What does the Bible say about it?
First, I want to offer an acknowledgement that that we Christians have at times judged others in a way that Jesus never intended us to. Secondly, I want to make an appeal to our culture to dig a little deeper to find out exactly what the Bible has to say about judging.
I want to apologize on behalf of the Christian community for every time that we have judged others in a critical, condemning, self-righteous, prideful, or disrespectful
way. Jesus himself made it clear that it is possible to judge others in a wrong way, and we as believers haven’t always gotten it right. I cringe when I think of some of the ways that I have heard Christians shouting hateful, condemning words to those whose value systems don’t match our own. But it isn’t just “those Christians” who’ve made me cringe. I cringe when I remember times when these same critical attitudes have distorted my own judgments…times when I made judgments which were fueled, not by love, but fear, self-righteousness and a lack of honor for others.
So for those situations, I want to say that I am truly sorry for any pain or injury that we as Christians have caused. I want to ask if you can forgive us for not getting it right sometimes. While we may not always agree on every issue, every human being deserves to be treated with respect. I am truly sorry for any wounding that you have received from judgments rooted in unloving, critical or condemning attitudes. If you have suffered from cyber bullying by Christians who have not acted out of love, but out of hate-filled words, I sincerely ask if you would be willing to forgive us. If you are a politician who, instead of feeling honored and encouraged by Christians, has been treated in the opposite way, I want to ask if you can forgive us for the lack of respect, prayers and encouragement that we have demonstrated. While these actions cannot be undone, I pray that the Lord Jesus Himself will heal the wounds that we have caused you and that we will make amends wherever it is called for. It is my sincere hope and prayer that we as Christians will grow in our ability to honor others and have repentant hearts for the pain that we have caused.
If you are one of those who have felt condemning judgment from Christians, I can only imagine that it must be tempting to come to the conclusion that judging others is a bad thing that needs to be eradicated from our society. I want to ask if you’d be willing to take another look; to resist the temptation to “throw the baby out with the bath water” by taking a closer look at what the Bible has to say about judging. Probably the most often scripture quoted when it comes to judging others is found in Luke 6:37, which says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” The Greek word used for judge in this verse is krínō – it means to decide, or come to a choice, by making a decision, either positive or negative…either coming to a verdict in favor of or a negative verdict (condemning or rejecting.)
On the surface, “Do not judge and you will not be judged” sounds pretty all-encompassing, doesn’t it? Like judging is never right. If we isolate this one passage regarding judging, we will come to a very different perspective on God’s view of judging than we will if we were to take the whole of the Bible and blend multiple verses regarding judging. An example of this need for examining the whole of the Bible to arrive at truth can be seen when examining God’s perspective regarding working on the Sabbath. In Exodus 20:10, it appears that God’s standard would be absolutely no work is ever to be done on the Sabbath when it says, “On it you shall not do any work…” Yet we find multiple exceptions to this command elsewhere in the Bible . The same thing happens when it comes to judging. If we are to truly have God’s perspective on this topic, we need to also take into account other Bible verses that talk about judging. As a whole document, what exactly does the Bible say about judging?
The first thing to note regarding judging is that God claims the right to define what is right and what is wrong. James 4:12 says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge…” We might think we know what is right and wrong and what justice looks like, but God claims that place. Even Jesus Himself said in John 5:30, “I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” We might think we know what is right and wrong, but we can get it wrong. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” We simply can’t depend on our own logic, feelings or perceptions to tell us what is right and true. God has written down His standards of right and wrong in the Bible for us; this is our plum line whenever we disagree.
The next thing to keep in mind regarding what the Bible has to say about judging is that there is a right time and a right way to judge. John 7:24 says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” Again, in Proverbs 31:9 it says, “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
For those who may chafe at the idea of judgment of another person ever being right, consider what the outcome would look like without sound judgment. How could a parent act responsibly if they refused to form an opinion (judgment) of potential daycare providers for their children? What would be the outcome if a jury refrained from judging one whom they believed to be guilty of a crime that would put others at risk? How about the father who is concerned about the young man his daughter is dating? Would he be wrong to observe and form an opinion? Is it not the misuse of judgment that is the real issue? I believe that God, more than anyone, is aware of the need for standards in judging.
The next thing to keep in mind when judging is our attitude. If we have contempt in our hearts for the person whose action we are judging, it’s time to stop and examine ourselves. Romans 14:10 says, “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt?” Contempt means to despise or to treat someone as if they have no value. Leviticus 19:17 says, ““You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”
Another attitude that we need to watch for when judging is self-righteousness. Luke 18:9-14 says, “Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” We cannot hope to judge well when our vision is distorted by self-righteous attitudes.
Another attitude that will keep us from judging well is a prideful (I’m above you) attitude. Romans 12:3 says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment…” I remember one occasion where I went to pick up someone who was in a very difficult place spiritually. Before she was even in my car, I was wrestling with judging her for something that she said that felt very dishonoring to me. Criticism and contempt for her choices in life tried to well up in me. I had to battle through an attitude of being better than her. The ironic thing is, I had been in bondage to the very same sin in my own life for many years. How could I forget so quickly the mercy and grace that God had so freely poured out on me? I had to repent for my own attitude and forgive her before I was in any position to form an opinion of (judge) her situation so that I could help her come up with a solution. I had to humble myself and see her, not as someone less, but as someone of great worth to God and myself.
Another thing to guard against when judging is doing so with an idolatrous perspective of another person. This would include being over-awed by what others possess; things like their spiritual gifts, talents, wealth or beauty. Each of us only possess that which God has given. God is the One we are to be in awe of, not man. When we put others up on pedestals, we will likely be disappointed when the reality that they are human becomes apparent to us. This is especially true when we see another person operating in very powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to sub-consciously give credit to the individual for what God is doing through them. We see this happening in Acts 14 when the people saw Paul exercise the gift of healing. A man who had been crippled since birth jumped up and began to walk! Instead of giving the glory to God, however, the people decided he was a god and attempted to make a sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas. Instead of receiving the people’s praise, they tore their clothes and shouted, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God.” We are safeguarded when we keep our eyes on Jesus rather than on others’ strengths or faults.
Another thing to be aware of when judging others is unconfessed sin in our own lives. To judge others with unconfessed sin in our lives is hypocrisy. This doesn’t mean that we are sinless, for there has only ever been one who was, and that is Jesus. We can, however, be blameless. This means we have sincerely repented of any known sin in our lives and turned away from it. Luke 6:41-42 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” It’s difficult at best to see others accurately when our vision is obstructed by the sin in our own lives.
The next thing to avoid when judging others is judging their heart and/or motives. Again, this goes back to John 7:25, “…stop judging by mere appearances.” Things are not always as they seem, and we do well to not make assumptions.
Another thing to be aware of when making judgments are our own motives. John 8:1-11 gives an account of the Pharisees and teachers of the law bringing a woman to Jesus when she had been caught in the act of adultery: “They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” While this woman’s accusers wanted to be seen as being concerned about the law, their real motive was to trap and accuse Jesus. What about us? Do we stop long enough to consider our motives when we make judgments?
Another thing to be aware of when making judgments about others is the need to hear both sides of the story. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
The Bible also cautions us about judging others over disputable matters. This includes matters of conscience or situations where someone’s faith is weak. Romans 14:1-4 says, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” This is where we’re wise to not go beyond what is clearly defined as right and wrong in the Bible. Are you a vegetarian? It would be wise to refrain from judging those who aren’t. Do you feel the liberty to drink alcohol? To judge those harshly who do not have the freedom of conscience to do so would fall into this category. Do you home-school? Exercise caution about judging those who don’t; and visa versa. When we judge others for things that are not defined in scripture as sin, we begin to drift into the realm of wrongful judgment.
The Bible also gives us instructions regarding judging those within the church: 1 Corinthians 6 says, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, …” Author Jon Bloom, in an article entitled, “Judge not that you may judge well, states:
“When we sin, our Christian brothers and sisters have an obligation to judge us. They must not condemn us, but they must, out of love, call us to repent. Such judgment is a grace, an expression of God’s kindness (Romans 2:4), and we only compound our sin if we take offense. If our sin is very serious and our church determines that we must be disciplined according to Matthew 18:15–17, we must keep in mind that the purpose is to pursue our redemption not damnation.” (1 Corinthians 5:4–5)”
Another thing to keep in mind when judging is the need to judge fairly. Leviticus 19:15-16 says, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” I don’t think it is an accident that this passage contains a warning against spreading slander when judgments are made. Often when we judge others in a critical, harsh or condemning way there is offense hiding behind it. This brings us to a good point. If we are to judge any situation well, without condemnation, harshness or condescension, we are wise to do a self-check first; have we rid our own hearts of any offense in the situation? If we don’t, our ability to see things accurately will be impaired. Offense works as a filter, distorting how we see things.
Judging well requires using the same standard for ourselves as we use others. In the context of “Do not judge and you will not be judged,” Luke 6 goes on to give a warning. It says, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This goes back to the golden rule. Treating others the way we want to be treated. Judging others the way we want to be judged. If we are judging others by a different standard than we would want to be judged, something is off.
The gift of discerning right from wrong and good from evil can be a precious gift to the church and to the world. It also has great potential to harm others and even become “friendly fire” within the church if we don’t use wisdom. If we as Christians are to represent God well on this earth, then our attitudes in judging should reflect God’s attitude. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Yes, God calls each one of us to repentance for sin, but He does it gently, with respect and patience. We are wise to do the same. Whenever we aren’t sure if we are on solid ground when it comes to judging, we have a heavenly father who has promised to guide us if we will but ask.
Grace to you,