Here in the USA we are in the midst of another run for the presidency where a small number of people have lost their minds. Scratch that. I mean, where a small number of people have decided to run for the highest office in the land.
Not a few of us are experiencing regular bouts of deja moo whenever we turn on the news and hear the politicians pontificate. (Deja moo = the acute feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.)
Anyways, amid the sharp elbowing, personal deriding, eye-popping broadsides, and gratuitous insults, this year’s bare-knuckled, cut-and-thrust campaign is marked by virtually all of the candidates judging one another.
In that regard, it’s not terribly dissimilar to the “Christian” community on social media where the knives come out on a daily basis causing no small blood-letting.
This year’s political knife-fight got me thinking about the issue of judging others.
Herein lies a thorny biblical paradox. On the one hand, the New Testament sternly warns us to “judge not.” At the same time, it happily exhorts us to “judge.”
So what’s the deal?
As I’ve argued elsewhere, whenever you see an apparent contradiction in the Bible, draw a distinction.
In this case, there are two types of judging.
Let’s begin with the first type. The one that Scripture condemns.
Type 1: Judging an individual’s heart-motives which is directly tied to condemning them.
This is the kind of judging that Jesus, Paul, and James sharply denounce. It’s the judgment of the heart. It’s where a mere mortal usurps God’s position, critically looks down on the failures of others (real or alleged) and imputes dark motives to their hearts. It also applies to the act of judging a person when you yourself are guilty of the same (or similar) practices.
(At the end of this article, I’ve listed the key texts that condemn this type of judging.)
I’ve met many judgmental Christians in my lifetime. Perhaps you have too. The self-righteous, highly-critical spirit that exudes from them is nauseating. Such people anoint themselves to be inquisitors, especially toward people they barely know. Their compass is set to think the worst of others, and they seem to relish condemning.
Tragically, these individuals aren’t in touch with the fact that Jesus Christ doesn’t stand with them. And in every case where I’ve seen this kind of judging take place, the person dishing out the judgments ends up being chastised by the Lord. Sometimes in pretty sober ways.
Jesus made clear that this kind of judging has a way of bouncing back on those who exercise it (Matthew 7:2).
Fact: highly judgmental “Christians” are almost always exposed to have corrupt characters. Usually the things such people condemn the most loudly in others end up being the very things they themselves practice — or struggle with — in secret.
As I’ve pointed out before, the piece of saw dust that the judgmental person detects in her brother’s eye has come from the telephone pole in her own. Consequently, the judgmental person is projecting what’s in her own heart onto others and condemning herself in the process (see Matthew 7:3-4).
Regrettably, this type of judging goes on constantly in Christian circles as professing followers of Jesus unsheathe their swords, impute bad motives to others, climb on God’s throne, and act like holy inquisitors.
With respect to this kind of judging, the New Testament is unequivocal: Judge not.
And it’s the reason why countless people who need Christ view “Christians” to be highly judgmental people.
Type 2: The other type of judging is the act of evaluating the morality of an action or the rightness of a word, statement, or teaching. Not according to one’s own personal preferences, the dictates of their conscience, or the standards of their denomination, movement, or Christian tribe (e.g., Colossians 2:16; Romans 14), but according to the standards of Jesus Christ as spelled out in His Word.
(At the end of this article, I’ve listed the key texts that commend this type of judging.)
So it’s right to evaluate the merits of an action based on what the New Testament clearly teaches. But it’s wrong to judge a person’s motives.
It’s right to render a verdict on whether a teaching is true or false according to a proper understanding of the Bible. But it’s wrong to judge that teaching based on insufficient information, misinformation, or misrepresentation. (That’s why if you intend to critique someone’s teaching, intellectual honesty will compel you to go to the teacher directly to make sure you accurately understand what he or she is teaching.)
It’s right to condemn an action as immoral (for example, slander, lying, gossip, and stealing are repeatedly denounced as immoral in the Bible). But it’s wrong to condemn an individual because doing so is to play God.
It’s right to render a judgment on specific conduct. But it’s wrong to denounce a person for certain sins – real or alleged — when you are committing your own sins. Jesus called this hypocrisy.
It’s right to correct a fellow believer in the spirit of deep humility when all vestiges of self-righteousness have been extracted from your heart. But it’s wrong to have a self-righteous, arrogant spirit when correcting another. See How (Not) to Correct Another Christian.
It’s right to evaluate the ethics of a decision, action, or statement. But it’s wrong to make a judgment on anything without sufficient or accurate information. Things aren’t always what they seem.
“He who answers a matter before he hears it [fully], it is folly and shame to him.”
~ Proverbs 18:13
“You are judging by appearances …”
~ Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:7
When distinguishing between the judging that God condemns from the judging that God commends, F.F. Bruce writes,
“Judgment is an ambiguous word, in Greek as in English: it may mean sitting in judgment on people (or even condemning them), or it may mean exercising a proper discrimination. In the former sense judgment is depreciated; in the latter sense it is recommended.”
I hope this clarifies the matter. But more, I hope you’ll put it into practice immediately and treat those whom you’re inclined to judge the same way you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). Which often means suspending judgment. And if you have questions or concerns, go to the person directly. Don’t be a gutless wonder.
The self-righteous, fault-finders who traffic in judging others will end up witnessing their graceless verdicts rebounding on their own heads.
“Judge not, so that you may not be judged; for you will be judged by the same standard by which you judge others, and the same measure you measure out will be measured out to you.”
~ Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2.
The old adage, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” is timeless and echoes the words of our Lord.
In the same way, the words of rabbi Hillel, “Do not judge your neighbor until you have been in his situation (lit., ‘his place.’)” and the famed Indian proverb, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins,” bleed the spirit of Jesus, Paul, and James.
Thus when it comes to the matter of judging others, we’d all be wise to turn those crosshairs into mirrors. As Earnest Pickering once said,
“Human nature being what it is, we are often quick to judge others, but reluctant to judge ourselves. We must always remember that there are many things wrong with our lives and ample reason for us to pass judgment on ourselves before attempting to do so with others.”
Scripture Texts – Judging That God Condemns
“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.”
~ Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
~ Jesus in Luke 6:37
“Do not judge according to appearance.”
~ Jesus in John 7:24a
“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”
~ Paul in Romans 2:1
“Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.”
~ Paul in Romans 14:3
“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”
~ Paul in Romans 14:4
“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
~ Paul in Romans 14:10
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
~ Paul in Romans 14:13
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:3
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:5 (see also Romans 2:16).
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”
~ James in James 4:11
“There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”
~ James in James 4:12
Scripture Texts – Judging That God Commends
“Judge with righteous judgment.”
~ Jesus in John 7:24b
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?
~ Jesus in Luke 12:57
“But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.'”
~ Acts 4:19
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
~ Acts 15:19
“But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:15
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12
“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:2
“I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:15
“For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:31
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”
~ Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:29
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