Are We Allowed to Judge Others?
22 November 2022 Hits:1513
In 2017, McCrindle Research published its Faith and belief in Australia report. It’s enlightening reading for every Christian. Unsurprisingly, judging others, that is, Christians acting self-righteously and pointing out the faults in others and society, is in the top three negative influences for non-Christian people (No. 1 is church abuse). It is seen as hypocrisy for one imperfect human to stand in judgement of another flawed individual.
There appears to be some confusion amongst Christians about the proper place for judging – or not judging. That may be because a casual reading of the New Testament seems to contradict itself on this issue. But the apparent contradictions disappear when you dig deeper and consider the context.
Lots of Meanings
Many words have diverse meanings depending on the context. For example, “tip” can mean “end, rubbish dump, advice, gratuity and spill.” The word “up” has 30 definitions. So, it is with the word judge.
For example, in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” Jesus uses the Greek word krino, meaning “to condemn or punish.” In Luke 12:57, he uses the same Greek word, but here it means “to consider” – “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”
Paul uses krino in 1 Corinthians 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” Here “judge” means “evaluate” the behaviour of another Christian – a guy was having sex with his stepmother! Incest was strongly condemned in the first-century world, as it still is today. And rightly so.
In 1 Corinthians 6:5-6, “Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” Paul uses a different Greek word (Diakrino), meaning “to decide or discern.” Jesus uses the same word in John 7:24, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (or decision);
James, in Acts 15:19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Judgment means “ruling.” In Romans 12:3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” Here judgment means “opinion.” Paul teaches Christians to have a clearheaded opinion of themselves.
Back to Matthew 7:1-5
In this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he instructs his followers NOT to judge or condemn others and warns that if we do “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” That’s worth bearing in mind! He then uses an analogy from his vocation as a carpenter, “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?” Great questions! Jesus goes on to define this sort of judgment as hypocritical and instructs us to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” In other words, sort out your own stuff first!
Jesus’ command not to judge does not mean we should never disagree with someone’s life choices. It doesn’t mean I roll over and agree with everything, so I’m not judgmental. There is a time when it’s appropriate to help a fellow Christian to remove a speck from their eye but make sure you’ve removed your plank first!
How to Remove the Speck
Firstly, ask for the person’s permission. Bringing correction is best done out of a relationship with another. Always have the person’s best interest at heart. Our motivation should be care and a desire for God’s best for them.
Next, be humble, gentle and caring. Christians are to assess things according to Scripture, but we must not condemn people with the Bible. We must learn to express God’s truth without being judgmental and condemning. We can feel strongly about something, but we must not be arrogant or lacking in compassion. Please read Luke 7:36-50 for a classic example of Jesus challenging someone’s harsh, arrogant and compassionless judgment.
It would be healthy for us all to bear James’ words in mind: “Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time” (2:12-13 MSG; Cf. 4:2).
Make restoration your ultimate goal. Paul coached the Galatian Christians “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Restore, not annihilate. Did you notice Paul’s words, “live by the Spirit”? Gentleness in restoring others is a hallmark of a spiritual person. Living by the Spirit means leaving room for the Holy Spirit in our interactions with others. The changing process that God is doing in each of us (sanctification) is ultimately his work, not ours. Imagine the Holy Spirit saying to you, “You love them, and I’ll change them.”
Pigs and Pearls
Finally, be discerning. Jesus warned his followers, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6). Jesus teaches “don’t bother tutoring those who won’t listen to you.”
Followers of Jesus are not to force their beliefs on those who won’t receive them. Neither are we called to judge or correct people outside of the church. Instead, we must be a compassionate community that corrects but never condemns. We are to discern appropriate and inappropriate behaviour carefully but never bring judgement to another. And we must ensure the focus is very much on ourselves (our plank, our trespasses) rather than someone else’s sawdust.