Matthew 7:1 1"Do not judge so that you will not be judged."
John 7:24 "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment"
As a Christian, I constantly hear cries everywhere to "not judge". In fact, when someone denounces what is a patently immoral action, people will rise up and say: "Don't judge that person" or even ask the question: "who are you to judge"? Some well meaning Christians will even cite Matthew 7:1 as proof that as Christians, we need to exercise love and not judge other people. Is that accurate? What was it that Jesus was exactly teaching in Matthew 7? Was He telling his listeners (and us) to not exercise any judgment whatsoever? If you will notice in the opening of today's blog, I included John 7:24 to shed light on the intent behind Jesus' words. I would like us to take today and tomorrow to reflect on this topic of judging. Today we will focus Jesus's words and other scriptures to understand first of all what it means to wrongly judge. The premise of this blogger will be that only wrong types of judgment are prohibited in scripture.
What does it mean to judge in general?
When you do a word study on the Hebrew and Greek words translated "judge" or "judgment", you gain the following meanings: "to discern, to guide correctly, to reach the right conclusions with the right perspective." To not exercise judgment in any circumstance takes away the Christian's responsibility to exercise discernment between right and wrong which lies at the heart of spiritual maturity. (Hebrews 5:14) However, for many people, whenever they see Jesus plainly say: "Do not judge", they conclude that judging is prohibited. Only without reading the rest of Matthew 7 or other scriptures could one reach such a conclusion (ironically, to reach any conclusion, you have to judge!) The Bible never once prohibits people from judging. The only thing the Bible prohibits is judging wrongly.
Wrong kinds of judgment
So what happens when people judge wrongly? Consider what constitutes incorrect forms of judgment:
1. Judging with the intent to harm is wrong judgment
Jesus is not prohibiting judging others in Matthew 7, rather He is prohibiting the wrong kinds of judgment. Often we will make pretty positive assessments about ourselves and yet find ourselves tearing down other people. In Matthew 7:5 Jesus warns: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye."1
2 Judging with Incomplete information is wrong judgment
Scripture tells us of another type of wrong judgment: namely judgment that operates on incomplete information or surface level facts. The prophet Samuel for instance went to the house of a man named Jesse to anoint the next King of Israel.2 God warned Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7 "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” With this counsel Samuel ended up anointing the least likely candidate: David. Jesus' comments in Matthew 7:1-5 also address this type of wrong judgment. In order to judge correctly, I need to be made aware of my own blindspot which is getting in the way of having all the information!
3. Judging that ignores God's Word is wrong judgment
As we saw above, Samuel's judgment had to be corrected by God's known will - the word of God, in order for Him to correctly judge and discern who would be the next king of Israel. When we come to John 7:24, the wrong kind of judgment is contrasted with the right kind of judgment. The Christian who attempts to discern or judge without giving the scriptures a second thought can run the danger of judging wrongly.3 Thus the righteous judgment being advocated by Jesus in John 7:24 and Matthew 7 is a judgment that consults scripture within its proper setting and context.
4. Judging impatiently is wrong judgment
In 1 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul is dealing with a group of arrogant people at the church who need to be admonished. As you read down through the chapter, it is very clear what his pastoral duty is: confront the sin. Though the duty is clear, Paul is also aware of the fact that if not carried out in the right timing - the admonishment could backfire. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:19 - "But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power." Paul is guarding himself against the wrong types of judgment we looked at already: namely judging with the intent to harm, judging with incomplete information and judging that ignores God's Word. Paul has all the facts and He has scripture and Apostolic authority. However he is exercising the much needed attitude of patience and timing. Right judgment, excercised at the wrong time, has the same net effect as wrong judgment.
Tomorrow we will consider right types of judgment, and why the Christian has the duty and right to judge rightly.
1 James 5:11-12 gives a similar warning to his readers, warning them not to "speak against" their brother. True and correct judgment aims for what is right or just, whereas wrong judgment has no regard for the well-being of the other person. Destructive judgment and hypocritical judgment are variations of this first type of wrong judgment, which Jesus here in Matthew 7 is denouncing.
2 For Samuel, he thought he was going to anoint a man who was like King Saul: tall, prominent and strong. Jesse had seven sons who in the eyes of men were fit candidates to be the next king of Israel. Jesse had all of them pass before Samuel, who thought "surely this one is the Lord's anointed". (1 Samuel 16:6)
3 Certainly we have the ability to reason and to observe, however those are the means by which we gather information about whatever we are about to judge. However what authority or base are we using to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of something? Psalm 19:8 reminds us: "the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."