Judging Others

5-23-13 fingers

Recently, an exchange student staying with a family in my church asked if he could speak in front of our adult Sunday school class as part of a requirement for his exchange program. At first, I hesitated because this student is a Muslim.

As we further discussed the possibility, he explained that his requirement was to talk about how he would make the world a better place, and he chose to speak about judging others. He wanted to talk about how people too often judge others based on one small group rather than by getting to know individuals. For example, most Americans – including many Christians – judge Muslims based on what they have seen on television, and this provides not only a very limited picture but a significantly inaccurate one too.

This student from Azerbaijan was absolutely right. The way many of us judge others results in disunity not only between individuals but also between religions and cultures.

Unfortunately, what many people think of when the opportunity to judge another or to be judged comes up is that we aren’t supposed to do it. At all. In fact, many people – Christians and non-Christians alike – use Matthew 7:1 to say that we should avoid judging others altogether.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

But a closer look at not only at that scripture but also at the many others that address this topic shows that the Bible does not say that we are NEVER to judge.

What does it mean to pass judgment or to judge something or someone?

To judge means to go through a process of evaluation, to hear evidence, in order to form an opinion. Judging should be evidence of seeking truth. When we make a judgment, we are making a careful guess that hopefully leads to a logical conclusion based on as much fact as possible. Judgment, really, ends up just being a careful guess, since rarely can 100% of the facts be fully known.  In scripture, judgment takes the form of discernment, examination, evaluation and admonishing.

Common sense tells us that judging must be a part of human civilization. Think what civilization would be like if it lacked judgment of criminals in courts, tests in schools and winners in competitions. Common sense also tells us that the context of the situation is crucial. Take the judgment of murder in court where the situation or context determines the type of judgment such as premeditated or accidental.

We know from Scripture that God is the Judge of all (Genesis 18:25; Judges 11:27; I Samuel 2:10Psalms 50:6; Psalms 96:13; Psalms 98:9; Isaiah 3:13; Isaiah 33:22; Jeremiah 11:20; Ezekiel 18:30; Ezekiel 33:20; Hebrews 12:23; I Peter 1:17; Matthew 12:27). We also know that God is set in position as our Judge because He is all-knowing, He is Truth, and His judgments are righteous and true (John 8:26; Romans 11:33; Revelation 16:7; Revelation 19:2).

But even though God IS the Judge of ALL, that doesn’t mean we never judge. In fact, scripture is filled with instructions on how WE are to judge.5-23-13 gavel

THE PROBLEM comes when we base judgments on fears, pride, ignorance and stereotypes instead of on truth. For example, when we judge a whole group of people based solely on one individual or even small group. Even worse, when we judge based on extreme positions of a small number of people from a group.

What does the Bible says about passing judgment? While it says a lot more than this, here are some of the main ideas we must know before we even consider passing a judgment.

  1. Don’t be hypocritical. (Matthew 7)
  2. Don’t be legalistic. (Mathew 7)
  3. Don’t judge by appearances. (1 Samuel 16:7; John 7:24)
  4. Judge based on truth. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 17:17)
  5. Judge yourself first. (1 Corinthians 11:32-32; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Timothy 4:16)

Until we know what scripture says about these and other areas, we have no business evaluating another person. If we fail to apply God’s truth when we do pass judgment, we become a part of the problem.

Finally, and most importantly, the command to “do everything in love” must dominate all of our judgments.

“Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sin.” (1 Peter 4:8)

“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

When we love each other deeply, perhaps we will judge less because more sin is “covered.” Maybe if we know what we believe and WHY we believe it, we will find that all of what we do will be done more naturally in love.

DISCUSSION: What is your response to people when they quote Mathew 7:1 out of context?

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18 thoughts on “Judging Others

  1. My first response is one of disgust. Then I realize that every person has an opinion and many of them are expressing their opinion (which is most usually a judgment based on their ignorance, opinion, bias, or something else). The problem is I also agree in having discernment. I am called on as a follower of Christ to discern truth from error. That calls for…you guessed it…making judgments based on truth. "Discern the spirits to whether they are from God." What makes it so hard is we live in a world that has no absolutes, or wants no absolutes, so being critical of things wrong or aberrant makes us wild-eyed fanatics. Go against that and those preaching tolerant become the most intolerant of all. And they judge. Well, sorry Kari for getting on my soapbox. I, for one, tire of hearing how I ought to accept all things without question or discernment. That ain't going to happen! See what you stirred up? LOL

    • Preach it, brother! I like what I stirred up. What studying this did for me is help me realize that my naturally tendency to want to understand and know truth when I see it isn't evil. But when I do judge, I must then still act in love toward others. I also thought about discussing how the Bible says (I think it's James but it could be one of the John books) that the best way to know falsehood is to know truth. My main purpose, I guess, is to promote the seeking of truth in the way God set before us to do it.

  2. Kari,

    I have learned that I can be a poor judge if I judge quickly without taking time to gather more information; especially in regard to people. I work hard at trying not to judge based on nationality, race, gender, and other characteristics.(sunglass wearers :)) I know I tend towards judging because of race and nationality. We need to work to see more with our hearts than just our eyes. I think if we take the time to know a person's story then it becomes hard to misjudge them or judge them harshly. I think even judging an evil person we are sometimes afraid of knowing the truth because we might understand them and realize they might not be that different from us.

    A story from the Bible that I always liked a lot in regard to judging is the story from Jude 1:9 where it says even Michael the Archangel did not condemn the devil. I always think if perhaps the greatest angel did not condemn the devil why would I even consider doing that of someone else.

    • Not judging too quickly and getting to know people are huge in this area. Reactions lack information and often are not based on much, if any, truth. Finding commonalities creates compassion, and getting to know someone cultivates love. And we know what love does. Great points! I had not noticed that about Gabriel. Will have to read it when I get the chance. Terrific application.

  3. So Kari, I want to hear more about this young man’s speech and how it impacted the class. I think we HAVE to make judgements based on Biblical principles when it comes to knowing right from wrong. Cycleman is so on in that the world today does not want to be told anything is wrong, or sin as we often see it. It scares me the immorality that is being promoted on college campuses and the impact this will have on lives now and in the future. Am I judgemental to say I believe this is wrong? I also agree with you Kari about acting in love and respect for one another. Again Cycleman is on when he says the other side who declare us to be judgemental are way over the top themselves in their condemnation and labeling. I guess we should all be praying about this. Thanks for opening this discussion.

    • I agree on all accounts. The “other side” judges as well, yet we do have a higher standard to which we are held because we proclaim to be Christians. The fact that sin and immorality seem to be badges that are proudly worn certainly makes the issue even tougher. I guess that’s why actions of love need to dominate over words. If we show love, perhaps we can get past this judgment barrier. The verses on our words being few come to mind here too.

  4. My first thought is not that they really believe what they are saying (that judging others leads to you yourself being judged) but that what they are truly saying is, "accept". I may not say this exactly right in writing, but our culture today is to be so accepting of everyone. I am not judgemental, but I don't condone behavior that I know is wrong either. For example, the biggest argument about Christianity that my daughter and I get into is about homosexuality. To her, I am judgemental. I am not rude, unkind, or cruel to her friends that are gay. She feels that not condoning the gay lifestyle is being judgemental. Her friends know that I am not accepting of their choices. She feels that not accepting and judging are the same thing. I think that many in our world believe that. I do not accept bad language. I do not judge those who use it, but I will correct it. There is a difference that I think many people do not see.

    • Great point, Angie. That’s one reason I inlcuded the definitions. As with so many words these days, we either over-use them or misuse them, and in either case really just end up making them meaningless or watered down at the very least. Being aware of our word choice is important. Also, the idea of acceptance is SO sticky. By our actions, we need to show that we can accept the person but not their choices. Love must dominate. We must live and act in such a way that perhaps meaningful conversations can take place. And, in all of this, we must have faith in God that His Word does go forth and doesn’t return void. We must trust that in our obedience, He uses us to reach others for Him. Yet we also have to always keep in mind that we are not the Holy Spirit. The more I get into this topic, the more I understand why we must be so cautious in judging & why we must leave our faith in Him and His ultimate wi.

  5. Kari, this is such a difficult issue. Although judgment has gotten a negative connotation, it has a positive one as well. We are to exercise sound judgment based on biblical principles.

    One thing that’s never discussed is that we “stereotype” for our own protection. If we were beat up every time we came into contact with a person wearing a purple shirt, our brains would make the connection between the two and we would develop a fear, even if we didn’t want to. When crimes like the death of the London solder are reportedly done in the name of Allah, I think it’s understandable when people begin to make the connection between violence and Islam and are afraid.

    I think people of all faiths need to do a better job of decrying the extremists in our ranks. Christians need to be very outspoken in their disgust for Westboro Baptist Church, for example. I know some Christians surrounded them to keep them from disrupting a funeral. That’s wonderful! Muslims, in my opinion, need to speak out against violence. A recent survey found that while 81% of US Muslims don’t believe suicide bombings are justified, 7% think they are and 1% think they sometimes are. Further, only half of Muslims worldwide are concerned about extremists in their faith. That does not help non-Muslims feel they have nothing to fear.

    Even so, we should not make negative assumptions about individuals. We can only believe the best about others through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    • Yes, it is difficult. You make a good point regarding our fear reaction. It’s hard-wired into us to protect ourselves, but we also know God says to not fear. And you’re right too about needing to decry the extremists in groups too. That’s sort of what this kid talking to my class was trying to do at one level. Your greatest point (and both of these were good ones) is that we need to rely on the Holy Spirit. This is how we fight our fear and wrong reactions. This is how we set a right example. Only through the power if the Holy Spirit can we have hope to move through differences and to show God’s love. Without Him, we are a fearful, extremist people.

  6. Great discussion you created Kari. I believe you hit it directly when you spoke of fear. We do a lot of REACTING because of fear. Often that fear comes from misinformation and misunderstanding, but also from our desire for self protection. I agree that both sides have radicals among them and living in love, letting the Spirit be our guide, and developing our own personal connection with God on a daily basis will help all of us grow. Thanks for helping us look at something we hear about but don't always think about.

    • You have summed up the discussion well, Mary. I want to emphasize one point you mentioned. Fear drives us way more than we realize. Marriages… Parenting… Friendships… Few areas are left untouched by the impact of fear. We must constantly spend time with God addressing our fear & letting His perfect love drive it out.

  7. Kari, this is a good piece on judging. What I believe is key when we judge is the standard whereby we base our judgments. Judging is the comparing events or actions against a standard – in a court of law, the interpretation and application of our laws is the responsibility of the judge. When we say judge in "truth" – that is a statement regarding the law or standard of God. But we also must be careful that when judging others according to God's standard we do not exercise "subjective interpretation" on our part to slant the standard to a desired outcome that serves our purpose. Thus when it is says "judge not, lest you be judged" – the warning is this, standing in the position of judge of others requires God's perspective, not our perspective on God's standard for interpretation and application. If we judge "selfishly – with the wrong motive or intent" we will be judged by God.

    One of the greatest acts of faith is to let God alone be the judge on matters – God does not take a popularity poll in applying His standard or laws. Bigotry and bias are truly more deadly than anything we can believe about a person based on perception of truth – innocent people are harmed when we judge others unfairly through the eyes of bigotry and bias.

    I posted your message on my Facebook page for all my friends and family to share. Great reminder! We all stand guilty before God on this subject…

    • Some great points in your comment, Coach. First, the standard for truth that we use is key. That\’s one reason I think our culture struggles is the standard of \”truth\” being used. Now that\’s a big topic. Second, motive or \”intention if the heart\” is a biggie too. That\’s why God gives us all the criteria for judging that He does. We have to make sure our hearts are right before even thinking about evaluating others. Third, faith. We just have to sort if let so much go knowing that God has it handled. We have to trust Him, and that\’s so hard in our controlling human nature. I am glad you felt the post helpful enough to share with others. Studying for it sure made me be more mindful of judging others and realky changed my perspective. So thankfuk for God\’s Word.

  8. Great perspective here. It's amazing how a few people give Christians a bad name because they miss represent Jesus and His Word. Like those people holding sighs telling people they are going to hell unless they stop sinning. I think no matter what we should care and love other people no matter what they might do or their beliefs.

  9. I think we don't understand what is meant by judging something. I mean, we judge in some sense all the time. I judge that doughnuts are tasty. I judge that green peas are nasty. If I judged that a particular person was intelligent and funny, I doubt they'd be offended.
    I think when the scriptures talk about not judging, they're referring to condemning. In that case, we have to leave all justice up to God. He has entrusted some down here (the government, the church) with the power of condemning and punishing people in certain ways – but other than that, true justice will be handed out by him at his time.

    • I agree, and that was one reason I wanted to let the person speak to the class. I wanted to address judging. I looked up the definition and found it interesting how we really don't use it correctly. We can't help but make judgment, but we are not meant to ultimately condemn someone. And, there's the love point of view too. That should cover most things.

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