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To Judge, or Not To Judge?

Christian, tell me why are you so judgmental? Doesn't the Bible tell you not to judge others?

Because…Jesus taught us not to self-righteously condemn others. But He also expected His followers to recognize sin, to reject it in our own lives, and to compassionately guide others away from it.

I have just started learning a new hobby: the sport of Pickleball. For those unfamiliar with the game, picture a cross between ping-pong and tennis. The court is about half the size of a tennis court. The ball is lightweight hollow plastic the same size as a tennis ball. It is hit across a net between the two 2-person teams 1 using a solid paddle a bit bigger than a ping-pong paddle. There are rules about where and when the ball must bounce or not, who serves to the other team and when, how points are scored, etc.

Judgment is Necessary

The other players are gracious and kind to me as a newbie. They praise easily for even moderately decent shots, don’t yell at me for my mistakes, and don’t cringe (at least not visibly!) when they are stuck with me as a partner. However, they still score points against me when I hit out of bounds, or when I swing and miss an easy shot. And when my ball goes into the net, or three courts over beside me 😀, they don’t claim that I scored against them. I am still held to the rules of the game, even though they are gentle about it.

Are they wrong to judge when I break the rules? Should they say “That’s OK. The rules don’t apply to you. Hit the ball anywhere you want, and we’ll count it as your point.”? If they didn’t “judge”, then it wouldn’t be much of a game, would it?

The same holds true in life. There are rules to this “game”, set by the game’s Developer. Even the Greek word for “sin”, “hamartanō“, can also mean to “miss the mark” (as in target shooting), to not meet the goal. The rules not only ensure fair play and appropriate outcomes; they also demonstrate and enhance our relationship with that Developer. Since we are all playing this game together, we build one another up by holding each other accountable. Pretending that the rules don’t exist, or applying them unevenly, just messes up the game for everyone involved.

Judgment Must Be Tempered With Humility

So why does Jesus say “Do not judge” in Matthew 7:1? Especially since He also says to “judge with righteous judgment” in John 7:24? The difference is in the multiple connotations of the word “judge”. The Greek word, krinō, is translated not only as “judge”, but also as “decide”, “consider”, “determine” and “conclude”. These are all perfectly fine things to do. Without them, we would be paralyzed, never able to make any kind of decision. The same word is sometimes used in the context of someone being “on trial” or “standing trial”, another reasonable thing. But krinō is also translated as “condemn”, the meaning that Jesus is using in Matthew. See the full quote:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 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.

Matthew 7:1-5

Notice the context: “You will be held to the same standard that you impose on others.” “Don’t pick on someone else’s minor fault while you are still guilty and unrepentant of a major fault.” The message here is not to refrain from ever acknowledging that something is wrong. After all, Jesus doesn’t say not to help the other person with the speck in their eye. He says to judge myself first, and then offer assistance — in an appropriate, loving manner — to someone else from a place of humility.

In my pickleball example, since none of us play perfectly, we need to avoid being harsh toward our fellow players. Being nasty to someone for a missed shot is poor sportsmanship. That is especially true if I’m making bigger mistakes than they are!

Judgment Is Needed Within The Church

In researching Scripture for words like “judge”, “rebuke”, etc., I noticed that a number of them refer to guarding against sin within the church. Followers of Jesus are to be different from unbelievers. They are not to indulge in the same sinful attitudes and practices as those who don’t claim to accept God’s authority. To do so dilutes their witness for Christ; it has even been known to drive people away from Him instead. 😔 So, we have numerous passages like Matthew 18:15-17, Luke 17:3, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, and 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 telling Christians to be held accountable to one another.

There are also many warnings against false prophets, those who claim to speak for God but — again — dilute the Gospel by emphasizing something other than Jesus and His sacrifice for us. Some of those passages include Matthew 24:23-24, Matthew 7:15-20, 1 John 4:1-3, and 2 Peter 2.

Judgment Is Required For Maturity

A child is not good at judging true vs. false, good vs. bad, helpful vs. harmful. Those things must be taught to them. If not, they will grow up still wanting candy for supper, never taking a bath or brushing their teeth, and following the nice man who lost his puppy into the woods.

In the same way, a young Christian must learn to sort out God’s truth from among all of the lies and half-truths in the world (John 7:24, Matthew 10:16). A favorite verse of mine is Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Philippians 4:8

This verse sums up the teaching of several others, such as Philippians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and Hebrews 5:14. There is no way to “dwell on good things”, though, without being able to recognize them…which is a judgment call. Training that judgment — mentoring young Christians — is a task assigned to Christian leaders, as well as to more mature Christians (2 Timothy 4:1-5, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Titus 2:15).

Leave Final Judgment to God

The first step to becoming a Christian is to realize that God is real, and that I am NOT Him. It follows that I do not have the authority to execute final judgment on anyone. He sets the standard, and only He knows all of the motives and factors that feed into a person’s actions. While I can, and should, recognize sin when I see it, it is not my place to condemn. Only God has that prerogative.

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

1 Corinthians 4:5

Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls

Romans 14:4a

Bottom Line

When I see a person doing something wrong, I need listen for the Spirit’s guidance on how to show them God’s love. They need to know the truth: They are both infinitely valuable to God but also individually responsible to Him. Sometimes that may possibly include a bit of tough love, not accepting or glossing over their sin…even if they think of me as “judgmental” for noting that they are out of bounds 2. But I must remember that they are not an enemy. The real enemy is Satan, who deceives and tempts them…just as he does me (Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8).

I am never to do the “Body Snatchers Scream“, pointing at and condemning a fellow sinner made in God’s image as someone vile and beneath me. We are in the game together!

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. Like tennis, pickleball can be played singles as well as doubles. The group where I’m learning always plays doubles, though, so it seems more natural to me.
  2. They are aware of those rules and boundaries, even if they don’t want to acknowledge them (Romans 1:20).

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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