One of the most quoted verses from the Bible in Christian and non-Christian circles alike is “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1). (Matthew 7:1). Often, this verse is used to promote tolerance of something unbiblical by suggesting that it is always wrong to judge. Sometimes it’s used to disprove the arguments of a legalist.
But what exactly does the Bible say about passing judgment?
God’s love must be comprehended before judgment can be made.
God’s love for us does not depend on our works, but faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, God shows his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus died for us whether or not we accept his call to follow him.
A short time later, Paul lays out the strict boundaries of God’s love. His words are:
Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, and I know that with all my being. Nothing can stop us now, not even the forces of hell, whether it’s death or life, angels or demons, or our worries about the present or the unknown future. Nothing in all of creation, not even the powers of heaven or earth, can ever separate us from the love of God that is shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. [From Romans 8:38–39]
The extent to which God loves us has nothing to do with whether or not we obey him or what we believe.
Do the things we do have any effect? Absolutely.
Do the things we believe affect who we become? Absolutely. Infinitely enduring ones.
Can God’s love for us alter because of what we do or what we believe? Unquestionably not.
Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, so they don’t.
So, before we ever address the issue of judging someone’s behaviour, we must affirm emphatically that God loves everyone. The love of God is unwavering. Nor should the love we have for one another as Christians.
Now that we know God loves us, we can deal with the judgments that arise from His perfect love.
Should we, as Christians, pass judgment on the deeds of fellow Christians?
Jesus warns his followers about false prophets just a few verses after he tells us, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Fruits are a sure sign of a group’s character. Grapes from thornbushes? Figs from thistles? Neither do men. Still, a good tree will always produce good fruit, while a bad tree will only produce bad fruit. It is impossible for a good tree to produce bad fruit, and vice versa. Every fruitless tree is to be uprooted and burned. This is why “you will recognize them by the fruit they produce.” Bible verses (Matthew 7:15-20)
It’s understandable if you have to take a second look at this. Immediately following his warning against passing judgment on others, Jesus urges his followers to evaluate their fellow Christians based on the fruit of their lives. In other words, he instructs us to form opinions based on the deeds of others.
That appears to be incongruous, but it really isn’t.
At first glance, Jesus doesn’t seem to be condemning the act of judging itself (Matthew 7:1), but rather the standards by which we evaluate things. Jesus then says, “For, in the same way, you judge others, you will be judged,” (Matthew 7:2), which is a direct quote from this verse. According to the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 7:2), Jesus is warning us to evaluate the behaviour of others with fair and accurate standards.
Jesus continues by saying that we shouldn’t criticize others for their shortcomings when we ourselves have something more substantial: a plank in our own eye. (vs. 3-5) Those words of wisdom are spot on. Here, too, Jesus confronts hypocrisy.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we should exercise extreme caution whenever we pass judgment on the deeds of others. Also, the Bible warns us not to pass judgment on others too quickly.
Should we, as Christians, pass judgment on the behaviour of those who don’t share our faith?
The topic is addressed head-on and forcefully by the Apostle Paul. Unbelievably, Paul had learned that a member of the Corinthian church was having an affair with his father’s wife. Paul is at a loss for words. This, he says, is “something that even the pagans don’t do.” NIV) 1 Corinthians 5:1
If “he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns,” Paul writes, “then it is necessary for the leaders of the church in Corinth to judge this sin and to separate this man from the body of Christ.” (vs. 5)
Because “sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough,” protecting the church body is an important first step in this divine judgment. (vs. 6) secondly, the sinner’s eternal salvation is more valuable than his present ease. The only way this man would ever change his ways is if he was excommunicated from the church.
Paul then gives equally clear instructions not to judge those outside the faith, following his clear admonition of the Christian responsibility to judge the actions of fellow believers in a faithful manner. His words are:
“It is not my place to pass judgment on those outside the church, but it is your job to do so on those who are sinning within the body of Christ. God will judge the outside world, but the Bible commands, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (vs. 12-13)
The Bible’s teaching on judging is now unmistakable. The Bible teaches that Christians have the responsibility to judge the actions of non-Christians, but that it is not their place to judge the faith of those who are already believers. That’s way out of our league.
Now that we have a firm grasp on the biblical boundaries for judgment, it’s important to think about the difficulties we face when passing judgment (which I discuss in Episode 41) and how to react when we’re passed judgment upon (which I discuss in Episode 42). Both will be discussed; however, the latter will be discussed in a subsequent article (so stay tuned!).
To pass judgment on another person is to open oneself up to the risk of being hurt. The following issues frequently arise when one believer tries to pass judgment on another:
When we pass judgment on others, five problems arise:
First, we have the issue of assigning blame for the right reasons.
There is no way for us limited humans to know another person’s true intentions. We have no way of knowing the inner motivations of other people. Only the actions of others can be judged by us.
Still, this is a common misconception in Western society and the Christian church.
A member of this family regularly attends that church. There is no mistaking her for anything but a Finish sentence.
A sign for some other person can be seen in that person’s front yard. The blank must be filled in: he is a.
At times, we must pass judgment on the fruit that is the lives of our fellow believers, but we must stop far short of passing final judgment on them and casting them aside, as our culture often does. As Christians, we must avoid such a blemish on our faith’s good name.
When making a judgment, focus on the behaviour in question. No, the reason wasn’t like that. Only God knows a person’s true intent, so we must let Him make the final call.
The second issue is when people judge others based on criteria that aren’t God’s standards.
This is, in essence, a matter of subjective evaluation. Someone else said it, but it was included in the canon of Scripture, so now people believe it to be a statement from God.
This was elevated to an art form by the Pharisees. They started with a good idea, like respecting the Sabbath, and piled hundreds of regulations on top of it. Then they used what others had contributed to evaluating them.
To judge others by our own arbitrary standards is unfair. No one has the right to pass judgment on another based on standards we have imposed in addition to those God has set forth in his Word. There is no right answer.
The third issue, it’s being critical without being compassionate.
Also in this regard, the Pharisees excelled. They applied God’s standard in an unloving and self-righteous manner and passed judgment. Doing that never ends well. God’s standard, when wielded without love, can cause serious harm.
In Luke 19, Jesus shares a parable about a religious leader who was full of self-righteousness and dispensed judgment without love. Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man,” the Pharisee prayed. Twice a week, I go without food, and I give 10% of my earnings to charity. (Chapters 11 and Twelve)
It’s likely that most of us have met someone who uses the Bible as a weapon. You can’t expect any positive results. Jesus always reserved his harshest words for those who judged in this way. Each and every evaluation must be based on the power of love.
The fourth error in reasoning is the assumption that setting standards amount to passing judgment.
People often mistakenly believe that bringing up God’s standard is a form of judgment. However, this isn’t the case.
Let’s look at a comparison that illustrates the point beautifully:
If I were to say to you, “Hey, the speed limit is 35 miles per hour,” and you were already going 55 miles per hour, I wouldn’t hold it against you. Let me be clear: I am not a member of law enforcement. Sorry, I can’t issue you a pass. Neither am I a person who passes judgment. I lack the authority to bang a gavel and fine you or take away your driving privileges. That’s not something I can do because I don’t have the power. I can explain the law, but I have no right to pass judgment on your compliance with it.
I am not passing judgment either when I tell you what the Bible says on a subject. I can’t even begin to fathom the cost of something like that. That’s a job for God alone. I can explain what God’s law is, but I have no right to pass judgment on your compliance with it.
5. Not passing any judgment is a problem.
Now more than ever, there is a school of thought within Christianity that allows for virtually anything. You can say and do and be and believe whatever you want, and still claim to be a Christian.
The Bible contradicts that claim categorically.
As members of the body of Christ, we are urged to adhere to the biblical standard that God has set for our own good. Jesus was never one to contradict norms. In no instance was this ever the case. Instead, he provided the grace and strength we need to conquer sin and reach the standard.
It is our responsibility as Christians to make moral judgments about the actions of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a requirement for every Christian. Nevertheless, we, like Jesus, must judge righteously out of love for the sake of leading others to Christlikeness.