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 2:10; Psalms 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).
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.
- Don’t be hypocritical. (Matthew 7)
- Don’t be legalistic. (Mathew 7)
- Don’t judge by appearances. (1 Samuel 16:7; John 7:24)
- Judge based on truth. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 17:17)
- 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?