The most oft quoted passage of the Bible used to be John 3:16. But no longer. Matt. 7:1, “Judge not, lest you be judged” has taken its place. At least, that’s what people say. Let’s look at the context of that verse:
“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. 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.” – Matt. 7:1-5 (ESV)
The next time someone tells you that the Bible says you should never judge anyone, bring up these three quick points:
1. Jesus doesn’t condemn judging, but condemns hypocritical judging – using one standard for someone else, but not for yourself. (See also Rom. 2:1-4, 21-24)
2. Jesus tells us that we should always be more aware of our own sin than others – my sin is a log, your sin is a speck. Thus, we should always be judging from a position of humility and repentance, never self-righteousness.
3. Jesus actually commands us to judge as an act of service. If we are to help our brother remove the speck from his eye we first must be able to discern that the speck exists. Ultimately it is selfish and unloving if we never judge.
Elsewhere in the Bible we see,
4. Paul describes the “spiritual man” as the one who “judges all things” (1 Cor. 2:15). In context this passage is explaining that spiritually mature believers are able to discern between true teaching from God and false teaching. But still, this requires making a judgment.
5. If we are forbidden from ever judging someone how are we to be “equally yoked” in marriage with another believer without first judging the authenticity of that person’s faith (2 Cor. 6:14)? Or how we to exercise church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20)? Or point out false teachers (Matt. 7:15-20)? Or determine whether or not someone is qualified to be an elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7)?
6. The Bible does warn of Christians judging one another over matters of conscience that are not explicitly forbidden by Scripture. We are exhorted not to judge, but serve one another in these matters (Rom. 14:10-13). This reminds us that our standard for judging one another is not merely personal preferences or opinions, but the unchangeable Word of God.
7. What our culture means by not being “judgmental” and what the Bible means by inappropriately judging are two very different things. The world sees non-judgmentalism as essentially being accepting and approving of any lifestyle decision that anyone makes, without ever making anyone else feel inhibited or uncomfortable. The Bible has no category for that kind of thinking. Jesus, the most loving person who ever walked the earth, repeatedly told other people that their lifestyle was wrong and was sending them to hell (Matt. 5:27-30; Matt. 23:1-36; John 8:39-47).
Lastly, the example of the sexually immoral brother in the Corinthian church is worth looking at more fully,
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Cor. 5:9-13 (ESV)
8. Paul warns the Corinthians not to use a Christian standard of judgement for those who are not Christians – we do not expect the world to live like believers.
9. However, Paul expects and commands that the Corinthians should have judged this sexually immoral man in the church and placed him under church discipline in order that he might be saved from his sin. If someone claims to be a Christian, claims to represent Christ, then he or she is subject to the Scripture’s standards for a Christian (Rom. 12, Eph. 4:17-5:21).
10. Although Paul warns the Corinthians from judging outsiders, this does not mean that he isn’t making moral judgments about outsiders. Obviously, by labeling those in the world as “sexually immoral…greedy and swindlers…idolaters” he is both discerning the spiritual and moral state of those outside of Christ, and making a moral judgment about them. Just because we are not to hold outsiders to the same standard as Christians does not mean that we are never allowed to look at what the outside world is doing and say, “That’s wrong.”
The issue of “judging” can be a complex issue that is often overlaid with a myriad of different circumstances and should be something that is done slowly, wisely, and infrequently. But let’s be careful before we refuse to ever make a judgment and saw off one of the limbs that Jesus teaches us should be present in the life of a church. It is an awkward and silly position to be in when we are trying to be more tolerant than Jesus.