Judgment gets such a bad rap, yet as soon as we learn to think for ourselves, we learn to judge. It’s one of the building blocks of reason, and it’s not always a bad thing to do.
As a child, we judge:
Can I trust this person?
Is this dog friendly or will he bite?
Is this green stuff my mom put in front of me going to taste good?
As an adult, we might judge:
I’ve seen this lady gossip. I’m not telling her anything I don’t care to have spread around.
This person is a known pedophile. It would not be wise to let him babysit my children. (Although I can still say hello when I pass him on the street).
This girl has had too much to drink. She’s unfit to drive so I had better take away her keys.
In certain cases, it is natural – even good – to judge. But in other cases, it falls outside of God’s will for our life. I want to clarify the difference, and offer a way out so that we’re not tempted to judge beyond what God has asked of us.
Within the church, we are called to pass judgment on certain actions that are within the “obvious acts of the sinful nature.” (in Galatians 5). Let me take an example from the ancient church in Corinth.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (I Corinthians 5:1-2).
The father probably married a much younger woman, perhaps even the same age as the son, but still – the guy slept with his stepmom! We are allowed to judge actions within the church and say – nope. Not here. You go do that somewhere else. The church is supposed to be a sanctuary, reserved for people who are all living under the same commands, given by God. If you can’t set a standard in the church, where can you set one?
(I want to point out that in this context, I’m talking specifically about a church where you agree to live according to the Bible in order to become a member. I’m not addressing churches who don’t hold that as a basic tenant).
Regarding judgment in the (Biblically-based) church, Paul goes on to say: 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 man from among you. (I Corinthians 5:12)
We should be allowed to hold everyone accountable to God’s standard in the church if that’s the foundation of the church.
HOWEVER. However. You can judge an act and it won’t necessarily be wrong to do so, but the minute you form a judgment on the person, you’ve overstepped judgment and have walked into criticism.
There’s a difference, you see. A judge might order you to serve a sentence for having committed burglary, which is a fair judgment if you are guilty. But if he then goes on to say, “You worthless piece of trash. You don’t deserve to live freely after what you’ve done,” his judgment has crossed the line into criticism.
Judgment is only wrong when it’s accompanied by derision, contempt, disgust at who the person is – when it’s done with a complete lack of love or understanding, a complete lack of hope that the person can change, or that they are more innocent than we gave them credit for.
We may be encouraged to judge people’s actions, but we are not allowed to judge the thoughts and attitudes of their heart.
That couple does not give generously to charities. They have loads of money, so they must just be stingy. I wouldn’t be surprised if God didn’t teach them a thing or two by having him get fired.
She no longer has kids at home and she doesn’t lift a finger to go hand out sandwiches with the church. I go with my two school-aged kids, even though I’m working full time and it uses up part of my weekend. How can she be so selfish?
That deacon is not a good listener, and he’s in a position of authority in the church! He must no longer have the Spirit of God in him to have such a face of stone and to never apologize when he’s wrong. Let’s see how he fares on judgment day!
You see what I mean? It’s one thing to judge an action and say it’s wrong (according to the standard you live by). It’s quite another thing to asses a character and judge a person’s worth based on your observations.
Let’s see what the Bible says about this kind of judging, starting with Jesus:
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. (Mt 7:1-2)
I know that my internal judgment has been, at times, scathing. I do not want to receive such a total lack of grace when I have to give account for the things I’ve done (and fallen short in).
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Ro 2:1)
Many examples flit through my head that make this verse ring true – the times I have judged someone’s parenting skills, only to do the same thing. Or when I’ve judged someone’s eating habits, only to fall into even worse habits. The list goes on. It’s almost sure that the minute you judge someone on a certain thing, you are setting yourself up to fall in the same area.
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
There it is in Biblical clarity – don’t judge the motives of another person’s heart. One day everything will be made clear, and either the person will be exonerated in the eyes of God and man, or they will get their just due. You only get yourself into deep water when you judge matters before it’s time.
But now let’s get to the practical, right? Because it’s really hard to actually put it into practice. How do we avoid judging our neighbor, friend, spouse, family members, colleague, brother or sister in Christ? How do we remove the critical feelings we have towards them? How do we make peace with the fact that we don’t agree with them, or that we don’t understand them?
I still remember the day I first read this scripture:
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)
I don’t know, but that just knocked me over when I read it. My heart was pierced. I felt such a conviction that I needed to avoid all judgment.
“Who are you, Jennie?” “Who are you?” my heart demands. “That person is also a servant of God (and is probably much more humble than you!), and it is before his own master – it is before God that he stands or falls. And God is in the business of making him stand. God is rooting for his success.”
Shall I be any different?
This is one of those scriptures that got memorized naturally just by the sheer force of returning to it. This verse pops up on its own accord and disciplines my heart whenever I start to judge another person’s motives. Maybe it will be this one that speaks to you too.
I have another practical to give, and with that I will close out. This verse helps me to avoid forming critical judgments on a person’s character. And I actually hope this verse can be a peace-making treaty between you and me.
As I begin to write about faith, there will be some of you who don’t agree with my take on certain things – you who are wise and filled with the Spirit in your own right. Or perhaps it will be I that won’t agree with you?
I’m hoping with this scripture, we can bridge the gap:
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15)
Most of us are mature. If we don’t agree on some matters, doctrinal or otherwise, let us wait for God to make things clear. Let us focus on the large victories we share, rather than the fine points we don’t happen to agree with.
And let us live up to what we’ve already attained, particularly when it pertains to grace, mercy and goodness.
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