Are Christians ever allowed to judge others?
There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst Christians as to the proper place for judging – or not judging. I was reading a Facebook thread on the weekend on Ireland’s vote for gay marriage, and especially U2’s Bono coming out in favour of it, so you can imagine all the strong opinions that were expressed.
Some people said things like “who are we to judge? Jesus told us not to judge” – quoting Matthew 7:1. Others suggested that we are to judge and quoted 1 Corinthians 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”
A Facebook friend today asked me this question: “If I disagree with someone on life choices … does that mean I’m being judgmental? If so – should I just roll over and agree with everything so I’m not being judgmental. When is a right time to disagree?” It’s a great question and one I hope to answer here.
On the face of it the New Testament appears to contradict itself on the issue of judging but, when you dig a little deeper and consider context, there is no contradiction at all.
Many words have different meanings depending on the context. For example, the word “tip” can mean, “end, rubbish dump, advice, gratuity and to 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.” Whilst in Luke 12:57, He uses the same Greek word but here it means “to assess” – “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”
Paul uses the same word 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 the word is used in the context of “assessing” the behaviour of another Christian – a guy was having sex with his stepmother! Paul is strong on this for obvious reasons and tells the church to “Expel the wicked person from among you.” This was for a season and later Paul would write to them to welcome this man back into the fellowship. So the church was to assess this man’s behaviour as wrong (not condemn him), remove him from the church for a season (presumably he wasn’t repentant at the time) and later accept him back. Restoration should always be the goal of church discipline (Galatians 6:12).
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.” Here judgment means “assessment.” 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”).
We are to assess things according to the Word of God but we must not condemn people with the Word. Christians need to learn to express God’s truth without being judgmental and condemning. We can feel strongly about something but we must never be arrogant or lacking in compassion. Read Luke 7:36-50 and you’ll see a classic example of Jesus challenging someone’s harsh, arrogant and compassionless judgment of a sinful woman.
Now let’s go back to Matthew 7:1-5 which is often quoted out of context. Jesus instructs His people 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 it’s okay to help someone else with his or her speck as long as we’ve dealt with our plank first!
Next time you’re tempted to be judgmental ask yourself:
What is my reason for wanting to correct or judge?
Is it for their benefit or to satisfy my pride and self-righteousness?
Am I more focused on condemning people than helping them?
Is love for them my motivating force? If people know we love them and have their best interests at heart they will be much more open to hearing our words.
Finally, remember that Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was NOT to judge people. He said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (John 12:47; 3:16-17; 8:15). 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “… judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.” We would do well to heed that advice. Some things just need to be left to the Day of Judgment when the judge of all the earth will do what is right.
Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving faith community located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.
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