To Judge or Not to Judge

By on October 8, 2012
Judge

Last week’s post about holiness initiated very passionate discussions on my site, Facebook, and Twitter. Most comments echoed the need for holiness in every area of a Christian’s life. Other comments raised the question of whether we should judge, even citing Jesus’ words from Matthew 7:1.

“Do not judge.” I’ve been studying and praying about this since last week so I could address the question in a biblical way. One of my constant prayers and desires is that whatever I teach or write will be accurately aligned with the truth of God’s Word. So I’ve been in the Word and in prayer. Today’s post – the result of this study and prayer – seeks to answer the question:

When, if ever, is it okay for a Christian to correct another Christian’s behavior or call specific behavior “sin?”

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Do not judge?

Here are the two primary Bible passages referenced in last week’s discussion against “judging”:

  • Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (words of Jesus) Matthew 7:1, NIV
  • There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:12, NIV

Wait, do judge?

Sound pretty straight-forward? Well, consider these words spoken by the same people in the same biblical book:

  • If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.  But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. Matthew 18:15-16, NLT
  • My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truthand someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20, NIV

The Bible never contradicts itself

Now what? Those who acknowledge the Bible as the accurate, authoritative Word of God also believe the Bible does not contradict itself. Apparent “conflict” will always stem from our incorrect understanding of a passage or issue and never in God’s truth. One of these two mistakes are often the culprit:

  • We fail to consider the entire counsel of Scripture.
  • We try to interpret one verse or passage outside of the larger context.

The Whole Counsel of Scripture

As we read through the entire Bible, God makes many things clear we can apply to the question of “judging.”

  • God calls His people to holiness. (Eph 5:3, 1 Peter 15-16, 1 Thess 4:4,7, 1 John 3:3)
  • God commands believers to encourage each other to holiness and hold each other accountable in our personal relationship with Christ. (2 Timothy 4:2, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:24, James 5:16)
  • God uses other believers and the church to point out sin and call individuals to repentance. (Matthew 18:15-17, James 5:19-20, Gal 6:1-2, 1 Cor 5:1-5)
  • It is to be done with love and gentleness. (Gal 6:1, Eph 4:15)
  • The goal is the welfare of the believer who has sinned. (Matt 18:15, 1 Cor 5:5, Gal 6:1, James 5:20)

Context of the passage

  • In the larger context of Matthew 7, Jesus does not condemn what we might call “judging” in every sense. To follow His command in verse 6, we will have to make a discerning judgment about what is a “dog” or a “pig.” Instead, Jesus condemns a hypocritical, self-righteous attitude that points out others’ failures without first dealing with their own.
  • In the larger context of James 4, James himself points out the sins of the believers and calls them to repentance (James 4:1-10). In verses 11-12, James continues his call to righteous behavior. The problem James condemns is “slander,” a type of judging that is harsh and unkind.

Conclusion

Both Jesus and James condemned a harsh, critical “judging” of people’s motives. This kind of “judging” is motivated by a self-righteous, hypocritical attitude. In the whole of Scripture, God clearly commands Christians to lovingly point out sin and exhort each other to holiness. It is not our place to determine their motives, but it is our responsibility of a member of the body of Christ to gently identify behavior that God has already judged to be “sin.” The goal is to reconcile that person with others and with God and to keep the sin from spreading to others (1 Cor 5:5-7, Heb 12:15, James 5:19-20).

So, when and how do we approach another believer about sin?

  • First, check to see if there is sin in your own life.
  • Check your attitude. Only act if your goal is the welfare of the other person.
  • Make sure God calls this behavior sin. Only God has the right to determine right and wrong.
  • Speak in love and gentleness with the goal of protection and restoration.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. John 7:24, NIV

How do you think our “tolerant” culture has affected the way the church approaches this difficult topic?

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About Kathy Howard

Kathy Howard calls herself a “confused southerner.” Raised in Louisiana, she moved with her engineer husband around the U.S. and Canada. She says “pop” instead of “Coke” and “you guys” as often as “y’all.” But she’s still a southern girl at heart! Kathy encourages women to live an unshakeable faith by standing firm on our rock-solid God no matter life’s circumstances. Kathy, the author of eight books, including the new daily devotional “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents,” has a Master’s in Christian Education. She is passionate about Bible study and discipleship and loves sharing at women’s events and retreats. Kathy is also a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Hello Mornings, Arise Daily, and more. Kathy and her “mostly retired” husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, four grandsons, and three dogs – one of them on purpose. She provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org. Kathy also connects with women at Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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To Judge or Not to Judge