Although I love music, I generally have despised attending concerts where large hoards of people gather to unite in pandemonium. Long lines and expensive tickets are no enticement either. Steven Curtis Chapman headlined the first Christian concert I attended and in contrast to other concerts, I was surprised to see everyone acting polite and orderly – the crowd of thousands seemed much smaller even though they were obviously having fun. I could actually hear the music without people screaming and there was a general reverence that echoed throughout the venue.
At Christian concerts people tend to be a bit more social – often discussing things of a Godly nature. At one such recent event there were two young girls sitting next to my friends and me that promptly initiated polite conversation. We laughed, praised God together and talked about our home churches. Somehow the banter ended up leading to a discussion about leadership roles in the church. During this brief conversation (in-between acts) I suggested that if a leader does something wrong, they should step down (e.g., if a pastor gets caught cheating on his wife then he should cease pastoring). At this point the tenor of the conversation took a sharp turn. One of the young women asked her friend about the Bible verse that sates we are not to judge one another. Neither of them could quite quote the verse or knew it was Matthew 7:1; “ Judge not, that ye be not judged,” but they certainly had heartfelt interpretations of its meaning. Suffice to say that the conversation became awkward as we disagreed on the correct interpretation of the verse in question and the conversation quickly ended. Luckily, Third Day took the stage and there was little need to explain my position further since the young ladies did not seem the least bit interested in sharpening iron anyway.
Fast forward to the Sunday sermon a few weeks later at my church in which the pastor discussed the issue of judgment. When all was said and done, his sermon seemed to agree more with the two young girls sitting next to me at the concert than the Biblical description of judgment I have spent so much time thinking about the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, my pastor is intelligent, thoughtful and well spoken. He’s the primary reason I fellowship there, but I think this particular sermon did not quite hit the mark. It seems that most everyone I encounter believes that we are not to judge one another. It’s the Mantra of our time: “Thou shall not judge.”
To be truly transparent, my feelings and analysis of Biblical judgment have been somewhat like an Antarctic ice shelf . Retreating in the summer only to return in the winter. Yet here I am, finally ready to take my stand on the issue of judgment. Yes, the ice could melt beneath my feet leaving me in a pool of frigid water. Yet I am optimistically faithful that I’ll walk firmly across to safety. I have taken considerable time and prayer in forming the analysis you are about to read. One may call the conclusions mere opinion and that may very well be true, but I challenge anyone taking a superficial glance at the subject before us to not vacuously judge until they have put as much effort into the matter as necessary to form a righteous and well thought out judgment. Yes, I could be wrong, but I would not be putting my thoughts in writing for all to see if I did not think there was solid ground on which to stand. It may indeed be slippery ground, but my balance is pretty steadfast. So please read on and perhaps discover an answer to the question of the decade amongst us Christians: “Is it wrong to judge?”
Let me cut to the chase. Of course Christians are supposed to judge. There is concrete evidence supported by a plethora of Biblical text that not only supports this notion but cries out for the spiritual application of its principals. Perhaps a better discussion would be to explore when and why this ridiculous blanket statement that we are not to judge has swept through the Christian community with such passion and ease. But before that, let me make my case for the Biblical support of Judgment.
We already know there is plenty of necessary and equitable Judgment in society. If we didn’t have police, courts and judges, we would not have a social arena in which to discuss this topic in the first place as there would be complete and utter chaos. Judgment exists in the secular world for good reason whether we like it or not. I would argue that even the judgment we have in the secular world originated by and is still based on the Creator God himself. But that’s not the focus of our discussion here. We are focusing on judgment by Christians based on clearly outlined Biblical principles.
What does the Bible say about Judgment? Well, there is perhaps the most famous and well known verse in the Bible (arguably overtaking John 3:16) that states “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Matthew 7:1 KJV. Okay, discussion over. The Bible says we are not to judge. I was wrong, the ice has melted and I have sunk. The Bible also says in Mathew 5:29 to pluck out your eye if it offends. Wait, perhaps we should start looking at some pretext and post text here before taking action and forming opinions based on solitary verses. Once explained and analyzed its clear when taken into context that God does not want us to go around plucking our eyes out.
Likewise there are plenty of versus that shed more light on Judgment than just the famous one already mentioned. For example, “Do not Judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24, Here, Jesus is actually commanding us to judge. Those quoting Matthew 7:1 should memorize a little further down to verse 5 where Jesus tells us how we are to judge, by first judging ourselves, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” If God did not want us to judge then why doesn’t he stop at verse one? Instead He continues on to explain how we are to judge? The point of the first verse is to be careful when judging that we do not judge hypocritically or hatefully.
God is all about love, that’s why He is so careful to describe how we are to judge. We are to judge righteously (John 7:24). Biblical righteousness can only come through allowing Jesus Christ to be the ruler of our lives. In essence we are only righteous because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We are made righteous not by our own works but by the work of Christ. Thus, those that have Christ have the Spirit of Christ which epitomizes love and forgiveness. When we as Christians judge righteously, we apply our love for Christ and His word and judge gently and lovingly after we have assessed our own condition.
The Holy Spirit filled are constantly in repentance because we are human and will always sin. It is precisely because of this sin nature that we as Christians need to judge one another. Is it loving to watch a husband cheat on his wife and do nothing about it? Is it loving to allow someone to drink themselves into a coma. Is it loving to help someone cheat on their taxes. No. It is loving to judge the man cheating on his wife and challenge him to repent and do the right thing. It is loving to judge the drunk and to help them into a life of sobriety. If we never judged these people why would we ever call their actions into question? You can’t ask someone to repent and turn away from a behavior if there is no reason for judgment in the first place. That would be ludicrous.
One may ignore the elephant in the room, but when you know someone is cheating on their spouse you are already judging them. If you act on the judgment in a loving way, you hopefully help them to stop doing the harmful behavior. The Bible outlines how we are to do this in Mathew 18:15-18 “ “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I tell you it is anything but loving NOT to judge someone who is in sin, especially when they are a fellow Christian. Here are numerous other New Testament verses that tell us when, why, and how to judge: 1 Corinthians 5:11–13; 6:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:20; and Titus 3:9.
I truly believe that unless our hearts have been hardened, all Christians know that it is right to Judge as long as it is done in a loving and gentle way. I think the real issue with judgment is based on the fact that most of us are indeed hypocritical. In essence, the modern day church is filled with sin that is both obvious and rampant. It is hypocritical after all to judge someone for idolizing pop culture when we ourselves spend half the day watching television, looking at gossip magazines and reading trash on the internet. It is hypocritical to judge someone for using foul language when we find ourselves cutting lose every time that old friend form high school comes around to hang out with us. It is hypocritical when we judge someone for sexual promiscuity when we ourselves are having sex outside of God’s definition of marriage. The list goes on.
So if we all sin, how can we apply the instruction to first take the plank out of our own eye before we judge others? Is it even possible? Of course it’s possible and it is something we are to strive for. First of all, not every believer is sinning at every moment of their lives. We all have seasons of strength and weakness. Hopefully and ideally the longer we pursue Christ the more we will walk with Him and not so much in our sin nature. Perhaps that’s why we have leaders in the church known as elders. Elders are to be known for their prayer life (1 Tim. 2:8), modeling Christ-like service (Matt. 20:26–28; 1 Pet. 5:2), and being practically responsible in their homes, as well as in the workplace (1 Tim. 3:4–7). Not just any man can serve as an elder—they must be qualified to do so (theresurgence.com). So if the church is healthy and acting according to God’s Word, there will be plenty of strong Christians to judge righteously, counsel, and hold the believer accountable. If we are in a season that we are not walking with God then perhaps we should not confront someone we know is harming themselves and others with sin, but rather go to an elder to work out our own issues first. Or better yet, perhaps we should confront the sinner and share with them our own struggles – just a thought.
Of course we are not to judge in an unloving, harsh, unbiblical, or hypocritical fashion. That goes without saying. But if we take judgment off the table we leave sin to reign freely without any call to action. It is illogical to think you can have change without judgment. Judgment, whatever pretty name you want to put on it (even if you go so far as to seemingly abolish it from the church), must exist or there is no reason to even have fellowship with other believers. Close the church doors and meet at the local pub, PTA or football game because without the concept, application, and understanding of judgment the church is as a eunuch.
I can’t remember the last time I have been judged by a fellow believer and held accountable. And quite frankly it is sad that no one has had the courage to call me out and judge my sin (when it has been evident). Doesn’t anyone love me enough to tell me the truth? Maybe my friends don’t judge me because they are afraid to lose my friendship. Or perhaps it’s because they don’t know how to judge in a loving healthy way because the church has reconciled with the world that judgment is wrong. Church membership, especially in America, seems to be on a steady decline. Perhaps churches are afraid of losing even more members by practicing appropriate judgment. My anecdotal experiences have shown me that quite the opposite is true; the more liberal the church becomes, the more members they lose. People know in their souls what is right and wrong, but if the church is not going to back up even the simplest core values, why should they even go? They may as well join a different social club that caters to immediate gratification than long term fulfillment and truth.
It’s time to learn how do judge righteously. It’s time to love one another fully and not superficially. Please, if you see me sin, judge me, love me, help me to walk more closely with Christ. I beg you. Judge me according to the word and love of Christ, He has, after all, commanded you to do so. However, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit in you, if you don’t know the Word of God, if love is not your motivation, then please keep your mouth shut and move on. And to those Christians who don’t know how to receive judgment, learn. On one final note there is one judgment that is forbidden according to our Lord. We are not to judge the heart or condemn anyone (1 Corinthians 4:5). For only God knows the heart. We can only judge the fruit (Matthew 7: 15-20), that which is hanging on the tree for all to see.
More commentary on Matthew 7: 1-6:
7:1-6 We must judge ourselves, and judge of our own acts, but not make our word a law to everybody. We must not judge rashly, nor pass judgment upon our brother without any ground. We must not make the worst of people. Here is a just reproof to those who quarrel with their brethren for small faults, while they allow themselves in greater ones. Some sins are as motes, while others are as beams; some as a gnat, others as a camel. Not that there is any sin little; if it be a mote, or splinter, it is in the eye; if a gnat, it is in the throat; both are painful and dangerous, and we cannot be easy or well till they are got out. That which charity teaches us to call but a splinter in our brother’s eye, true repentance and godly sorrow will teach us to call a beam in our own. It is as strange that a man can be in a sinful, miserable condition, and not be aware of it, as that a man should have a beam in his eye, and not consider it; but the god of this world blinds their minds. Here is a good rule for reprovers; first reform thyself.