Luke 6:37

ESV “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
NIV Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
NASB Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.
CSB "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
NLT Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.
KJV Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

What does Luke 6:37 mean?

As are other statements on judgment, this teaching of Christ is often ripped from its context and applied in ways entirely contrary to the rest of Scripture. Read as intended, this is a powerful exhortation, given that Jesus just extensively spoke about loving one's enemies. Loving our enemies and showing them mercy (Luke 6:27, 36) require that we not pre-judge and condemn people, as the Pharisees did the tax-collectors and sinners (Luke 5:29–32). Instead, we should be prepared to forgive them.

To "judge" involves expressing some conclusion or opinion about something, especially regarding another person. To "condemn" means to find or pronounce someone guilty, with an assumption of punishment.

Knowing how, when, and if to judge is a constant struggle for fallible human beings. Elsewhere, Jesus explicitly tells us to judge (John 7:24). As in most passages, context is required to interpret the verse. Jesus has talked about how God will bless those who suffer because of persecution and that He will judge those who avoid suffering by fitting in with the corrupt world (Luke 6:20–26). Next, He exhorts His followers to love those who persecute them, thereby emulating their Father in heaven who shows mercy to everyone—even the evil (Luke 6:27–36).

Once we have judged that someone's persecution of us is wrong, the next logical step is to declare that person guilty. The merciful step is to forgive them. To "forgive" means that even if we recognize the act as evil, we do not hold that person accountable before God. We compare our own sinful state with another's fallen humanity and realize we are different only by God's grace. Jesus set the example when He forgave the men who crucified and mocked Him (Luke 23:34).

Besides our understanding of our own sinfulness, Jesus calls us to remember God's reciprocal responses. When our hearts are not hardened in judgment or condemnation against another, God won't have to judge or condemn our own hardened hearts. When we forgive others, we are ready to accept the forgiveness God offers us when we commit sins that otherwise would damage our relationship with Him. Jesus-followers should expect persecution for the sole reason that people persecuted Him (John 15:18–24). That doesn't mean we should keep enmity in our hearts against those enemies.

Having a godly heart attitude, however, does not mean persecutors are exempt from real-world repercussions. We cannot determine if someone is so apostate that they will never be saved (1 Samuel 16:7), but our forgiveness does not mean God will forgive their sins in eternity. Neither does forgiveness ensure our relationship with them will be fully restored. We can offer forgiveness—to "forgive" as far as we can (Romans 12:18)—but relationships cannot be fully restored without apology and repentance. Being forgiving doesn't mean one must stay and endure persecution, violence, or abuse.

Similarly, this verse doesn't mean we can ignore justice. One of the primary themes of the Old Testament is God's call for justice. He has established governments, in part, to enforce order (1 Peter 2:13–14; Romans 13:1–5). We can let go of offense in our hearts and still work with civil authorities to ensure crimes are prosecuted fairly. And, if that authority deems it necessary, we can ask for and receive recompense, even if we don't demand it (Luke 6:30).

Finally, this teaching does not mean we will lose our salvation if we do not forgive others. The forgiveness mentioned here is relational. Our relationship with God will be damaged if we don't forgive, but He will never take away the forgiveness He grants us for salvation.

All of this takes time. Often, the process begins when we accept that the persecution hurt, and it matters. Forgiveness is not served by denial. Fortunately, we have a Savior who understands our pain.

Matthew contains a condensed account of this verse in Matthew 7:1.
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