Recently I had a conversation with a group of friends on the subject of judging others. The conversation came about when one said that Christians must not judge? Many Christians always make a general statement “we are not to judge others”, without actually understanding all of the scriptures about judgment in the Bible. So what is the truth of this matter? Let us examine to see what the scriptures teach?
When we read scripture, we find scriptures commanding us “not to” judge, and scriptures commanding us “to” judge. The best way to understand it is to read what Jesus said in John 7:24 saying “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” From this passage alone, we can understand that there is a way to judge, and there is a manner in which we must not judge.
Let us look at three ways to judge rightly.
Firstly do not judge hypocritically but with discernment
Many use the scripture from Matthew 7:1 to say that we must not judge saying “Judge not, that you be not judged.” When taken this passage on its own disregarding the rest of the passage, it seems as though the passage is commanding not to judge. Jesus expands on the point He is trying to convey.
Matthew 7:3-5 says “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.”
What this passage is saying is, you need first to examine yourself before you pronounce judgment on others. Are there shortcomings in your life, before finding the weaknesses of other peoples life? In this passage, Jesus is rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They were quick to see the sin of others but were not willing to look at their sins, nor did they want to keep the standard they were imposing on others.
There is always more significant judgment for those who do not look at the greater sin in themselves while pointing out the smaller sins in others. We are not to judge hypocritically. This type of judgment is the main point Jesus is addressing in the passage. Further in Matthew 7, Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
If we are to fulfil this command, then how are we to judge, discern the spiritual condition if someone is like a dog or a pig. In other words, someone who is incapable of appreciating the truth, apathetic, cold, or is indifferent to the fact.
We are to clean up our sins and live right before judging others. Otherwise, we are hypocritical. Again Jesus goes on to command in Matthew 7:15-16 saying “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? “
How can we distinguish between good fruit and bad fruit without judging with discernment?
Secondly, judge with righteous judgment
In John 7:24, Jesus says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” You see, righteous judgment is concerned with truth and not mere appearances. Outward appearance is often deceptive. We should not judge based on insufficient or superficial information.
The context of John 7:24 is understood when reading the previous verses from verses 21 to 24, saying “Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
What Jesus is showing here is that circumcision was initiated in Genesis 17:9-14 and commanded in the law of Moses (Lev 12:3). Circumcision had to be observed on the eighth day after birth and was allowable on the Sabbath. The point Jesus was making here is; if a rite symbolising purification was permitted, then why should He not be allowed to make an entire person whole and clean on the Sabbath? So Jesus says, stop judging by appearance., In other words, stop making superficial pronouncements on His work and instead evaluate it objectively.
In like manner, we are to do the same as well. We can judge, but we are to do so with righteous judgment. We must evaluate a matter objectively. Superficial judgment is wrong. We are often quick to jump to conclusions before knowing all the facts.
Thirdly, judge to save a soul
When we do place judgment on someone, we are to do so in a manner to save. A great example of this is in James 5:19-20 saying, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
You see, when you bring correction into someone’s life, with the right judgment, you are saving his soul from death. This verse is encouraging us to make an effort to bring a wanderer back so that he or she will receive saving faith in their lives. To fulfil this, you need to be discerning and judge with right judgment.
Another scripture in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 saying “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.”
The reason for this is so that his or her spirit will be saved. Earlier in the chapter it says in 1 Corinthians 5:5 “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
The ultimate aim is to save a soul. We are to judge rightly and without hypocrisy so that anyone not walking according to scripture will be brought back to right standing with Christ.
In conclusion, the Bible encourages honest judging and criticism. We should never make a blanket statement saying the Bible commands us “not to judge”. Instead, what the Bible does teach us is to judge rightly. So, I encourage you to judge rightly and not hypocritically. Judge with righteous judgment and not by mere appearances—finally, judge to save a soul and to bring someone back to the ways of God.