If there is a need for some clear thinking on the issue of judging, it is because there is so very much unclear thinking. I never cease to be amazed at how much sloppy, irrational and just plain unbiblical thinking there is on this matter – and I am referring to Christians here.
Of course non-Christians would likely get this wrong. But the fact that so many people who are Christians – and have been for decades – still cannot think straight on this topic is a real cause of concern. I keep encountering folks who should know better by now who are still rehashing the same tired nonsense about how Christians must never judge.
I have written on this so often now, but it seems to be one of those issues that must constantly be addressed, since it keeps being mangled by believers who really should not be getting this so messed up. I am reminded of the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Heb. 5:12).
So here we go again. Let me present a common scenario: I will get believers telling me that Jesus said we should not judge. Yep, sure enough, there they go, running to Matthew 7:1 again, as if that passage is some sort of slam dunk for their case.
It is nothing of the sort of course, and as we have to keep on saying, plucking a text from its context is a mere pretext. The passage is absolutely clear if folks would simply take a minute or two to read the entire chapter. That would cover a multitude of sins in this regard.
What Jesus said about not judging has absolutely nothing to do with making moral assessments, judgments and evaluations. What he is saying is just this: if you condemn another person for something you are doing yourself, you are nothing but a hypocrite. That is what he is saying. But I explain that in more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/08/thou-shalt-judge/
But then these folks will make other silly remarks, such as: ‘Yeah, but we are all sinners, so we therefore cannot judge anyone’. Good grief. Of course we are all sinners. What does that have to do with anything? So we cannot say Hitler was wrong because we are sinners?
We cannot say abortion or rape is wrong because we are all sinners? We really cannot say Jack the Ripper was wrong, or Attila the Hun, or Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot? Really? Sorry, but this is foolish thinking and sloppy morality. What kind of morally perverse universe would we be living in if we could never say anything about anyone, because ‘we are all sinners’?
Some of these folks will then backtrack a bit at this point. They realise they are dead in the water with such foolish thinking, so they will change tack. They will then say, ‘Yeah, well maybe we can judge actions, but we must NEVER judge people!!’
I am always amazed when Christians declare with full conviction something completely opposed to what the Bible actually teaches. I have to seriously question if they in fact have ever read their Bibles. Never judge anyone? Is that so? All I can do here is remind them that we have hundreds of passages in Scripture about judging, with plenty of them about judging and rebuking people. Here are just a few of them:
-Luke 3:19-20 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
-Luke 9:55-56 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
-Luke 12:56-57 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?
-Luke 13:31-32 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal’.”
-Luke 17:3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
-Luke 20:45-47 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
-Acts 13:9-11 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.”
-1 Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
-1 Corinthians 5:3-5 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
-Galatians 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
-Galatians 3:1, 3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Are you so foolish?
-Philippians 3:2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.
-1 Timothy 1:19-20 Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
There are plenty more such verses. Yet these folks will still try to weasel their way out of things, and insist that we can maybe judge or rebuke someone, but only privately, never publicly. But all they need to do is reread the verses above – most of these were very public cases of judging and rebuking.
Yet they still will not give up. They will next cherry pick a few more passages, totally twist them out of their context, and think they have still made their case. One such verse they will run to is Romans 2:1 which says: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Um, even if we read no further, it would be clear that once again, the sin of hypocrisy is being condemned here. If you condemn another person for something that you also happen to be guilty of, then you have condemned yourself! It is that simple.
It says nothing about not engaging in righteous judgment, which Jesus commanded us to be involved in (John 7:24). The rest of Romans 2:1-16 is the full context of this verse, and in it Paul lays out how the pagan stands condemned before God. And the double standard in judging is a big part of this. In the remaining verses (17-29) he goes on to show how the Jews are also condemned before God.
The opening chapters of Romans are all about showing how the whole world is guilty before a holy and righteous God. After that foundation is laid, Paul then goes on to give the good news of what Christ has done to redeem condemned sinners, whether Jew or Gentile. Once again, we have nothing here about not judging. It is only hypocritical judging that is being discussed.
Since the verse most used and abused about judging comes from the Sermon on the Mount, let me conclude with a few comments from the commentary of Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this text:
“It is almost true to say that such a thing as discipline in the Christian Church is non-existent today. When did you last hear of a person being excommunicated, or of a person being kept back from the Communion Table? Go back to the history of Protestantism and you will find that the Protestant definition of the Church is, that ‘the Church is a place in which the Word is preached, the Sacraments are administered, and discipline is exercised’. Discipline, to the Protestant Fathers, was as much a mark of the Church as the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. But we know very little about discipline. It is the result of this flabby, sentimental notion that you must not judge, and which asks, ‘Who are you to express judgment?’ But the Scripture exhorts us to do so.”
Referring to 2 John 10-11 he says: “You see what the apostle is saying. If a man comes to you who does not hold the true doctrine, you must not receive him into your house, you must not bid him God speed and provide him with money to preach his false doctrine. But today it would be said that that is a lack of charity, that it is being over-punctilious and censorious. This modern idea, however, is a direct contradiction of the Scripture teaching with regard to judging.”
“Surely our Lord’s emphasis is this. He is not telling us that we are not to make these assessments based on judgement, but He is very concerned about the matter of condemning. In trying to avoid the tendency to condemn, people have swung right over to the other extreme, and so again they are in a false position.”
“If our Lord had finished His teaching with those first five verses, it would undoubtedly have led to a false position. Men and women would be so careful to avoid the terrible danger of judging in that wrong sense that they would exercise no discrimination, no judgment whatsoever. There would be no such thing as discipline in the Church, and the whole of the Christian life would be chaotic. There would be no such thing as exposing heresy and pronouncing judgment with regard to it. Because everybody would be so afraid of judging the heretic, they would turn a blind eye to the heresy; and error would come into the Church more than it has done.”
“The simple answer is that, while our Lord exhorts us not to be hypercritical, He never tells us not to be discriminating. There is an absolute difference between these two things. What we are to avoid is the tendency to be censorious, to condemn people, to set ourselves up as the final judge and to make a pronouncement on persons. But that, of course, is very different from exercising a spirit of discrimination, to which Scripture is ever exhorting us.”