condemn or punish. The word Paul uses here in 1 Corinthians 2 is “anakrino” adding the prefix “ana”, which means “up” giving this word a little different emphasis than juridical condemnation. “up-judge” suggests something positive, the difference is instead of critical, anakrino is restorative. It is the difference between judgment and discernment.

When Paul says that the spiritual man makes judgments about all things, he is saying that discernment is an important, even critical, mindset. But having discernment, clearly, is different than judging from a critical spirit.

  • To judge is to condemn someone, acting as judge and jury.
  • To discern is to examine someone, with the hope of restoring, or healing them.

To judge is to condemn, to discern is to restore.

Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil in order to make wise decisions, and help bring about restoration and wholeness. 

Think of the difference between a courtroom judge and a medical doctor. A judge listens to the evidence then issues a verdict. If it is guilty, a sentence is determined. A doctor also listens to evidence, but his or her goal isn’t to pronounce judgment, it is to determine the path of recovery and healing.

In the same way, Christs’ followers are to bring health and life to the world, not condemnation and punishment.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17

This is how Jesus lived—healing the brokenhearted, setting people free, making people whole. Not with condemnation, but with unconditional love.

Jesus loves you so much that he wants to protect you from slipping into a lifestyle of religious superiority that condemns people who don’t measure up to your expectations. Because that kind of outlook, that critical spirit, is like a boomerang, it comes right back at you in kind.

The Lord asks: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”

Suppose you know a person who is really argumentative, and you tend to judge them for being this way. They can’t carry on a normal conversation without turning it into an argument. So you just put them into this little mental box labeled “argumentative,” and treat them accordingly. You have acted as their judge and jury, mentally condemning them to this little cell, the argumentative cell. 

Now, They may be argumentative because of some significant hurt from their past. But you didn’t bother thinking about that, you just write them off—guilty.

When we are tempted to critically judge another person concerning some failure, we should immediately recognize this as a signal to examine our own lives first, look for a “plank” in our own eyes. Because being critical and judgmental is not seeing with Jesus’ eyes. If we notice this spirit in our heart we need to stop and pray, figure it out, confess and repent.

Instead of sitting in judgment, how much more discerning would it be for you to pray for them, maybe talk to them, try and help them out of love for them as a brother or sister, and search your own heart? Ask the Lord, “Why am I judging this person so harshly, what is it in my heart that I have left unattended?” What is the plank in your own eye that is causing you to act so critically? You may realize that there is something keeping you from discerning this person’s real need. Bitterness, guilt, hidden sin. 

First, deal with the sin in your own heart, and then seek the opportunity to love the other person and minister to them, restoring them in a spirit of love. Help, don’t condemn. By personal confession and repentance, you will be able to extend grace and mercy to others, helping them overcome their missteps and offenses, helping them toward wholeness in Christ. You can’t do that if you would rather sit in judgment of their faults.

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