In 2007, research was done of non-Christian young people, in their twenties, to see what they really thought about Christianity. One of their findings was that nine out of ten young people thought Christians to be judgmental. Bob Marley reflects this generation’s mindset in his song: Judge Not. The refrain goes like this: “The road of life is rocky and you may stumble too so while you are talking about me someone else is judging you.” Given the prohibition against judging by Jesus, the conclusion most people come to about Christians is that they are hypocrites.
What did Jesus mean when He said: “Judge not, that you be not judged”? (Mat. 7.1) F.F. Bruce, a New Testament linguistic scholar, says this about the word “to judge”: “Judgment is an ambiguous word, in Greek as in English: it may mean exercising a proper discernment, or it may mean sitting in judgment on people (or even condemning them).” Seeing that this word can be used in two different ways, makes it essential to study the context, in which the word appears, to be able to understand its proper meaning.
When Jesus said to not judge, He was talking about a judgment of condemnation and criticism. The parallel verse to Matthew 7.1, in Luke 6.37, amplifies the admonition to not judge by saying: “…condemn not and you will not be condemned…” Judgment that is condemning is when an opinion is formed about someone. Words, such as always and never, are used to label a person and to set them apart from others who are more acceptable to the person making the judgment. Paul confronted this type of judging in his letter to Titus. He told Titus to rebuke sharply those who went around saying: “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1.12) This type of judgment forms the basis of racism, prejudice and social intolerance. All are prohibited by the Lord.
The type of judging that is an act of discernment, on the other hand, is encouraged in the Scriptures. This is the judging between things, to differentiate and to discern. It is the determining between right and wrong, good and evil and righteous and unrighteous. In the same passage where Jesus talks about not judging, (in the sense of condemning), He said that one can know a tree by its fruit, referring to how to discern between good and evil. (Luke 6.43-45) This sheds a different light on the subject of whether a Christian should judge. Remember, all judging is reciprocal. It will come back on you. As you judge, you will be judged.
So how do we reconcile these two, seemingly opposite, implications? Putting it simply, I would say we are to judge sin, but not the sinner; the action rather than the person. We must leave the judging of the person up to God, because only He knows the heart of man. In a world that is ultra-tolerant and increasingly diverse, the condemning of sin is often seen as being judgmental and out of step with the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes it is, especially when one’s judgment is based on opinion or preference. Jesus said to judge with righteous judgment, (John 7.24), which is only possible when it is based on Scriptural guidelines. The standard of righteousness and Godly living is the Word of God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians not to even take what he said at face value, but to judge everything by the Word of God. (I Cor. 10.15) This is the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Mat. 7.12)
Scriptures to meditate on:
Mat. 7.1-5; John 3.16-17; 12.47; I Cor. 4.1-5; Luke 6.37