To Judge or Not to Judge

There are two sides to a very complicated dilemma that have been plaguing our faith from its inception, so much so that even Jesus spoke on it.  “Judge not, that you not be judged,”Jesus said in Matthew 7:1.  There is probably no other verse that has caused so much confusion than this verse right here.  For the sake of understanding the whole picture, let’s include the following few verses:

“Judge not, that you not be judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

I’ve had people quote the first verse to me as an accusation against Christians.  The Bible says you cannot judge–you are a hypocrite! You cannot tell people what you think is right or wrong.  The truth is that we cannot function in this world unless we have some standard of right and wrong and that we evaluate the world by this.  Everyone does this, so there’s no point calling a person a hypocrite about it.  The fact that anyone calls someone a hypocrite is proof itself, since they are calling upon a standard of right and wrong.  So whether or not we should “judge” is hardly the issue.  The issue of how we judge, or in what capacity, is another story altogether.    And this is what Jesus is talking about.

Because of the drama related to this topic, many Christians end up swinging between extremes–being harsh and judgmental and evaluating others according to the standards they stand firm on or being so full of grace that they have no standards whatsoever.  As my husband likes to term it, he says we are either pharisees or pagans.  Pharisees have taken it upon themselves to determine what is right in every circumstance and then hold everyone to that standard.  Pagans avoid confrontation even if it unintentionally allows others to fall into lifestyles that are dangerous and sinful.  As you can imagine, neither of these models is biblical.  What stands in the middle of these two extremes is the model given to us by Christ:  grace-filled correction.  And it starts with this passage of Scripture we just read.

The word judge mentioned before can also be translated condemn.  That has a much stronger, and I believe more accurate, connotation.  Condemn not, that you not be condemned.  Looking up the word in a Bible dictionary, in this case, it is a person who has assumed the office of a judge.  This is key.  A person who has assumed the office of a judge is in essence saying “I have the authority to judge this person.  I know all of the facts in this situation, and I am unbiased enough to decide the fate of this person.”  In truth, there is only one person in all creation who has the authority, the knowledge, and the objectiveness to truly judge a person’s heart and that is God.  There is no other.  He alone can decide the fate of a person.  However, that doesn’t mean we are to take the stance of the pagan!

This passage actually presents a stance where we are still called to evaluate our brother’s actions, but with two things in mind:

1) We are motivated by actual concern for the individual. Note that Jesus refers to the person being corrected as his brother.  There is a relationship there.  There is a connection, and, therefore, a responsibility to look out for the well-being of this person. 

2) We have first checked our own hearts, intents, and actions.  Before you can lovingly correct someone, you better make sure you aren’t guilty yourself.   

In order to truly be salt in this world, there are times when we will need to call someone out on some things, and there will be times when we ourselves will need to be called out on  some things also.  This is called relationship and accountability.  No one can stand aloof and say that they can do this on their own.  We have blind spots to our own sin that will ruin us if we don’t have help.  And, on the flip side, we have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters if we see them making decisions that are dangerous for them.  And, sometimes, we have a responsibility to remove ourselves from people who continue to make decisions that are not in line with Scripture.  Not because we are better than them.  Not because we no longer care.  But because in the long run, it is better for them to just reap the consequences of their decisions and come to the conclusion that Christ’s way is better on their own.  But this is always with the understanding in mind that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4).

With this in mind, the Bible has a message to both the pharisee and the pagan:

Pharisee–you are not always right.  Your strong stances can lead to an unforgiving spirit which will not be tolerated.  You will be judged the way you are now judging (Matthew 18:21-35).  Remember the compassion and grace of God.  Let His own mercy towards you compel you to love others in the same way (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  Be motivated to help people where they are right now allowing them to travel along the path God has intended for them in His own timing bathing them in prayer (Ecclesiastes 3:11 and Ephesians 6:18).

Pagan–you are not always right.  What you think is love is really fear of confrontation.  You think by not taking a stand, that you are imitating grace.  Your grace is a cheap grace and has no value at all.  God’s grace cost Him His only Son.  This grace is the grace that saves, that never gives up, that pursues with complete dedication with the hope that not one will be lost (1 Corinthian 13).   If you really believe in love, then sacrifice yourself for others by telling them the truth they must hear in order to be saved (Romans 10:17).  

We will be both of these people at different times in our lives, and, hopefully, we will also be like the Christ-figure:  where mercy and truth meet and bring true peace!

“Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.”  

Psalm 85:10

“Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, 

Write them on the tablet of your heart”  

Proverbs 3:3

“In mercy and truth Atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.”

Proverbs 16:6

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