A Muslim exchange student from Azerbaijan once talked to me 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.
Unfortunately, the way many of us judge others results in disunity not only between individuals but also between religions and cultures. What many 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)
A closer look, however, shows that the Bible does not say that we are never to judge.
To judge means to go through a process of evaluation, to hear evidence in order to form an opinion. Judging is evidence of seeking truth. When we make a judgment, we make a careful guess that hopefully leads to a logical conclusion based on as much fact as possible. Judgment, unfortunately, rarely is 100% fact-based since it’s unusual for all of the facts of the situation to be fully know.
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).
Even though God is the judge of all, that doesn’t mean we never judge. In fact, scripture instructs us on how we are to judge. The problem comes when we base judgments on fears, pride, ignorance, and stereotypes instead of on truth. For example, when we judge a group of people based solely on one individual. Even worse is when we judge based on extreme positions of a small number of people from a group.
Judgment in the Bible
In the Bible, judgment takes the form of discernment, examination, evaluation, and admonishing. Some of the main ideas we must know before we even consider passing a judgment include to:
- Not be hypocritical (Matthew 7).
- Not be legalistic (Mathew 7).
- Not 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).
If we fail to apply God’s truth when we pass judgment, we become a part of the problem. Most importantly, 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 the impetus for our judgement is covered up. 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.