Judging Others

“God doesn’t want us to judge another, right? If the answer is “yes,” then why should we judge those who do things contrary to what the Bible says? How can we as humans pass judgment? Isn’t that God’s job?”

Great questions! Isn’t it true that we all hate being judged by another? So what does the Bible say about judging?

Jesus talks about being judgmental, and in the Sermon on the Mount, he calls those who engage in being judgmental “hypocrites.” 

Those who think they can go around judging others out of pride, while ignoring their own sins and shortcomings, are reminded by Jesus to be very careful when he says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV)

Then comes the famous passage where Jesus asks, “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? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:4-5, NIV)

God wants us to have humble hearts. That means that as Christ-followers we don’t want to act superior to others or think of ourselves as better than others. Especially among fellow children of God, no one should try to dominate anyone else or gain a superior position over another through put-downs and constant criticisms. 

On the surface of things, of course, there are many differences between people - differences of ability, of appearance, of position, of education, of personality. But a humble-hearted person will see those simply as differences. He will view it as one of the signs of God’s amazing grace that he has created such wonderful diversity and variety among people. External differences don’t really matter and should be disregarded.

Paul, the apostle, takes an interesting tack on this. For anyone who feels they occupy a superior position, or are stronger than another person, he gives the alternative to being judgmental. The alternative is to care for them and bear with them: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbor for his good.” (Romans 15:1-2, NIV

Rather than judge, God encourages us to love those who are worthy of judgment, who have clearly sinned. Another command from God that includes even spiritual failures and sins is this one: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (1 Peter 4:5, NIV)

Now that’s a great thought: Love sinners! That's what Jesus did for you and me. And that's what he calls on us to do for one another.

OK, that would seem to answer the question, except there are a few more things that the Bible says about this. The Bible distinguishes between being judgmental, and exercising good judgment. And while the Bible does condemn being judgmental out of pride and hypocrisy, it also says that a humble-hearted Christian can exercise judgment. In fact, it encourages us to do so. 

Actually, Jesus himself often pronounced judgment on people. Check out what Jesus says to the Pharisees, for example, in Matthew 23. Seven times he pronounced a “Woe to you!” on the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. But Jesus never did this with the intent to elevate himself or lord it over someone else. It was always with the loving intent of getting someone to recognize their sin and get free from the trap Satan was laying for them. 

But someone might say, “That’s Jesus. He’s God. He can see into hearts. If he pronounces judgment on someone, fair enough. But that’s not something we should do.”

I love the humility that admits that our ability to know all the facts is limited. That’s something we should understand and remember at all times. Too often we’re tempted to pronounce a hair-trigger judgment on a person, based entirely on the outward appearance of things. 

But on the other hand, there is a big difference between being judgmental and exercising judgment. There is a place for exercising judgment in a humble fashion and in a God-pleasing way. The latter is what Jesus calls "making a right judgment" in John 7: “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.” (John 7:24, NIV

Perhaps when Jesus said this, he was simply recalling something the Jews had already been taught from the book of Proverbs, where exercising good judgment is actually portrayed as a way to help others: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV) Actually, if you read the entire book of Proverbs, you will find many, many passages in which you will be encouraged to gain wisdom and exercise good judgment in all your interactions with people.

Intriguingly, when Jesus is asked the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? ”he actually commands the church to exercise and pronounce judgment to help a sinner leave his way of sin, ultimately saying, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:17-18, NIV

Near the above verse is The Parable of the Lost Sheep, where Jesus once again commands us not to engage in judgmentalism, “See that you do not look down on these little ones.” And he asks this question: “What do you think?  If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Matthew 18:12, NIV) Jesus loves the lost. And if that means pronouncing judgment in order to shake a person up, and “find them” again, he will do it. And he encourages us to do the same.

Check out Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, or Paul’s recommendation about a sinner in 1 Corinthians 5 and you’ll see other examples of church leaders and churches exercising and pronouncing judgment in order to reclaim wandering, wavering brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul sums up this approach by encouraging believers to be careful who they hang out with. We can be misled, he says. But, again, notice his intent, his desire to reclaim a brother or sister to the faith: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning, for there are some who are ignorant of God - I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34, NIV)

So here’s the Bible's answer to the question "Can a Christian judge others?" God doesn’t want us to be pridefully or hypocritically judgmental. He wants us to humbly recognize we have planks in our own eye as we look at the splinter in the eye of others. At the same time, he encourages the use of good judgment in our interactions with others, exercising and even publicly proclaiming judgment in cases where that can help reclaim someone who is wandering away from God’s love and the true life God wants to give him in Christ.