Judging Others

 

You ask, “God doesn’t want us to  judge another, right? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then why should we judge those who do things contrary to what the Bible says?  How can we as Christians pass judgment? Isn’t that God’s job?”

 

These are great questions! Isn’t it true that we all hate being judged by others? So what does the Bible say about judging?

Jesus talks about being judgmental, and in the Sermon on the Mount, He calls those who engage in being judgmental “hypocrites.” (Matthew 6:5, 7:5)

 

Those who think they can go around judging others out of pride, while ignoring their own sins and shortcomings, are reminded by Jesus to be very careful when He says: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

 

Then comes the famous passage where Jesus asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

 

God wants us to have humble hearts. That means that as followers (disciples) and imitators of Christ, we don’t want to act superior to others or think of ourselves as better than others.  Especially among fellow children of God, no one should try to dominate anyone else or gain a superior position over another through put-downs and constant criticisms.

On the surface of things, of course, there are many differences between people—differences of ability, of appearance, of position, of education, of personality. But a humble-hearted person will see those simply as differences. He will view it as one of the signs of God’s amazing grace that He has created such wonderful diversity and variety among people. External differences, such as which football team is better than the other, don’t really matter and should be disregarded.

The Apostle Paul takes an interesting tack on this. For anyone who feels they occupy an arrogant position, or are stronger than another person, he gives the alternative to being judgmental. The alternative is to care for them and bear with them:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2).

 

Rather than judge, God encourages us to love those who are worthy of judgment, who have clearly sinned. Another command from God that includes even spiritual failures and sins is this one:  “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)

 

Now that’s a remarkable concept: Love sinners! That’s what Jesus did for you and me, for all men. And that’s what He calls on us to do for one another … love one another. (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22, 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 5)

 

OK, that would seem to answer the question, except there are a few more things that the Bible says about this. The Bible distinguishes between being judgmental, and exercising good judgment. And while the Bible does condemn being judgmental out of pride and hypocrisy, it also says that a humble-hearted Christian can exercise judgment. In fact, God’s Word encourages us to do so.

 

Actually, Jesus Himself often pronounced judgment on people. Check out what Jesus says to the Pharisees, for example, in Matthew 23.  Seven times He pronounced a “Woe to you!” on the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. But Jesus never did this with the intent to elevate Himself or lord it over someone else. It was always with the loving intent of getting someone to recognize their sin and to set free from the trap Satan was laying for them.

 

But someone might say, “That’s Jesus. He’s God. He can see into hearts. If He pronounces judgment on someone, fair enough. But that’s not something we should do.”

 

I love the humility that admits that our ability to know all the facts is limited. That’s something we should understand and remember at all times. Too often we’re tempted to quickly pronounce judgment on a person, based entirely on the outward appearance of things.

 

But on the other hand, there is a big difference between being judgmental and exercising judgment. There is a place for exercising judgment in a humble fashion and in a God-pleasing way. The latter is what is meant when Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

 

Perhaps when Jesus said this, He was simply recalling something the Jews had already been taught from the book of Proverbs, where exercising good judgment is actually portrayed as a way to help others: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). Actually, if you read the entire book of Proverbs, you will find many, many passages in which you will be encouraged to gain wisdom and exercise good judgment in all your interactions with people.

 

Intriguingly, when Jesus is asked the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He actually commands the church to exercise and pronounce judgment to help a sinner leave his way of sin, ultimately saying, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:17-18).

 

Near the above Holy Scripture reference is “The Parable of the Lost Sheep,” where Jesus once again commands us not to engage in judgmentalism, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10).  And then He asks the following question:  “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). Jesus loves the lost. And if that means pronouncing judgment in order to awaken a person, and “find them” again, He will do it. And He encourages us to do the same.

 

Check out Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, or Paul’s recommendation about a sinner in 1 Corinthians 5 and you’ll see other examples of church leaders and churches exercising and pronouncing judgment in order to reclaim wandering, wavering brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul sums up this approach by encouraging believers to be careful who they hang out with. (1 Corinthians 5:9) We can be misled, he says. But, again, notice his intent, his desire to reclaim a brother or sister to the faith: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34).

 

So here’s the Bible’s answer to the question “Can a Christian judge others?” God doesn’t want us to be pride-fully or hypocritically judgmental. He wants us to humbly recognize we have planks in our own eye as we look at the splinter in the eye of others. At the same time, God encourages the use of good judgment in our interactions with others, exercising and even publicly proclaiming judgment in cases where that can help reclaim someone who is wandering away from God’s love and the true life God wants to give him in Christ.

© 2014 Redeemer Lutheran Church, School and Child Care, Englewood FL

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