What Did Jesus Mean About Not Judging?

When Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” what does he mean by the word “judge”?

The word for “judge” in Greek is κρίνω which has a range of meaning that touches upon the arenas of moral discernment (knowing good from bad), lawsuits, governmental direction, and final damnation by God.[1] This mirrors the range of meaning for the word “judge” in English, which, has the following dictionary definitions:[2]

  • “to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises”
  • “to hold as an opinion”
  • “to form an estimate or evaluation of, especially to form a negative opinion about”

So, knowing the definition of the word is not really enough here. It is incredibly important for this context to know the specific meaning and usage of the word “judge” by Jesus. 

Now we know from the immediate context of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus is not exhorting His disciples to avoid using moral discernment. Jesus Himself has used such moral discernment throughout the Sermon, just as He does in other places throughout the gospels. Jesus also encourages His disciples to differentiate between what is good and what is bad, and to seek after and live by a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. So, clearly, Jesus does not mean that His disciples should throw out moral judgment or cease to differentiate between good and bad.

It’s also clear Jesus is not referring to lawcourt or governmental settings, even if there are implications for those spheres.

Instead, we see that the focus for Jesus’ instruction here is relational and interpersonal. Because the word “brother” is used later in this teaching, it seems most likely that Jesus is referring to the relationships within the disciple community that He is forming.

And because of that, many scholars and writers have suggested that the best sense of the meaning of “do not judge” is “do not condemn.” Do not condemn. Condemnation is rooted in a skewed view of others, ourselves, and God.

When we condemn people, we reveal a skewed view of others as less than whole people, as somehow irredeemably damaged, or lacking value and worthy of discriminatory treatment.

When we condemn people, we reveal a skewed view of ourselves as somehow better than others, more valuable or good, more intrinsically right in some way.

When we condemn people, we reveal a skewed view of God as either an angry destructive being or less than us and subject to our judgments.

Within all of this are two fatal sins that have been addressed throughout the Sermon on the Mount: pride and anger. Jesus’ disciples cannot live in the way of pride, it is contrary to the way of Christ, which is humility, and blocks us from living the good life with God. Neither can we live in the way of anger, for it too is contrary to the way of Christ, which is love, and also blocks us from encountering the good life.

And this is so easy in our own day, where political divides, media echo chambers, and social media have exacerbated our pride and anger to the point of readily dehumanizing one another. We now ignore injustice and cancel public figures without much more than a thought. We pummel other’s opinions with our opinions, hammer people’s hurts with our own hurt, and make condemnation so much a part of our lives that we’ve ceased to recognize it anymore.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

This is why Jesus’ words in verse two are so important. There He outlines the principle of reciprocity:

  • the way you judge, you will be judged
  • the way you measure, you will be measured

In the Greek the words come across in groups of three with such force that it’s hard to ignore. “If you do this, then that is what will be done to you. If you take this way, then that’s way you’ll receive it yourself,” Jesus says.

That’s reciprocity.

While there’s some debate about whether Jesus is referring to us receiving this back from people or from God, both aspects make sense here.

If we treat people with condemnation and harsh measures, that’s how we should expect them to treat us back.

And if we try to usurp God’s place as the only Judge and measurer of things, then we should beware of facing the final judgment where God will test our hearts, minds, words, and actions.

So, Jesus says: disciples don’t judge or condemn one another. Instead, with discernment and love, they help one another grow.


[1] Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 228.

[2] “judge (verb),” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/judge.

Eastbrook at Home – April 11, 2021

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM. This weekend we continue our preaching series on the Sermon on the Mount, “Becoming Real.” This continues our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which began with “Family Tree” and “Power in Preparation.” This week I will explore Matthew 7:1-6.

Join in with the Eastbrook 365 daily devotional for this series here.

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, but you do need to RSVP ahead of time. Find out more info here.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 10 April 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


040721ugwu-church“Christian clergy are being kidnapped and killed in Nigeria” – Patrick Egwu in The Christian Century: “On April 24, 2018, Joseph Gor and Felix Tyola­ha were presiding over an early morning mass for about 50 parishioners at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in a village in north central Nigeria. About 20 minutes into the service, gunmen, suspected to be from the largely Muslim Fulani ethnic group, stormed the parish and opened fire on the congregation. Nineteen people were killed, including both priests. The gunmen also razed houses, destroyed crops, and left the community in a state of chaos. After the attack, bishops, priests, and thousands of residents demonstrated to protest the killings. The protesters called on the Nigerian government to arrest and prosecute the killers. Three years later, no one has been arrested or prosecuted.”


“What Is the Good Life and How Do We Find It? A Forum with Dr. Jonathan Pennington” – As I have steadily been working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in a preaching series entitled “Becoming Real” at Eastbrook Church, I have benefited from many works on that part of Matthew’s Gospel. From Augustine to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from R. T. France to Dallas Willard, many voices have helped me. One new voice that has been particularly helpful this go round with Jesus’ most famous sermon is Jonathan T. Pennington. In this lecture for the Center for Public Christianity, Pennington draws upon his work in two books, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing and Jesus the Great Philosopher, to speak about the good life from a Christian perspective.


Matthew D Kim“Addressing Racism in Light of the Image of God” – This article by Matthew D. Kim is adapted from “Preaching on Race in View of the Image of God” by Matthew D. Kim in Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel edited by Daniel Darling (Lexham Press, 2021). He writes: “Race and ethnicity are taboo subjects in many pulpits across the United States. Knowing that some of their congregation will see it as “liberal” talk, a social gospel incongruous with the true gospel, or a ploy of the political left’s agenda, many pastors shy away from teaching and preaching on the issues of race and racism—regardless of their rationale for such avoidance. Two camps emerge out of this salient concern. The first camp wonders why we are still needing to talk about race, while the second camp is exhausted by having to explain to the other why discussions on race and racism are essential.”


08.10-On-Correcting-Children“On Correction and Children” – As I was preparing my message on Matthew 7:1-6 for this coming weekend at Eastbrook as part of our series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Becoming Real,” I came across this article by Dallas Willard on the passage. This is really an excerpt from Willard’s fantastic book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, which is an extended exposition on discipleship through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. I also consider that book as one of my must-read books on living with God through Jesus Christ.


“On ‘getting’ poetry” – Both during Lent and now during Easter I have posted a poetry series (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter”). I know that many people find poetry hard to understand or enjoy. Here is Adam Kirsch in The New Criterion addressing that very challenge. “I hear the same thing regularly from people who love to read novels and biographies, who are undaunted by string quartets and abstract paintings, but find poetry a closed door. No one is more aware of this disconnect between poetry and the reading public than poets themselves. The debate over why poetry moved from the center of literary culture to the outskirts of the academy, and how it can regain its place in the sun, has been going on at least since Dana Gioia’s landmark essay “Can Poetry Matter?” appeared in The Atlantic in 1991.”


“InterVarsity Wins Suit Against Wayne State” – Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today: “The fight for campus access for faith-based student groups scored another legal victory this week. A district court judge ruled on Monday that Wayne State University violated the First Amendment with a 2017 decision that temporarily denied InterVarsity Christian Fellowship its status as a student group over the chapter’s requirement that its leaders be Christian. Wayne State’s nondiscrimination policy, according the 83-page opinion by Robert Cleland, ‘violated plaintiffs” rights to internal management, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and free exercise as a matter of law.’  The judge ruled that the First Amendment protects religious organizations’ rights to select their own ministers, and that the InterVarsity chapter’s student leaders qualified as ministers. While InterVarsity is open to all students, it asks leaders to sign a statement of faith.”


Music: Jpk. (featuring Nemetz), “Patience

George Herbert, “Easter Wings” [Poetry for Easter]

Each week during Lent I posted a poem that I have found helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross (see “Poetry for Lent“). Because that was so meaningful for me, I will continue into Eastertide with a similar “Poetry for Easter” series. Each week I will post a poem that helps me engage more meaningfully with the message of Easter. Here is George Herbert’s poem “Easter Wings” from The Temple. George Herbert was a priest in the Church of England and one of the most significant poets of the 17th century metaphysical poetry movement.


Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
      Though foolishly he lost the same,
            Decaying more and more,
                  Till he became
                        Most poore:
                        With thee
                  O let me rise
            As larks, harmoniously,
      And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne
      And still with sicknesses and shame.
            Thou didst so punish sinne,
                  That I became
                        Most thinne.
                        With thee
                  Let me combine,
            And feel thy victorie:
         For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.