Are we supposed to Judge??

The words of Jesus, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1) have often been quoted, but many times they are misunderstood and misapplied.
The phrase "judge not" has frequently been used to declare that individuals within the church have no right to draw conclusions about wrong conduct and wickedness in the lives of others. If anyone raises a voice against certain kinds of social behavior, or says that a particular kind of conduct violates biblical standards--the rebuttal is, "You are judging, and the Bible says, 'Judge not.'"
The implication is that good Christians will become easy and tolerant, and will just overlook evil conduct. The advocates of the "judge not" theory imply that we are to condone the choice of abortion instead of giving birth to a child. We are to accept the decision to divorce one's married partner and to plan remarriage to another. We are to overlook the choice of two men to live together in a homosexual relationship. We are to wink at the decision to wear sleazy transparent garments and other immodest attire. An increasing number of people in our churches are saying that what we need today is tolerance. They seem to think that the admonition to "judge not" means that we are to see nothing, to hear nothing, and to say nothing. Everybody should just be nice, pat others on the back, and let immoral conduct go on as if nothing ever happened.

A first reading of Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged", gives the impression that our Lord is speaking against all criticism, yet we are told elsewhere in Scripture to "try the spirits," to "prove all things," and to "beware of false prophets." Surely this means that we are to use our knowledge of judgment to evaluate the performance of others. We can't tell who the false prophets are if we don't use our knowledge of judgment to decide what is true and what is false.

In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus tells a little parable to help us face up to our own sins, lest we blind ourselves so that we cannot see clearly to help others. A person with a two-by-four stuck in his own eye, cannot see clearly to try and remove a speck of dust from another person's eye. The person with a major fault (a big piece of lumber in the eye), is in no position to try and correct an offender with some trivial defect (a tiny splinter in the eye). When we judge ourselves first, we become so aware of our own failings--that when we must judge others, we do it with moderation and compassion, not with self-righteous smugness and harsh severity.
Jesus (in Matthew 7) is not forbidding us to cast out the mote from a brother's eye; Jesus is not forbidding the correction of those who sin; but Jesus does condemn the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves. We are told to "first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye" (Matthew 7:5). We may rebuke sin, but not when we indulge in it ourselves; we may protest against evil, but not if we ourselves willfully practice it; we may denounce immoral conduct as sin, but not if moral filth is characteristic of our own lives.

The message of Scripture is that we are to "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). We are to cultivate the act of spiritual discernment (1 Corinthians 2:15). Jesus commended a Pharisee named Simon by saying, "You have judged rightly" (Luke 7:43). Spiritual maturity demands that we test values and weigh propositions and exercise sensible discretion--in order to discover true character and to determine correct doctrine. It is our duty to speak out against marital unfaithfulness, against homosexual sin, against doctrinal departures from the faith, and against the immorality of many of the videos, television programming, careless speech, and other forms of sinful conduct. The admonition, "Do not judge," is not a requirement to be blind to sin and wickedness, but it is a plea to avoid dealing harshly with those who have gone astray.

Because Christians believe in an absolute right and wrong, they often come under fire from the world as being "too judgmental" of other people. With society pushing us to be "tolerant" of all sorts of immoral behavior (Judges 21:25), some Christians have become so wary of passing judgment on others that they have become confused as to what judging really means. The Bible does say that we are not to judge according to appearance, but Jesus does not teach that we are not allowed to determine whether a person's actions are right or wrong. If Jesus does say that we are not to distinguish between right and wrong, then how, for instance, can we teach our children to avoid the wrong behavior which they see in their classmates at school? We would find ourselves passing judgment on the other children and we would be wrong in doing that.
This whole issue can be perplexing at times. How are we to make judgments about other people if we are not to do any discerning at all?

It is important to note that the Bible uses the same Greek word (meaning "judge") for both approaches of judgement. That word is "krino," which means "to choose, distinguish, determine, or give an opinion." Since the same word is used for right and wrong judging, it follows that it is not the act of making judgments that is wrong, but rather the way of making judgments that may be wrong.

Seeking to judge rightly, let us look then at each of these ways of making judgments, beginning with the wrong way to judge.
Our Savior taught against passing harsh judgment on others. In Matthew 7:1-5 He speaks to the hypocrite who is judging his brother. The first point that Jesus makes is found in the first two verses. Jesus said (NASB), "Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you."
The hypocrite may be accurate in his judgment of a brother, but he tends to ignore the fact that he himself is also accountable to the law of God which he is judging. He implies by his judgment that he is above the law, or that he is keeping it so perfectly that it cannot find him guilty of any infraction. In his eyes he is superior to his brother or sister. Pride is the source of this kind of judgment, and it operates by the see-saw method--keep others down so that you will stay up. This kind of judgment serves only to bolster the ego of the hypocrite and defame the name of the other person. Proverbs 16:27-28 says, "A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are as a scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends." When we judge like this, we are playing God, and nothing but further sin and destruction can result. Jesus wisely reminds the hypocrite that he is as much subject to the law as his brother whom he judges.

Now that we have seen the wrong way of judging others. let us look at the right way to judge.
In John 7, our Lord confronts those who have judged Him wrongly for healing a man on the Sabbath. His teaching about righteous judgment is found in John 7:21-24. "Jesus answered and said to them,'I did one deed and you all marvel. On account of this Moses has given you circumcision...and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."'
In John 7:24 we see immediately that there is a right way to judge the actions of another person, as Jesus tells them to judge His own actions righteously. While harsh, critical judgment ends in the condemnation of others, righteous judgment discerns between right and wrong for the purpose of avoiding what is evil and clinging to what is good. The Intention is never to simply put someone down. We are all "down," as Paul shows in Romans 3:10. The passage says, "There is none righteous, not even one." Instead, righteous judgment serves to help keep us "up" by warning us of what is wrong and calling us to what is right.

To judge righteously, we see that we must have more than a superficial knowledge of the Word. We must meditate on it so that God can reveal its full meaning to us (Psalm 1:2).
Paul demonstrated righteous judgment in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, where he says that he had judged a man involved in an incestuous relationship. Having righteously judged that this man's actions were wrong, Paul recommended that the church disfellowship the man so that he may see the error of his ways and repent. Notice that the goal here was not to condemn the man, but to save his soul, as verse 5 of the passage indicates. This is a good example of righteous judgment, which acknowledges wrong that is committed, and seeks the good of the individual who has committed it. If, however, Paul were passing a self-righteous judgment on the man, he would probably have slandered the man's name among the people of the church.

But someone may ask, "Who does Paul think he is--judging the man like that? Isn't that still a 'big-headed' thing to do? Isn't that prideful?" It may seem like pride on the surface, but Paul was first and foremost a man of humility. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he called himself the "foremost of sinners, and in 2 Corinthians 12:11, he called himself "a nobody." Paul did not pass judgment out of pride, but judged righteously as an empathetic, fellow human being, interested in the good of others. His desire was to save souls, not to condemn them (1 Corinthians 9:22). He also did not think himself beyond being righteously judged by others. In fact, he invited the Corinthians to judge his teachings in order to test whether they were right or wrong (1 Corinthians 10:15).
Righteous judgment, then, is something that Christians are expected to perform. The Greek word for "discern" ("diakrino"--related to "krino") carries a similar meaning to the word "judge" and is listed as a good gift of God in 1 Corinthians 12:10. Its purpose is to discriminate between a spirit of good and a spirit of evil. Righteous judgment is also a mark of the mature Christian. "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). Notice in this verse that God uses our practice of discernment in the experiences of life to help develop godly living. It is indeed wise for us to practice discernment now, for God has a future calling for us to judge the world and the angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
We should also remember that righteous judgment is not only for the purpose of confronting evil, but also for magnifying what is good. Paul tells us to "approve the things that are excellent" (Philippians 1:10), and to "let your mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8). Dwelling on the good we have discerned lifts us up spiritually and gives us more to share with others. In fact, part of our transformation in Christ is to simply "behold" the Lord in our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:18). Just "seeing" Him by faith changes us for the better.
The Christian, then, is to avoid slanderous judgment, which is the self-righteous and destructive condemnation of others. Rather, the Christian is called to practice righteous judgment, which is the humble, wise, and constructive discernment between good and evil for the sake of God and the benefit of others. By fulfilling this calling, we will be better equipped to follow God's command to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

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