Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37 both recite the words of Jesus when He said, “Judge not….” This has often been poorly understood and misapplied. I have heard some people rebuke others by saying, “You can’t judge me. Only God can judge me,” but they say it to insulate themselves from other people’s perception of their sin or wrongdoing. In other words, “I am going to do what I do, and you had best shut up about it.”
That is a total misunderstanding of the word of God. The “judge not” here spoken means you are not to condemn the person and inflict whatever punishment you determine to be suitable, done in a hostile or negative manner. The scripture goes on to say that we all have faults, and if we act in a negative judgmental manner, people will in return treat us in the same manner.
Luke 6:37-38 gives the longer passage with better clarification. The word in Greek (both Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37) for “judge” is Strong’s 2919 “krino” (pr. Kree-no’) and properly means “to distinguish or to decide a matter, right or wrong.” It does not specifically mean to condemn. However, people have determined it means that by implication only to include the following actions: to try, to condemn, to punish, to avenge, or to damn. Those were not the definitions necessarily meant by “krinos” (judge). However, Luke 6:37 does also include those actions when it says, “Condemn not…” It is the word (Strong’s 2613) katadikazo (kat-ad-ik-ad’-zo) and that word does mean to pronounce guilty and condemn, pronounce punishment (adjudge against).
But in what context does Jesus address this issue? It is in the context of forgiveness. That is made clear in Luke 6:37b and 38 where He said, “Forgive, and ye shall (also) be forgiven. Give (forgiveness) and it (forgiveness) shall (also) be given unto you…For with the same measure that ye mete (give it out) withal it shall be measured (given back) to you again.”
Yes, we are supposed to distinguish right from wrong (krinos) among our fellow believers, but not in such a manner as to condemn them. Rather, we are to speak correction (edification) in a spirit of love and gentleness. (Galatians 6:1) Failure to do so allows them to continue along a wrong path. It is an act of love to help them distinguish right from wrong.
This is what we do for fellow believers. It is not for us to “judge” (krinos) unbelievers for they are already judged if they do not receive salvation. That is the job of Holy Spirit as He convicts them of their sin to draw them to the Father through Jesus. Yes, we do witness to unbelievers to share the gospel, but not to condemn them for their sin; that is Holy Spirit’s job.