“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
In this verse from the Sermon on the Mount, we see a very misunderstood biblical imperative concerning not judging. This passage has often been used to suggest that believers should never evaluate or criticize anyone for anything. Our culture hates absolutes of any kind, and a simplistic interpretation of this verse provides an escape from any confrontation. Any strong conviction about right and wrong is mistakenly called judging. All-inclusive love, unity, and ecumenism are seen as the only “doctrines” worth defending these days.
What Jesus forbids here is a hasty, self-righteous, often unwarranted condemnation based on human standards and human understanding. Unless there is false doctrine or the following of a set of unbiblical standards, we are never to judge a person’s life or ministry or impugn his motives based on a self-styled standard. James also warns us, “Do not speak against one another. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it” (James 4:11). We must renounce the presumptuous temptation to try to be God, but not cease being examining and discerning. We must be careful in speaking against other believers. The tendency of our sinful flesh is to exalt ourselves and then to attack and destroy others. Any attack on their character or motive is contrary to the love that God demands we demonstrate toward one another. There may, however, be a time for “rightly judging” a sinning brother. We will look at that occasion first and then look at two other categories where a discerning judging is also called for:
Straying Brothers and Sisters.
Consider this teaching of Jesus. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus said we are to judge one another, but not in a superficial way, or in a way that makes us “look good” at others’ expense. We are to judge one another by right judgment. What does that require? Right judgment begins first with our own self-assessment. Before we go pointing out the speck in other people’s eyes, we need to examine and remove whatever log may be in our own (Matthew 7:3,4). Right judgment only happens when our own lives have been cleansed of sin and we are motivated purely by the love for God and our neighbor. This requires a continuous self-watch and a ready ear for whenever the Spirit of God may be calling us to conviction, confession, or repentance. Once we get rid of anything that might be a stumbling block to others, we’ll be in a position to exercise right judgment toward them. Right judgment only comes as we develop a right understanding of the transformed life. As we have a clear and compelling vision of our own Christ-likeness, this will help us in thinking of our own friends or neighbors. When we see in them any attitudes, practices, or tendencies that are leading them away from the right path, then we can exercise right judgment in helping them discern the way they should go and encouraging them in it. Right judgment comes out of a heart right before the Lord and against the backdrop of a right understanding of what the transformed life should look like in ourselves and others. Right judgment also comes with a large dose of grace.
To say that the Matthew 7 passage means to never judge is nonsense. If someone rapes your baby daughter, will you not judge that as evil? If someone tempts your teenager into drugs and sexual promiscuity, will you not judge that as evil? If someone shoots up your local school and kills a bunch of kids, will you not judge that as evil? If someone sticks a needle in the brain stem of a baby in the womb and sucks its brains out as a “choice,” will you not judge that as evil? If politicians lie and take hard earned money from one person to give to the lazy person who will vote for them, will you not judge that as evil? Try this question the next time your “judging” is called out: Would you judge Hitler as evil? Jeffrey Dahmer? Osama Bin Laden? 9/11 perpetrators? Absolutely. Why? Simply, because of their actions.
Should we not also judge false teachers who deny God and purposely lead people to hell? We should judge the actions of a person who is denying Christ and causing people to doubt God. The person doing this is doing evil, and we should not hesitate to say so any more than we should hesitate to judge a pedophile, rapist, or terrorist as evil. Actually, the denier of Christ and the teacher of false religion are MORE evil than any of the men mentioned earlier because they lead people to eternal damnation. So whether it’s a terrorist killing people with bombs or someone like Oprah deceiving people with false religion from her “bully pulpit,” we should judge it as evil and react accordingly.
In closing, I want to pose two questions about judging that are at center stage in the political discourse of late. Is it judgmental to call the Mormon faith a cult? Is it judgmental to describe a Mormon presidential candidate as “not a Christian”? We might disagree, but it will be beneficial to think through the answers. My contention would be that calling a non-biblical faith a cult would not be judgmental. The Mormon idea of God rejects both monotheism and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The faithful Mormon believes that we are now what God once was and are becoming what He now is. This is in direct conflict with historic Christianity1.
In public, political discourse, it may be in poor taste to make the above statement, given the context, but not judgmental. Another word commonly used in this discussion is bigotry (the stubborn intolerance of any creed or belief). Is merely making a propositional statement intolerant? That is a discussion for another day. In the second question, I would say that calling the Mormon candidate a non-Christian could be considered judgmental unless you knew him personally. There are certainly “in name only” Mormons as there are Catholics and other faiths. Feel free to weigh in with me on this.
Finally, we need to remember when we make these tough calls, to remain loving, but firm… compassionate, but uncompromising… and let God deal with the heart.
We need to graciously avoid the “meltdown” when we get the classic “don’t judge” comments thrown our way. Let’s always speak the truth in love, remembering that the “judgmental” accusation is a straw man that causes us to tremble when it shouldn’t. Judge rightly and courageously!
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