Come, Let us Judge
Can we get something straight? It is okay to judge. I know it is the unpardonable sin of our society, but it is not unpardonable before God. In fact, he calls Christians to judge.1
Before someone runs off decrying me as a heretic, let’s talk about what judging is. To judge means to esteem, to select or choose, to determine or resolve, to sift or weigh evidence, or to pronounce an opinion between right and wrong.2 In short, it means to assess. Not to be confused with asses: what people make of themselves when they draw no distinction between judging and condemning, trying to shut down reasoned assessment by crying, “Don’t judge me!”
Though the word “judge” may at times be translated to condemn, it is not the first or top use for the word—in either the lexicon or the dictionary. A person can be praised for having good judgment (discernment), but shouted down the next moment for judging (having an opinion). I have witnessed Christians bandy about the first four verses of Matthew 7, only to have them completely miss verse five:
Don’t [judge], and then you won’t be [judged]. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. “Don’t give holy things to depraved men. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you. (Matt 7:1-6 TLB emphasis mine)
Let’s see what Matthew’s words look like, fleshed out in our mirrors, in our daily interactions with people. . . How we make assessments or criticise others is the same measure that will be applied to us. We don’t live up to our own critiques, let alone God’s, so it is important to first know and love God, and next to ask the Lord to help us to be holy as he is holy. Whereby, we are able to not only use God’s word to assess our fellow men, but to first use it to judge our own motives and actions. Though we also sin, it does not mean that if we see a fellow believer outside the boundaries of God’s word that we can ignore his sin. It is our calling to examine our own hearts before God and then to help set our brother straight again (James 5:19-20).
We are to be both bold and humble if we see our brother in sin. Bold in speaking the truth, humble in our motives—do we desire our friend’s good and growth, or do we just want to be right? Before we approach a fellow believer who is in sin, we need to first turn away from any sin in our own hearts and lives. Not long ago, when a friend of mine was angry, he said some very untrue and unkind things to and about me. Though I was praying before our conversation to clear things up, I began snipping at him and accusing him once we began talking. Right in the middle of our conversation, I heard my tone and I knew that whatever else the case may be, I was in the wrong. I prayed silently for the Lord to forgive my attitude, and that I would be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. When I next had the opportunity to speak, I took a deep breath and asked if we could start again, asking for forgiveness for my cutting words and haughty heart. The tenor of our conversation changed immediately from heated battle to comrades-in-arms, fighting together against the enemy who sows discord among brethren. Once I had removed the “board” in my own “eye” by confessing my sin to God and my friend, I was free to approach my brother to help him remove the speck in his eye. We are not free to call out sin in a haughty spirit, but instead, to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)—and love is not arrogant. We are not free to simply say nothing—He who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, to him it is sin, says James (James 4:17).
Note that I say these things about making a judgment in regards to our fellow believers. Even though God holds us all to his standard, Christians are to judge differently between believers and non-Christians (I Cor 5: 9-10, 12-13). We are specifically called to judge (discern the words and actions of) our fellow Christians; not to throw away the holy gift of speaking wise judgments to evil men, as Matt 7:6 says above. We must speak the truth, of course, but we must let God hold unbelievers to his standard—that is his role, not ours. It is okay to call sin what it is: sin. It is okay to stand up for God’s character. And in the painful times when a brother continues persistently and unrepentantly in sin—even after exhortation and Godly confrontation—Paul tells us we must break fellowship with him (as in the case of unrepentant, gross sexual immorality in I Cor 5:11).
It is okay to judge—to sift a matter, to observe behaviour patterns, to see if actions and words align, to see if there is good fruit and assess the roots thereby. We can do this for all men. We cannot judge (in the condemnation or passing a sentence manner) the hearts of men, because only God knows the heart of a man. We are called to be discerning of what we observe. Let us, “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God” (Eph 5:15-17 PHILLIPS).
We must not be vague—we must make wise judgments based on what we know of the will and the character of God. We do not have to back away from speaking the truth simply because someone demands that we “do not judge” them. We must ask for the boldness, courage, love, and humility that we need to continue to judge rightly, to turn away from our own sin, and to help our brother to turn away from his, too. So, come, let us judge.