People love quoting the Bible. We seem to have an instinctive knowledge that if we want authority behind what we say we quote a Bible verse. Even those who don’t believe the Bible have favorite verses that they sling around from time to time. Especially when someone challenges the actions or lifestyle of another as being unhealthy or wrong, invariably you will hear something like this, “you can’t judge me!” or “judge not, lest you be judged”. (I got the idea for the picture from one I saw on Facebook several months ago, so thank you to whoever had the original idea)
Should We Speak Up Or Not?
What about that verse in Matthew 7:1? Jesus did say, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Was it Jesus’ intention that this verse be used so that people would not make moral judgments? Must we remain silent on issues of morality and justice? What does it mean to judge not?
No Basis For Morality
Before I tackle the questions in view, I would like to point something out that may not be obvious. That is, without the existence of a holy, transcendent God who created all things, people have no basis at all for making moral judgments. For instance, if cosmic evolution is true, and the universe just exploded into being from nonbeing apart from the supernatural creation of God, then even the idea of morality itself is on shaky ground. If all that exists is the material universe and it arose by random chance, and if people are just evolutionary accidents, there can be no transcendent morality. How can ought and ought not (moral obligation)exist without a universal moral law? How can a universal moral law exist without its basis in something greater to whose authority we are all subject? What’s more, how can an accident produce morality or meaning? If the wind blows leaves around there is no morality or meaning in it though it blows ever so furiously. If meaning is to be found in the results of the wind, one must presuppose a rational being in control of the wind, for there can be no meaning in a completely random and accidental event.
Who is to say that murder is wrong? If there is no God in whose image we are made, the act of murder is amoral. In a purely materialistic world it makes sense that the strong would kill the weak. The strong dominate and it ensures their survival and prosperity. If I don’t have enough of what I need why would it be wrong for me to take what you have to ensure my success and well being. You may say, “Well, it is wrong because it is what is good for the most people that determines morality”. Really? Says who? There are many people who think otherwise. Are they wrong? Are you making a moral judgment? They may think as Nietzsche, that the will to power is the ultimate good. Some, like Freud may believe the will to pleasure and avoidance of pain is the guiding force of humanity. If there is no transcendent moral law than anything can be considered moral. Some people consider killing unborn babies to be moral. Without God who is to say that they are wrong?
You Mean I Can’t Make A Moral Judgment Without Acknowledging God?
But I presume my readers believe in morality even if some have no basis for it in their worldview, and I expect that anyone who comments on this post and makes a moral judgment believes in a holy, transcendent Creator. Otherwise, there would be no rational basis for judging my post. You see, by judging, a person is acknowledging morality, and by acknowledging morality they are acknowledging God.
Context Is Everything
The picture I posted above is descriptive of how many people approach the Bible. They quote a verse they like but never consider the context of the passage which sheds light on its proper interpretation. So, back to the question, what does it mean to judge not?
We Are Commanded To Judge?
First, we must rule out as possible interpretations the judging that God commands. Jesus is not here overthrowing the office of judge in civil matters, for Scripture affirms this as a proper duty of government. “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” Proverbs 8:15,16. Nor is he prohibiting judging private matters among brethren. The apostle Paul said to the Corinthian church, “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” 1 Corinthians 6:5. Also, Jesus is not forbidding a person from pointing out sin in another’s life for the purpose of helping them to overcome it, provided that the condition of “casting the beam out of your own eye” comes before helping to “cast the mote out of your brother’s eye”. Neither is Christ’s command not to judge disallowing a person from deducing the status of someone’s moral and spiritual condition. In the very same chapter Jesus gives the command not to judge, he tells his disciples to evaluate the lives of others and draw conclusions based on those evaluations. He said, “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:17-20. The principle taught here is that whatever a person’s life is characterized by is a good indicator of their spiritual condition. Of course we can only look on the outside, so our judgments are not infallible. Therefore we should judge others with charity, giving them the benefit of the doubt where possible.
It is partly because of this last factor that Jesus commands us to judge not. It is because our judgment is fallible and that we are also sinners. Additionally, it is because we are not in a position of magisterial authority over our brethren that we should not judge them. Paul said, “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.” Romans 14:4a. There are also issues of Christian liberty that we should not judge others on. Paul teaches in the book of Romans, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” Romans 14:10-13. He is speaking here of food, drink, Jewish holydays, and any other issue that is not a violation of the moral law. He was admonishing the Romans to be charitable towards others in the way they serve God.
What Does Makeup Have To Do With It?
Let me put it in a more modern context. Some Christians today think that women wearing makeup is wrong. Many others see no problem with it. Since it is not something commanded or forbidden in Scripture, those that don’t wear it shouldn’t look down on those that do, or vice versa. Some Christians interpret modest dress for women as long skirts and dresses only. Others think that wearing pants can fit into the modest category. Here again, Christians should be generous in allowing others liberty of conscience in areas not specifically spelled out in Scripture. We should not look down on others for having a different view than our own. That is not to say that lines should not be drawn, and our brothers and sisters approached when their liberty enters areas of sin. For instance, if a man walks into church naked, obviously he should be confronted about his sinful behavior. Educational choices people make for their children also fall into this category of liberty, though some choices could be very unwise. There are a myriad of secondary issues that Christians differ on and the command to not judge applies to them as well.
We Christians tend to separate on these secondary issues and go off with those who are just like we are, not considering that we are judging our brethren when we censure them for these differences. When people enter our churches there is one thing they should feel from us. That is our love and care for them regardless of their appearance. This includes unbelievers. Would a hospital turn away those who are most sick? Neither should our churches turn away by our attitudes those who come among us be they ever so sinful. Jesus set the example of loving even prostitutes and thieves. Rather, we should set the gospel before them in our words and our deeds.
Cautious About Confrontation
That brings up another vital point. It is important to be cautious when approaching others about their sins. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1. We should avoid being rash, harsh, unjust, censorious, and hypocritical in the way we treat people. At its heart, the command to judge not involves our deepest attitudes towards others. We are to love others, especially our Christian brothers and sisters. We should be willing to overlook their minor faults and seek unity in spite of these differences. The apostle Peter wrote, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8.
Jesus, The Ultimate Judge
Finally, we should not judge because we will all stand at the judgment seat of Christ. Christ warns that if our hearts are hard and unforgiving we will receive the same at his bar. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Matthew 7:2. Knowing the hardness of our own hearts, let us cast ourselves completely on the mercy of the one who took the judgment of God on our behalf, suffering and dying upon the cross, so that believing we may be saved. It is only out of our knowing the forgiveness of Christ that our hearts are changed so that we truly may forgive and love each other. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. God, give me this love that I may not judge my brothers and sisters. Amen.
If you have any comments please leave them below. Have you ever thought about the difference between different types of judging? Was this helpful?