Judge not, lest ye be judged

Judge not, lest ye be judged

6 min read
Section of English Psalter of Psalms 85  (c.1220-c.1225) with two female personifications Mercy and Truth (source: The Fitzwilliam Museum)

Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.
I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.
Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
(Psalm 85:7-10)


I think the gospel of Christ contains powerful truths from this simple teaching (Matthew 7:1-2):

Judge not, lest ye be judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Some have characterized this as “the loophole in the gospel”. If we require a tremendous amount of mercy to be saved, then Christ is teaching us here that we’ll need to be merciful in equal measure. And I believe this applies not just to how we treat others, but how God desires we approach ourselves.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” could be interpreted as a kind of hyperbole to make the point that we should not be harsh with our judgements. However, Christ also emphasized this principle in the parable of the Pharisee and publican (Luke 18:9-14):

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

There’s a lot to say about this parable (for example how exact obedience is insufficient to save), but in the context of judgement Christ is pointing out that the Pharisee’s inability to be merciful towards another adds to his condemnation. The Pharisee is self-assured of his righteousness by pointing to his obedience contrasting it with the disobedience he sees in others. The publican defines their hope for righteousness by God’s merciful response to their repentance. The Pharisee’s focus on obedience is their condemnation. The publican’s acknowledgement of their disobedience is their salvation. So Christ pointing out the link between our use of judgement and our ability to receive salvation is not an isolated statement.

Another important aspect to consider with the phrase “judge not, lest ye be judged” is from the Greek behind the Gospel of Matthew. κρίνετε is the Greek word for judge here. Well, technically κριθῆτε is used too. κρίνετε – does mean “judge” but it is especially used in an official, final, legal manner (as in a court of law). There’s a finality to it. Perhaps another translation is “condemn” which has that notion of finality in it. Sometimes people take the phrase “judge not” too far an insist that we shouldn’t ever draw inference from our past experiences. Seeing how condemnation is involved in the meaning tempers that extreme interpretation.

From this perspective, we shouldn’t “condemn” people because only Christ has the power of the final judgement over the hearts of mankind. But we sometimes exclude ourselves from this commandment and think, “I’ll forgive that person, but I can’t forgive myself.” or “Christ might forgive others, but I’m not worthy of forgiveness.” I believe Christ meant this not just for our relationships with others (including our enemies) but with our relationship with ourself. It covers both.

This means we should let go of condemning ourselves. Sometimes we can be our own worst judge. “I’ll never be good enough.” “I’ll never overcome that.” “I’ll never be smart.” “Christ will never love me.” etc. Christ here is asking us to let go of condemning ourselves and to give power of final judgement to Him. Christ seeks to take this burden from us (Matthew 11:28-30):

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

So I trust Christ when He says He will judge me mercifully when I give that burden to Him who is infinitely more merciful than I am. Orson F. Whitney once taught:

Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend. (Conference Report, Apr. 1929)

Does that mean I blindly excuse myself and sear my conscience? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that I seek to see my actions, thoughts, and life through the lens of my relationship with Christ. I reflect on my life with the yoke of Christ binding me to Him. I never condemn myself to only what I see in myself or what I think others see in me, but instead what Christ sees in me.


This also reminds me of the first part of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The layers of interpretation to this Psalm are wonderful and perhaps warrant a separate blog post. But related to the topic here, think about what the sheep would see when it drinks from the water. In turbulent waters (perhaps stirred up by it’s own disturbances) the sheep only sees a warped, grotesque, or indecipherable reflection: an untrue representation of itself. But with the guidance of the shepherd to still waters, it finally sees itself as the shepherd sees it — undistorted by agitated waters.

As we draw closer to Christ and apply the gospel to our lives we begin to see ourselves (judge ourselves) not as others see us (or as we see ourselves), but instead as Christ sees us. Christ lifts from us the unbearable burden of condemnation and calms the waters of our minds and hearts that are so often turbulent and distorted with judgement.

That is the merciful yoke Christ offers. It is far easier than the yoke of judgement we so often put on ourselves or put on others. And I come away seeing how judgement and mercy really can be keys to applying the gospel in our lives.