Far too many people have bought into the lie that Christians are not supposed to exercise any judgement whatsoever. Typically this lie is thrown about in an attempt to prohibit a believer from stating that any particular behavior is wrong or sinful. After all, Jesus specifically said, “judge not.” It’s in the Bible. Therefore believers have no business saying anything is wrong because doing so violates Jesus’ command not to judge.
Sometimes it appears unbelievers are particularly prone to this line of thinking. If they know anything from the Bible, they often can cite Matthew 7:1 and use that one verse to prop up the lie. On the face of things it even seems correct. Here’s what that verse says.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Seems clear as can be on the surface at first glance.
However, it turns out that is a missunderstanding of what Jesus meant by what he said there. When we look at that verse in light of the other verses which immediately follow that sentence, we see that Jesus meant something different than “don’t ever judge someone else’s actions.”
When we look at the verses around a passage we can take into account the context of a particular portion of scripture. That often provides significant insight about what the passage really means. Context matters, especially when it comes to understanding scripture.
I’ve heard the importance of context described a couple of different ways. A text taken out of context is nothing more than a pretext. At the same time, when we take the text out of context the only thing we’re left with is a con.
Whether you consider it a pretext or a con, it amounts to the same thing in this case – a lie.
Let’s put that verse back in context and see what Jesus actually meant when he said not to judge.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.— Matthew 7:1-5
About Hypocrisy Not Judging
Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t judge at all. Basically what he is getting at is that we shouldn’t be hypocrites. That’s why he says, “Hypocrite!” in verse 5. He also uses a fantastic illustration of perspective to help make his point.
Things that are closer to us appear larger than things which are farther way. For example, if you close one eye you can use your thumb to totally block out the moon in the sky.
Is your thumb 2,259 miles wide? Of course not.
But because your thumb is much closer to your eye than the moon is it appears wide enough to totally block out the entire moon from your field of view.
Jesus uses a similar example to warn against hypocrisy. If both you and your friend have specs in your eyes, the one in your own eye is a much more pressing issue. It obscures your view and appears even larger than it is.
Once you get the speck out of your own eye it clears up your perspective so you are in a better position to help your friend with his problem.
When we instead rail about the wrong things others are doing without first setting our own house in order then we are being the worst kind of hypocrite. When we judge others hypocritically that same judgement is going to come back on us, hard.
Jesus didn’t have much time or respect for hypocrites.
Believers as Judges
The Apostle Paul explained that followers of Jesus are in fact called to judge others.
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?— 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
The context of this passage deals with believers taking other believers to court. His overarching point is that believers ought to be settling disputes between themselves instead of taking each other into governmental worldly courts.
In the process of making that larger point, Paul reveals that believers will at some point judge the world and angels. He says that because that is true then, as believers, we should also be able to make judgments here and now in this world.
Believers should be able to make judgements that distinguish right from wrong. The question is how?
How to Judge
We know how not to do it from the earlier passage. We don’t want to be hypocrites in our judgments. Fortunately Jesus also told us we are to judge.
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.— John 7:24
Here Jesus specifically instructs us as believers to make judgements. He also tells us that we are not to judge things based on superficial appearances. As an aside, it’s interesting to me that one of the big dangers of judging things based solely on appearances is that it’s a very good way slide into hypocrisy.
Instead we are to judge things righteously, “with righteous judgement.”
Jesus says this in response to the religious leaders who wanted to kill him because he healed a man on the sabbath. According to the religious leaders, healing someone was work. Since all work was forbidden on the sabbath, then they judged Jesus worthy of death because as far as they were concerned he broke the law prohibiting work on the sabbath.
Unfortunately they’d confused their extra rules they put in place to keep them from violating the Old Testament Law with the Law itself. As a result they were judging Jesus based on how things appeared with him healing someone on the sabbath instead of looking to the truth below the surface.
The Righteous Standard
In the original Greek, that word righteous is used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life. It means to be approved of or acceptable of God.
Basically Jesus is saying that we should judge things the way he does, using the Bible’s holy standard of godliness.
Thinking Like Jesus
That can be intimidating for great many folks. “How am I supposed to know what Jesus thinks about something?”
Paul saw that same question 1 Corinthians when he referenced Isaiah. Fortunately for us Paul immediately answers the question in the same verse.
For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.— 1 Corinthians 2:16
As believers we have the mind of Christ. Because we are spiritual beings and the Holy Spirit resides within us, we have access to the very thoughts of Jesus himself in the spirit. The challenge for us is to renew our minds so that our thoughts start to line up with his thoughts.
And the way we do that is though Holy Spirit led time studying the Word of God in the Bible. We meditate on that word, and we let it steep into our souls. Then, over time our thought process begin to adjust and line up with the way Jesus thinks about different things.
When we get to that point, as we’re thinking “Jesus thoughts” in our renewed minds, we are now able to judge things the way Jesus said we should – using righteous judgement.