“Who are you to judge? The bible says that Christians are not supposed to judge!” – Except that 1 Cor 5:12 does tell us that we have a duty to judge at the very least those inside the church. But if that is the case, then which part of scripture does this very popular belief come from? Through most of my conversations with friends who make such claims, they normally cite Matthew 7:1 as their foundational text on this matter.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
At a prima facie level, the verse in isolation does seem to be extremely clear on this matter. Christians are not to judge. However, in my opinion, this is perhaps one of the most misused verse that is robbed of its original meaning precisely because it is taken in isolation. If we carry on reading the verses that follow, it says:
“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? 4 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? 5 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.”
The issue I suspect becomes clearer now. The point Jesus is making is not that Christians are to refrain from making judgement, in fact in verse 6 of the same chapter, some form of judgement is assumed. Rather it seems that the issue lies in judging others while we ourselves are guilty of the same offence or when we ourselves refuse to be subject to that same form of judgement – Hypocrisy. This follows a consistent theme from chapter 6 where we are told to give without sounding trumpets as the hypocrites do (v2), pray without seeking attention as the hypocrites do (v5), fast without intentionally looking gloomy like the hypocrites do (v16) and then in chapter 7, judge not in the way the hypocrites do. In fact, we are asked to take the speck out of our brother’s eye but only when the log is first removed from ours so that we may be able to see clearly.
Similarly, Paul in his letters to the Galatians spoke about how he opposed Peter for his inconsistency in treating the gentiles (Gal 2:11-14). If we take Matthew 7:1 in isolation, would Paul’s rebuking of Peter be a violation of Jesus’ command? In the same manner, if we take Matthew 7:1 in isolation, how are we to follow Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 5:20 where he calls Christians to rebuke those who persist in sin? It seems to me that the very fact Christians are called to differentiate between right and wrong implies that judgement needs to take place.
To be honest, this form of judgement takes place even outside church amongst non-Christians. Any person who tells you that we should never judge is probably playing a game and doesn’t even believe in it themselves. A simple point would suffice -The judicial system. The very fact that we have a judicial system to uphold the law and apply it as representative of the state goes to show that we do care about judgement; or at least the right kind of judgement that is fairly passed. I recall a conversation I had with a friend who kept saying that we shouldn’t judge. I asked him if he considered the acts of a rapist wrong. He said yes to which I questioned whether there was an act of judgement required to form that reply. His only reply was “I guess so.” My point is that judgement is in some sense a necessary part of life. All the more so in this very fallen world of ours. The question for us is how we ought to judge.
Coming from a Christian perspective, I suspect that the best way to understand how we may exercise judgement is best practiced within the church. Paul in 2 Corinthians tells us to be graceful after judgement so that a person may not be ‘overwhelmed by excessive sorrow’ (2 Cor 7). Not forgetting the 2 greatest commandments, it would also be helpful to remember to love our neighbors as ourselves even as we make a judgement call. More importantly, when making a judgement, be sure that it is an informed one. One that is not too quick to skip the details. Judgement done without love is damaging and perhaps even an irresponsible thing to do. Finally, never forget our very own depravity and dependence on God who redeems us by the blood of Christ and continually works to sanctify us through the Holy Spirit.