Post Author: Bill Pratt
I was recently reading a newspaper article my wife showed me, and it reminded me of a Metallica song called “Holier Than Thou.” In that song, the singer repeats a refrain, “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself.” That phrase, I’ve come to realize, is an anthem that our culture cries at every opportunity.
The article that prompted this recollection from the cobwebs of my mind was about a controversial vote within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on whether to allow gays to serve as ministers and elders. One gentleman, who supports the amendment, said the following: “We do not as individual Christians and Presbyterians need to pass judgment on others. That’s not our responsibility.” In other words, Christians are not to make judgments about other people’s moral behavior, and especially sexual behavior. The business of pointing to a person’s immoral actions is strictly forbidden.
Now, the reason my wife likes to show me articles like this is because she knows how I will react – not well. This matter of Christians not judging comes up again and again, but nobody ever seems to learn. So, here is my feeble attempt at straightening this out.
The source, for most people, of the idea that Christians should not judge comes from Matt. 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” If you read this single verse on its own, you may very well come to the conclusion that Jesus is telling people not to judge, but then comes the small matter of context. It turns out that sentences in the Bible, like every other written document ever produced, need to be read in context. We need to know what the surrounding verses say in order to understand this verse.
If you continue to read Matthew 7, through verse 5, you will see what Jesus is talking about. In verse 5, Jesus says, “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.” Here is the key to what Jesus means. He is speaking out against hypocritical and self-righteous judgments. He is not telling us to never judge; he is telling us how to judge rightly.
In fact, it would be extremely strange for Jesus to tell us to never judge in Matt. 7:1 when just a few verses later, in verse 6, he tells Christians to beware “dogs” and “pigs” so that we don’t waste time giving them knowledge of God. The only way you can detect a metaphorical “dog” or “pig” is to judge other people’s actions! There are, in fact, many more verses in the New Testament that exhort believers to judge other people (e.g., Matt. 7:15-16; John 7:24; 1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Phil. 3:2; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21).
To say that Jesus teaches us not to judge other people’s actions is obviously and plainly wrong. But how should Christians judge? Here are some biblical guidelines. One should judge:
- Consistently, not hypocritically
- With Humility, not superiority
- With Facts, not assumptions
- Words and Deeds, not motive and intent
- Biblical Issues, not personal preferences
- Sins, not sinners
- Temporal Matters, not eternal matters (salvation)
- With a Goal to Show People Christ, not how good you are
Easier said than done, but that’s what our Lord commands. Rather than making the extreme claim that we should never judge, Christians need to figure out how to do it correctly. With God’s help, it can be done!