One of the last remaining sins in American culture is to judge a person or group’s beliefs and
actions as being immoral. To make such judgments is to invite the unmitigated wrath of those who oppose biblical theology and ethics, often with dire temporal consequences. And the Christian’s most potent spiritual weapon - the Bible (referred to as the “sword of the Spirit” by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:17 - is often used us. Wasn’t it Jesus himself who
said “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1)?
What was Jesus getting at when he made such a statement?
Let’s first look at what he didn’t mean. Jesus is not saying that we should never form an opinion or make a judgment about someone’s beliefs or actions. To say that we shouldn’t judge is itself a judgment! When Jesus goes on to speak of us “taking the speck out of our brother’s (or sister’s) eye” (vs. 6), he implies that we will make judgments. The very fact that Jesus cleared out the temple of the money changers, spoke the truth of the gospel to Nicodemus and to the Samaritan woman, preached the Sermon on the Mount, pronounced woes upon the Pharisees, constantly rebuked them for their hypocrisy and even told Peter “get behind me, Satan,” indicates that he made judgments all the time. Scripture’s imperatives imply that we must make judgments as well. In saying “do not judge” Jesus is not teaching us to suspend our critical faculties or saying that we should never assess anything or anyone.
What Jesus is saying is that we are not to judge harshly, quickly, unfairly or hypocritically. We are not to judge based upon our own feelings and opinions without regard to his revealed will in Scripture. He is warning against rash judgments; judgments based upon hearsay, gossip, or a lack of information. Jesus teaches us that we are not to judge with a spirit to tear down rather than to build up.
When parents judge their children’s behavior as being unacceptable – when they hit their siblings, tell lies, have outbursts of anger, neglect their responsibilities – parents are right to judge their children’s actions as being disobedient and unacceptable. But in their judgment, they are to train and correct the behavior with truth and grace, with the intent of building up their child rather than belittling him or her.
And the same is true with our judgments of other people. We can judge certain decisions and behaviors as being beyond the pale of God’s will which is to be found in Scripture alone. If we don’t make biblically based moral judgments, then we cannot be said to be lovers of holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, which are characteristics of God himself. In fact, we cannot be said to love at all.
We must make judgments, but we are to do so with a gospel spirit, understanding ourselves as people who, apart from Christ, would be under the severe judgment of God and due nothing but his wrath. Through faith in Christ alone, we are united to Christ – purely by his grace apart from any good we do or evil we avoid – we can make moral judgments. But we do so with the greatest humility, “taking the log out of our own eye (so that we will) see clearly to take the speck out of our brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). We look within ourselves before we confront. We speak the truth, but we speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15). We remember that the world’s greatest need is not primarily to get their moral ducks in a row. It is to come to know Jesus, to worship him, to lean on him, to delight in him and to follow him.
When we judge, we don’t judge in pride, in arrogance, or out of moral superiority. We don't judge based upon our own feelings or whims. We judge based solely on what God has revealed to us in Scripture. We judge for the good of that person. We judge for the good of our neighbors and the church. And we ultimately make judgments for the glory of God.