Judge Not?

The following is chapter ten of a book I recently finished:

Chapter Ten: Judge Not?

Are we to judge or are we to judge not? Is there a more greatly misunderstood concept within the church than this, or outside of it?

I find it vexing that so many people toss around their personal opinions, decorated with a phrase or two from scripture, as though these were valid representations of God’s view, while attempting to convince others that what they have to say about God’s will is based on reliable information, but who fail to base their statements on God’s word. Do you find this vexing, too?

In one particular passage in the word of God, found in the seventh chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ had the following to say on the subject of judging:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Those who lack a moral argument in favor of certain behaviors in which they like to engage tend to love this passage, which they erroneously claim is a command not to judge evil as evil. However, if they were really interested in understanding the view of God and of Jesus Christ on the issue, they would give greater attention to what Jesus says in the chapter in which that passage is found, as well as to all the other statements he and his apostles make about the subject of judging. But they tend not to do so.

They tend merely to repeat the same erroneous claim, over and over, each time that someone criticizes the behaviors by which they commit acts that God calls evil. Not only do they do they do this, but apparently their stubborn repetition of this erroneous claim has had a debilitating impact on the moral judgment of certain followers of Christ, who rather than studying the scriptures to learn what God’s views are on judgment, have senselessly adopted the point of view on judging of those who set themselves up as God’s enemies, and who prefer to promote evil than to adapt their behavior to what God approves.

God’s enemies want others not to judge their acts as evil, so that they can go on committing them in a social atmosphere that will tolerate whatever they want to do, regardless of how evil, repulsive, abusive, and harmful those acts may be. And they want others to accept these evil behaviors, join with them in carrying them out, and have them come to be seen as normal. This is not God’s will.

Jesus made clear that this is not God’s will in the same passage of Matthew, where immediately following the quote cited above he went on to say:

“3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Here Jesus calls for us not to join in with the other in the commission of evil acts, but to cease to commit them altogether. The emphasis of his statement in the passage quoted is not on judgment at all, in reality, but means to call our attention to the sad fact that we continue to sin. But the fact that Jesus actually means for us to judge is made clear by several other passages that we will consider now.

While the passage quoted above from the seventh chapter of Matthew is taken out of context to criticize those who judge others, Jesus also said the following, recorded in the seventh chapter of the gospel of John: “24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Many of those who love to quote Matthew 7:1 do not like to mention John 7:24 at all, since it does not support their unrighteous agenda. But in fact, it is absolutely necessary that those who follow Jesus Christ know how to judge correctly, and that they do judge correctly, which is what Jesus is saying in John 7:24. Many of the teachings of Christ require us to judge, so if we are unwilling to judge, we remain in disobedience, and we remain unable to follow Jesus Christ as he requires.

Before we continue to examine the scriptures, let’s consider what the word judge means. Not all judgment is equal. Judgment sometimes requires condemnation of a person or an activity, as when a person is guilty of committing acts that are categorized as evil acts, and another expresses condemnation of his acts. But judgment at times limits itself to making an accurate appraisal of a person, a situation, or an activity. Judgment can be condemnation or it can be evaluation. A simple text that serves to illustrate this might be found in the fourth chapter of Acts, where Peter told some who had ordered him and John not to continue preaching the name of Jesus the following: “19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.”

So what type of judgment is required of followers of Jesus Christ?

Speaking of a time not yet here, in the 12th chapter of Matthew, Jesus is recorded as having said, “27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.”

And Paul also mentions a future in which the followers of Christ will sit as judges of others. In this regard, Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians in the sixth chapter of his first letter to them:

“2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?”

There Paul teaches that the followers of Christ will judge the world, as well as angels, and comments that, in that case, they should become capable in judgment of the things of this life. Another statement by Christ seems to place him in agreement with Paul on the matter, whereas he is recorded by the 12th chapter of the gospel of Luke as having said, 57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” So as you should be able to see already, we are expected to judge.

There are matters in which we are to judge, and there are matters in which we are expected not to judge. This is in part due to the fact that some issues are made clear for us, so that we know that those who engage in certain actions do so in violation of God’s righteousness, while other issues are either less clear or otherwise are left up to the individual conscience to weigh. As an example of the latter, we have Paul’s teaching on the observance of days or the eating of certain foods, about which Paul speaks in the 14th chapter of his letter to the Romans, where he says:

“5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;[ and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

And Paul goes on there in the same vein to explain why some things are up to the individual to judge for himself, without applying that judgment to others who may feel differently about the issue. And as James says in the fourth chapter of his letter, “17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

But while there exist situations in which individual judgment is to be made by the individual for himself, there are other situations in which judgment is called for by the individual or the church, against that which is clearly condemned by God. After all, in matters with respect to which God has already made known his judgment, it is the wisdom of the church to support that judgment. Who are we to argue with the Creator, or to determine that what He has called evil should be tolerated by us? As Paul says in the second chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians:

“15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

So how could we, while having the mind of Christ, be in agreement with those who do or condone what God has already judged to be evil?

The same apostle Paul, who in Romans tells us not to judge a brother in certain matters, also tells us that in other matters we are to judge a brother. And he does so in terms that are unequivocal. In the fifth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes to them with apparent dismay of the report he had received on the conduct of one of them who had committed sexual acts that are intolerable, after which he tells them, “3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” (Paul has more to say there, which I recommend you read for yourself.)

In the same chapter, beginning in verse 9, Paul goes on to clarify that followers of Christ are to judge those within the church of Christ, but not to judge those who are in the world. This is what he has to say about that:

“9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

Paul is not there saying that we are not to evaluate the behavior of others who are in the world, but that we are not to condemn them in the same manner as that in which we should condemn those of the church of Christ, who have been instructed in the righteousness of God and claimed to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord, but who commit evil acts as a routine. Paul is clearly saying, about those of the church of Christ who commit such evil acts as those he mentions, that they do not belong in the church and should be removed. This is the judgment he is calling for against unfaithful Christians.

Paul’s attitude is not different than that of Jesus Christ, who with regard to such unfaithful Christians said the following, as recorded in the seventh chapter of the gospel of Matthew:

“21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Now, of course, not every sin that a brother commits calls for his being so severely judged and expelled from the church of Jesus Christ. In the fourth chapter of the first letter that bears his name, Peter said the following, “8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” And there is no one among us who does not on some occasion stumble or offend. But that certain behavior is not to be tolerated in the church of Christ is also beyond question. And yet it is what is being tolerated in many places, if reports have any truth. Judging by what Jesus says to the churches in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation, there is no reason to be surprised.

Please understand that, although we are certainly called to judge, it is not a license to pick apart everything you might observe in another. Just because we are called to judge does not mean that we are capable of accurately assessing whatever happens. Sometime we observe a set of occurrences and misjudge what took place. It is better to leave to God the judgment of things we cannot correctly evaluate, or to reserve judgment of that which we do not understand.

We are called to judge, which means that we should, with the mind of Christ, by the Spirit of a sound mind that we have been given, righteously evaluate that which we should evaluate. But we are not called upon to determine who is going to heaven and who is going to hell, which is made clear at the beginning of the 10th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he writes:

“6 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) 7 or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”

That is a judgment that does not belong to us.

Correctly judging in righteousness, which is what Christ called for us to do, requires the kind of wisdom that only comes from God, so we should always seek his guidance in any serious matter that calls for judgment of a serious issue. And He is always willing to give this wisdom to those who seek it, according to the teaching of James, in the first chapter of the letter that bears his name.

I have only touched on this subject briefly, and now it is for you to seek God’s face and search his word to learn what else He has to say about it.

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