QUESTION: “Aren’t we told not to judge people?”
“Jesus said that we should not judge other people. He plainly said, ‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged’ (Matt. 7:1). This means that we should not point out another person’s sins and should not imply that God is displeased with them. It means that we should not necessarily say that adultery, homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness, smoking, or rock music is sinful or that those who practice these things are wrong in their behavior. In fact, we have no business telling an unbeliever or a disobedient Christian that he is in danger of God’s judgment and hell. Just stop ‘judging’ people and let God deal with them. He is the Judge and we aren’t! Isn’t this what the Bible says?”
Vast numbers of people know and quote a favorite verse from the Bible. What verse might that be? “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matt. 7:1).
Whenever a prevalent sin of society is discussed, one is likely to hear this favorite text: “How can you condemn that? Remember that Jesus said, Judge not, that ye be not judged! We must not judge people or what they do!” This answer not only is meant to silence all opposition to sin in society, but it is designed to quell all negative comments about personal sin as well.
Yet, is it wrong to judge? We must first realize that we all make judgments every day. It is part of our interactions with other people and our exposure to the world at large. We may say, “Hitler was a cruel and perverted leader.” Another may say, “That rapist and murderer deserves to be punished.” Still another may comment, “Drunk drivers are a menace to our safety.” If we see a child misbehave, we may say, “Why doesnt his father discipline him?” In all of these casesand a thousand others like themwe are exercising judgment. We not only recognize wrong of various kinds, but we also “judge” whether someone is blameworthy and deserving of correction or punishment.
What does God say about this matter of judging? Let us examine the Scriptures to answer this question. The Greek word translated “judge” is krino and it has a broad meaning: choose, distinguish, decide, consider, find fault, judge, and condemn. We must always consider the context of the term in the Scriptures.
In order to understand judgment, we must consider its background. First, God is the great and supreme Judge of all, the One who will “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). Further, Christ Jesus is the agent of judgment. He is called “the righteous judge” (2 Tim. 4:8), the “Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). How will Christ judge on that great “day of judgment” (2 Peter 3:7)? The Word of God will be the standard or basis of judgment. Jesus declared, “The word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). The final judgment scene is described in these words: “I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12). These awesome words should impress us with the fact that God will indeed judge each one of us one day!
What about the present time? In what sense are we forbidden to “judge” others? Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2). Here Jesus forbids a harsh, unkind, and hypocritical judgment. Jesus taught, and we inherently know, that it is unjust for one who is guilty of sin to judge another. For example, it is unjust for a drug addict to judge someone for taking drugs. It is inconsistent for an adulterer to judge someone guilty of adultery. It is hypocritical for the angry person to condemn another who is overwhelmed with anger. Our Lord went on to say, “You hypocrite, first take out the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye” (v. 5). In other words, Jesus said that we must remove the major sin from our life before we can consistently help our brother to remove the minor sin from his life. Hypocritical judgment is definitely forbidden (cf. Rom. 2:1-3, 21-23).
The Lord Jesus also explained that we must not judge others according to mistaken human or religious traditions (Matt. 12:1-8; 15:1-14; John 7:24). Further, we must not judge or condemn others on matters of indifference (Romans 14:1-23). We must be very cautious about judging the motives underlying outward actionsunless we have good reason to know such inner motives (1 Cor. 4:3-5). James also emphasizes that we should not judge others with an attitude of “personal favoritism” (James 2:1-4), showing special consideration to certain people we want to impress while judging others who are considered inferior (vv. 4-13). This same writer warns us of wrongful judgment that is connected with sinful speech and slander against another Christian (4:11-12; cf. 5:9).
All of these Scriptural warnings should make us very careful about judging other people and speaking against them. Paul makes this plain: “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). God will be the final judge on that approaching, awesome day of judgment!
There is another aspect to judgingone that is generally overlooked in this day of moral relativism, religious pluralism, and excessive tolerance. From Genesis to Revelation, we actually are commanded to judge! This may at first shock us, but it is plainly true. For instance, in the very chapter where we are forbidden to harshly and hypocritically judge others, Jesus tells us to exercise judgment in our sharing the gospel (Matt. 7:6). Further, He says that we must “beware of the false prophets” and we “will know them by their fruits” (vv. 15-20). We must examine the “fruits” of people to determine whether they are right or wrong, pure or impure, true or false!
In the very passage where Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance,” He also added, “but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). We are commanded to “judge” with the standard of righteousnesswhich is the word of truth, the Scriptures (Psalm 119:172; John 12:48).
Consider some of the areas that God requires the faithful Christian to judge. Paul writes, “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Rom. 16:17-18). Therefore, we must judge what is false teaching and then renounce those who teach it. We must judge those who “teach strange doctrines” (1 Tim. 1:3-4; 4:1-5; 6:3-4, 20). We must judge and “avoid” those who are “lovers of self, lovers of money,” and others who live lives of sin (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We must avoid and oppose those who “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him” (Titus 1:9-16). We must “test” those who bring a message that is false (1 John 4:1-6) and must censure those who live sinful and immoral lives (2 Peter 2:1-22; Jude 3ff). In fact, we must not even invite certain false teachers into our home (2 John 7-11).
The Lord gave special instructions on dealing with a brother or sister in the fellowship who is guilty of known sin and refuses to repent (Matt. 18:15-20). Brothers who are guilty of sexual immorality and other sins must be “removed” from the believing body, “delivered . . . to Satan,” and fellowship must be withdrawn from them (1 Cor. 5:1-13). In fact, Paul asks, “Do you not judge those who are within. . . ?” (1 Cor. 5:12). We must judge other Christians! Those who refuse to observe the teachings of the apostles must be removed from fellowship (2 Thess. 3:6-15; 2:15). A brother who would destroy the harmony of the believing community through his divisive teaching must be “rejected” (cf. Titus 3:9-11). Throughout the New Testament we have examples of people who sin or teach false ways and are not only “judged” but even named on occasion (cf. Mark 6:17-18; Acts 8:9-24; 13:6-12; Gal. 2:11ff; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:16-18; 4:10, 14-15; 3 John 9-11). All of these teachings and examples should convince us that judgment is proper and required under certain circumstances.
How should we judge? We must be sincere (Matt. 7:1-5), impartial (James 2:1-13), merciful (v. 13), discerning (Rom. 14), gentle (Gal. 6:1-2), and kind (2 Tim. 2:24-26). We must seek the facts before passing judgment (Matt. 18:15-17; 2 Cor. 13:1). We must judge according to the Scriptures (2 Tim. 1:13; 3:16-17). And we must be humble rather than proud (Prov. 16:5; Lk. 18:14). Sometimes we must be severe (Titus 1:13; cf. Matt. 23:13-33). As we develop these attitudes and perspectives, we will avoid making wrongful judgments and make more godly and Biblical judgments instead.
Is it right to judge? This is the question that we have been asking. It is wrong to judge in a wrongful way. It is right to judge in a righteous way. We must seek the wisdom and discernment to know the difference! Let us remember that we will all be judged on that great day. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Now is the time to repent of our sins so that we need not face them on that coming Judgment Day. Today we should “flee from the wrath [of God] to come” (Matt. 3:7; Rom. 2:4-5). Christ suffered and died for our sins so that they may be forgiven. Let us “judge” ourselves as guilty, con-demned sinners now, then turn from those sins, so that we may have “confidence in the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17) and not “shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (2:28).