Blog #377: The Times When Christians Should Judge

Author Mike Leake, who writes on the Borrowed Light website, last year wrote an article about three times when Christians should actually be judging others. For Christians, this issue is continually under discussion and, certainly, in the area of cultural norms differing from biblical standards, Christians are continually “judged” for being judgemental (oh, the irony!). But, there are times in which Christians should judge and that the key lies in understanding the difference between judging and being judgmental. Jesus says, “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.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

So, Jesus does tell us not to judge. But should Christians ever judge? The key to answering this question is understanding the difference between judging and being judgmental. When we understand this, we discover there actually are some ways in which Christians should judge. In this passage Jesus is telling us that there is a manner of judging others which is deadly. If I use unequal weights and measures when judging my brother (i.e. his sin is bigger than my own) then I’m putting my own soul in danger. If I use harsh judgment towards other, Jesus is telling us that God will use the same weights with us. Hypocritical judgment is solved by looking at ourselves first. You should notice, though, that Jesus says “then you will see clearly to remove the speck…” This shows us that making a judgment isn’t wrong. It is hypocritical judgment which Jesus is against. And hypocritical judgment is the root of what we might phrase “being judgmental.” In another passage, Jesus does encourage us to make sound judgments: “Do not judge by mere appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24) In this regard, Christians should make judgments but should never be judgmental. So, here are three ways in which Christians should judge, according to Mike Leake:

1.We Should Judge Ourselves. This is implied in Jesus’ words in Matthew 7. We should look for the speck in our own eyes first. And then in 1 Corinthians 11:3, we also see the benefit of judging ourselves. There we read, “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” The Corinthians’ seem to have been judging one another and neglecting to look at themselves. This made them blind to their own failings and thus unable to make necessary corrections. The point is that something as simple as more self-evaluation, more self-examination, could help us avoid divine judgment by leading us to catch and correct ourselves before God decided to take matters into his own hands and bring about a very undesirable external motivation that might lead us to finally correct what we had consistently ignored. This can also help us to understand the difference between judging and being judgmental. When we address the plank in our own eyes, we’re in a much better position to assess the speck in our brother’s eye. And to engage in any correction with loving and gracious precision.

2.We Should Judge the Spirits. In 1 John 4:1-6, we are told to “test the spirits.” I’ll freely admit that the word used here is not the same word used in Matthew 7 or other places that is translated “judge.” But the concept is similar. John’s audience is being told to make a judgment about various spirits. Are they from God or not? That’s a judgment being made. Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 2:15. There he says, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” What does this mean? Think of wearing 3D glasses in a 3D movie. When you walk into the theater without those special glasses, everything on the screen will look distorted. If you weren’t aware that it was a 3D movie, you might walk out of the movie theater and complain to the manager that they need to get their projector fixed. “Everything is blurry!” But you’d be making a foolish judgment. You have no right to judge a 3D world when you aren’t wearing 3D glasses. This is what Paul means, then. When someone understands how to view the world through the lens of the cross, he/she has the interpretive grid for everything to be encountered. The gospel is like 3D glasses which causes that which might be distorted without them to vividly come to life. If we’ve been given these glasses, then, we ought to use them. We will make judgments upon that which is part of the kingdom and that which is not part of the kingdom.

3.We Should Judge the Actions of Those Inside the Church. Again, this does not mean to harshly judge. It does not mean to hypocritically judge, or even to cast ultimate judgment upon people. We also know that we are not called to judge the motives of the heart. We are called to make a judgment upon actions. Paul was arguing that in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’

There was a new pastor who took a position in a smaller church in a very small town (less than 200 in population). He found out that a couple in the community were cohabitating (or to use a biblical word “fornicating”). He was trying to get another person or another pastor to go with him to exercise church discipline upon this couple. The problem, though, is that they weren’t even part of his church. He was making a judgment upon those “of the world.” Yes, we can make discernments about the world. That is the second way in which we are to judge. But the type of judgment which Paul is mentioning here — a type of judgment which could lead to “purging” — is exclusively for the actions of those who are inside the church. Scripture tells us that we must make this kind of judgment. Of course, we could go south here as well. We could forget everything that we have learned about the difference between judging and being judgmental. We could snuff out weak Christians in an effort to stamp out sparks of sin. Such a thing should be entered into cautiously and with much care. Restoration is the ultimate goal. And yet Paul does tell us that we ought to judge those inside the church. Christians are never called to be judgmental. But we are called to judge rightly. May God help us do this.’

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