Should Christians Judge People?

HomeChristianity and the BibleShould Christians Judge People?

In Matthew 7:1 Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Most people assume He was teaching that Christians should never judge anyone. Is that true?

The reality is that human beings judge everything, all the time, and we can’t stop. You’re judging me right now, aren’t you? You want to know whether I’m making a good point or a bad one, don’t you? This isn’t foolish. This is wise. Imagine a world where nobody judged anything, ever… it would be impossible to live that way! We’d drink spoiled milk, cross the street without looking, believe every liar, and ignore even wise instruction.

Because we DO judge, there are plenty of passages of Scripture in which God tells us HOW we should judge. As you’ll see when you read below, following these instructions will make us more like God, who judges all things perfectly.

Judge Impartially

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19:15

In this passage God addressed the entire nation of Israel, telling them how to interact with each other: don’t lie, or steal, or slander, and so on. In verse 15, God told them how to judge: impartially.

Judge Correctly

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. John 7:24

In this passage Jesus was being judged, and He told the crowd that they were doing it wrong. He didn’t tell them to never judge, but to judge correctly. How could they judge correctly if Jesus wanted them to never judge at all? Jesus told them how to judge: correctly, and not by mere appearances.

Judge to Protect the Church

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

In this passage Paul addresses sexual immorality in the church, where a man was sleeping with his stepmother and the church, shamefully, celebrated it. In verse 3, Paul explains that he had already passed judgment on the guilty party. He then explains that believers have a responsibility to judge one another, and that they should have been more judgmental than they were. Paul told them why they should judge: to expel wicked people from the church.

Judge Believers

… do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 1 Corinthians 6:2-3

In this passage Paul addresses disputes between believers, telling them to not take each other to court. Rather than looking to unbelievers to settle disputes, Paul pointed out that they should be able to judge wisely among themselves. Paul told them who should judge: believers.

Judge Carefully

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 1 Corinthians 14:29

In this passage Paul explains proper behavior during worship, telling Christians to judge those who prophesy. We’re to weigh what they say. The Greek word is diakrino, and it’s a command to the group. Paul told them how to judge: carefully.

Judge by Their Theology

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

In this passage John warns the believers about prophets, explaining that many are false… teaching that Jesus had not come in the flesh. Some, he said, teach untrue things about God. He explained that we should judge them by what they say so we can know who has, and who has not, come from God. John told them how to judge: by their theology.

Judge Constantly and Well

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2

In this passage Paul teaches Timothy to tell people when they believe untrue things, to tell people to change when change is needed, and to encourage everyone with the gospel. Timothy obviously needed to judge people by their beliefs and actions in order to correct and rebuke. Paul told him how to judge: all the time, patiently and carefully.

Judge Comprehensively

Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22

In this passage Paul tells the believers in Thessalonica to distinguish between good and evil prophecies. This is the opposite of what most modern “prophets” say, of course. If they claim to speak for God, who are you and I to question them? This instruction is intended to protect the church from false teachers, and no prophecy was exempt. Paul told them how to judge: comprehensively.

Judge Publicly

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:11

In this passage Paul teaches believers in Ephesus to point out evil deeds. They were to expose them, to illuminate them, and have nothing to do with them. This required, of course, that they judge the deeds that were being done. Paul told them how to judge: publicly.

Conclusion

These passages make it clear that those who say we should never judge either don’t know about, or don’t care about, the rest of Scripture. There’s no question that when Jesus said “do not judge, or you too will be judged,” He meant it as a warning. Those who wish to remove the speck from their brother’s eye must not be hypocritical… but read the full passage:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Jesus instructs hypocrites (that is, from time to time, every one of us) to deal with our own, usually larger, problem before trying to correct another. This is good and wise. What’s not good and wise is to stop reading, or to never see the rest of what Jesus said: if we DO deal with our problem, then we WILL be able to help another.

Objections

I’ll add to this section as more objections are raised.

The First Stone

What about John 8:1-11? In that passage, a woman is caught in adultery, and the penalty under Jewish law was death. Jesus tells the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus didn’t condemn her, right?

A mult-part response is appropriate here. As we’ve seen above, it’s important to read the passage carefully to understand the context of Jesus’ instructions. In this passage, it’s clear that there was a lot going on. The bad guys had certainly judged the woman, but Jesus didn’t tell them they were wrong for judging her. If she had been caught in adultery, she was obviously guilty… and Jesus would not ignore or condone her sin. In fact, Jesus told her to “go now and leave your life of sin.” Clearly, He had indeed judged her.

This entire scenario, as we see in verse 6, was designed to trap Jesus into giving a wrong answer. If He said to kill her, He would be breaking the law… both the man and the woman were to be given the same punishment, but the man wasn’t there. If Jesus said to let her go, He would be breaking the law… the penalty for adultery was death. If Jesus said she should die, He would also break the Roman law that the death penalty was only to be given by Rome.

Jesus judged the Pharisees and the teachers of the law for their unlawful treatment of the woman and the man who committed adultery, and judged them for trying to trap Him as well. His instruction for anyone without sin to go ahead and begin killing the woman wasn’t a trick, and it didn’t absolve the woman. Jesus pointed out their wicked behavior, and they couldn’t stand the heat. They knew they were wrong, even though the woman was clearly guilty. This passage does not – could not – be instructions for followers of Jesus to not judge people. This passage is chock full of judgment, from the bad guys to Jesus and back.

Same Measure

What about Luke 6:37-42? In that passage, parallel to Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Doesn’t that mean to not judge?

A good question. It’s important to look at parallel passages to get a broader perspective on what Jesus taught. It’s important to remember that the differences in the gospel accounts – as with this passage – aren’t because Jesus contradicted Himself, but because each author wanted to highlight Jesus’ words a bit differently, for different audiences.

As mentioned above, Jesus’ words here are a clear warning. It’s not a warning to never judge. It’s a warning that IF we judge, and WHEN we judge, we should be careful to avoid hypocrisy. Jesus said here that whatever measure we use with others will be used with us… whether it’s judgment, condemnation, forgiveness, or generosity. It’s obviously best to err on the side of caution, to avoid being unfair or hypocritical. This passage doesn’t say to never judge. If it did, the verses above about HOW to judge would not have been written. This passage says that we should be aware that the standards we use will be used on us.

This is echoed by the apostle Paul in Romans 2:1.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Clearly, God doesn’t like hypocrisy. In the words of Rich Mullins, I’m still a recovering hypocrite… so I take God’s instructions in this area very seriously. We all should… but we shouldn’t pretend that Christians are never to judge at all. We need to keep ALL of God’s Word in mind, not just a verse or two that we like.


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