Judge Not! Why Not?

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You hear it all the time. You’re in a group, talking about some shameful thing somebody else did and you hear it: “You shouldn’t be judging, you know.” Or they might say it like this: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” An admonition always sounds better when it’s spoken in the King James.

But, why shouldn’t we judge another person? I’m not talking about judging another person for the purpose of punishing them in any way. I mean judging another person for the purpose of assessing their character; to determine their trustworthiness or reliability. Or to determine if they’re being truthful in word or deed. Or to determine whether or not they would make a compatible friend or spouse. I would argue it’s vital to judge other people for the right reasons.

But what does the Bible say about the issue of judging? A lot of people (even non-believers) think they know what the Bible says because they have a vague idea that this verse in their someplace:

Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matthew 7:1 NKJV)

It always surprises people to know that the Bible actually encourages Christians TO judge. Let’s talk about that.

The problem of American culture

The American culture lends itself to the idea that nobody should judge anybody else. Ours is a radically individualistic culture, which is an admirable quality, sometimes. Who isn’t impressed with the individual who triumphs over the odds and succeeds where others have failed? We read about the heroic men and women who opened the West; who blazed trails alone so that others could follow. There is a lot to recommend healthy individualism.

But at the same time, there is an unhealthy aspect to out-of-control individualism. Children, from their first day in school, are taught that they are the center of the adult universe. They are bombarded by words and images that teach them to love themselves, to “be true to themselves.” Ours is a generation that has created a younger generation obsessed with themselves. Think about it. Entire traffic patterns are altered twice a day – once in the morning when the kids are on their way to school and once in the afternoon when the kids are coming home. The world really does stop just for them. Laws, policies, and regulations are written and passed ostensibly “for the children.” Whole industries have popped up and thrive today because parents, rightly or wrongly, live in mortal fear that their children might bump their head or scrape their knee or catch a cold.

Part of this “radical individualism” is a feeling that nobody should be criticized or judged; not them personally or their ideas, no matter how wacky they sound. So what if so-and-so’s lifestyle is a little different than mine. The way they live is just as valid as the way I live. Again, children have been successfully brainwashed to tolerate just about anything and to criticize nothing. Moral relativism is a way of thinking in America today; it has taken hold of hearts and minds so that we accept things previously unacceptable and we “judge not lest we be judged.”

This very secular idea of tolerance and acceptance of everything has also taken hold of hearts and minds in the church. It’s subtle, but it’s happening. When was the last time you heard a rip-roaring sermon against the evils of some sin? In bygone years, sin – any sin – was a popular topic. Now you’ll be more likely to hear a sermon on “How to be a better spouse/parent/employee.” Sin is rarely preached against because, in 21st century America, most Christians don’t what sin is. Most church members wouldn’t recognize sinful behavior unless it effected them personally. Christians have been slowly and subtly programmed by their culture to tolerate and accept anything and anybody without judging.

Biblical judgment

This brings us right back Matthew 7. Let’s look at verse 1 in context with what follows:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “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, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1 – 5 NIV)

These verses are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and what Jesus is concerned about is “censoriousness.” That kind of attitude goes against the law of the Kingdom and was one of the absolute worst faults of the Pharisees. A hyper-critical spirit has no place in God’s Kingdom, and that was what Jesus addressed. His concern was that believers who possessed a righteousness far and above that of the Pharisees might let that righteousness lead them into the very sin of the Pharisees, thereby setting themselves up as judges over everybody else. There is an incident in John 7 that shines a bright light on the horrible attitude the Pharisees had about “everybody” else:

“Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” (John 7:48, 49 TLB)

That’s the attitude Jesus forbids. The Pharisees thought “this mob,” or regular Jews, knew “nothing of the law.” These religious leaders gloried in their false holiness and thought they were superior to the other Jews.

Jesus is most certainly not contradicting the Biblical imperative of exercising proper judgment. Here are a few verses about that:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24 NIV)

A Christian ought to judge correctly. Judge what? The Pharisees had judged Jesus by appearances. He healed somebody on the Sabbath. He appeared to be breaking the law of the Sabbath. What they didn’t see was that Jesus was the Lord of Sabbath. They judged Jesus incorrectly. He wanted them to judge Him correctly. We have to judge individuals correctly, not basing our judgment on what we hear or observe only, but on facts that are verifiable and irrefutable.

In one of Paul’s letters, Paul encourages an entire congregation to judge one member who was blatantly sinning, thereby harming the whole church.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12 NIV)

This is a highly significant verse. It tells us Christians shouldn’t be in the business of judging the sinful behavior of the world. We want to do that, though. We want to tell our neighbors to “stop taking the Lord’s Name in vain.” We want to tell them to stop some sinful practice that offends us when we ought to be telling them to get saved! The world sins; that’s what it does. Judging them is up to the Lord. We, rather, are to judge each other within the church. That’s what Paul wanted his friends in the Corinthian church to do: pass judgment on a sinning brother. However, that judgment was not for the purpose of punishing him. It was for the purpose of straightening him out.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 NIV)

John urged his reader to “test the spirits.” That’s a fancy way to say, “make a judgment.” John is warning the reader to make a judgment about somebody claiming to be a fellow Christian. John uses the phrase “test the spirits,” but it’s not really spirits he’s concerned about, it’s the honesty of somebody claiming to be a fellow believer. Our tendency is to believe; to take that person at their word, because a Christian wouldn’t lie, right? If they say they are a Christian, then they must be. Well, John cautions his reader and us to make sure – to make a careful judgment – that they really are what they claim to be.

This kind of judgment, by the way, is for our benefit. As Christians, we should make every effort to guard our hearts against false teachers or abuse from some faux believer. It’s shocking how easily even the strongest believer can be led astray by some smooth talking false teacher or pseudo believer.

As far as Jesus was concerned, judgment is absolutely essential in a healthy church:

“If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother. But if not, then take one or two others with you and go back to him again, proving everything you say by these witnesses. If he still refuses to listen, then take your case to the church, and if the church’s verdict favors you, but he won’t accept it, then the church should excommunicate him.” (Matthew 18:15 – 17 TLB)

You may not see the word “judge” in these verses, but it’s precisely what Jesus is talking about here. This is something every church should do when necessary, but rarely does. We’re so afraid of offending somebody instead of offending Jesus by not doing what we’re told to do! How many churches are forfeiting God’s richest blessings because they are not doing what these verses teach? Nobody likes church discipline. As a pastor I can attest to that! I’d rather have a root canal done on a Monday morning than deal with church discipline. But church discipline – not tolerating sinful behavior – is what glorifies God. We’ve got it backwards just like the Corinthians. We think tolerance glorifies God. It does not, as least as far as sin is concerned.

So go ahead and judge.  But do it in a way that glorifies God and benefits other believers.  In fact, you should start with judging yourself, first.

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children.  (1 Peter 4:17  TLB)

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