Along with inclusiveness, one of the “high virtues” of the modern age seems to be non-judgment. It is considered a serious “sin” to many modern minds to be judgmental. This is , logically, a rather curious set of morals, since to spot a judgmental deed and point it out is—well, a judgment itself, right? The whole interaction could very logically go around in an infinite loop:
“Don’t judge me!”
“What?! You just judged me! Don’t judge me!”
“Hey, wait a minute! I said it first. Don’t judge me!”
“Well, Don’t judge me!”
And round and round it goes in perfect, silly, post-modern circles.
“But wait,” you may say, “isn’t there a serious, biblical directive against judgment?”
Right you are; it is a clear command found right in Matthew 7:1-5
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged…”
And yet, 10 verses later (Matt. 7:15ff), Jesus not only commands us to judge or discern, but even gives us some criteria by which we might judge false teachers, their fruits.
Was Jesus confused? Is this a Bible contradiction? What’s going on here?
Although it may seem confusing, it is less difficult that you may think. The simple answer to the apparent problem is that there are two ways to judge—a godly way and a sinful way—it is not a one-size-fits-all matter. Let me explain.
Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1), and then He clarifies. The first clarification—“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you”—reminds us that the kind of judgment that we “offer” is the kind of judgment that we’ll get from God. If our judgment is sheer criticism, aimed to humiliate and condemn, or born from harshness, malice, or grudges; then, watch out, what goes around, comes around—from God!
In the second clarification Jesus poses a parable, “Why do you look at 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,’ and behold, the log is 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.” Here we see the irony of correcting someone’s sin, when our own uncorrected sin is so obvious. People judge this way, generally speaking, when they want to draw attention away from their own sin. Jesus calls it acting, hypocrisy.
Another kind of sinful judgment has to do with criticizing others on the basis of non-binding traditions—which Jesus judged: Matthew 15:9 “BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.” Later in the New Testament Paul also called to account those who were judging other Christians on the basis of their own opinions, traditions, and tastes—Romans 14:1 “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
So, Is Judgment Ever Right?
Jesus commands us (Matthew 7:15-20) to tell the difference between good and sinful teachers (prophets)—between what is right and what is wrong. Note: we do not determine what is right and wrong; we simply recognize it. Jesus clarifies our “place” in Matthew 18:18, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
“OK,” someone may say, “but isn’t it better to just discern the truth and keep it to yourself?” While some truths are not necessary for survival, I think you’d agree that there are some that I need to know. For example, I’d need to know, if my house is on fire; and I’d need to know, if I was about to drink poison. Likewise, I need to know, if my soul is in jeopardy. Ezekiel 33 (please read it) tells us clearly (in parable style) that silence about spiritual truth can’t help anyone—and may actually condemn us for letting others die spiritually without a warning. Truth unspoken is truth hidden.
Of course, for judgment to remain “right”, it must be spoken in love: Ephesians 4:15 “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” Notice: 1) Speaking 2) the truth 3) in love is all part of growing up spiritually to the image of Christ.
How does all of this come together?
We all judge; what kind of judge are you? None of us like to be corrected; sometimes it is done poorly and wrongly; but correction/judgment/discernment doesn’t have to be un-Christian. It is right, when we are accurately and humbly speaking God’s words. It is right and required, when people’s souls are on the line. And it is right, when accompanied by love and self-examination (Gal. 6:1-5). In summary…
- You must be certain of God’s judgment or authority before speaking. Men’s tastes, traditions, and opinions are a different story in the matter of judgment. (John 7:24; Romans 14:3-5; 1 Cor. 8-10)
- You do have the biblical right to discern right from wrong. (Matthew 7:15ff; Hebrews 5:14)
- You do have the right and obligation to point out error and sin. (Ezekiel 33; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; Galatians 2:11; James 5:19-20)
- You do not have the right to be unkind, unloving, disrespectful, hurtful, or petty. (1 Cor. 13; Colossians 3:12-14; James 3:13-18)