Stop Judging

Dr. Brian Allison

Do you judge your Christian brother or sister? Are you a critical person? Judging is perhaps more rampant and pervasive than one would first imagine. Judging may assume different forms and may be expressed in varying degrees. Judging is one of the more insidious and destructive threats against Church unity and harmony. I personally believe that it undermines a sense of community; it fosters unhealthy division by creating a party spirit. I have a personal and pastoral concern about this matter. I have given the matter much thought. As I have sat back and have taken a long, hard look at the Church, and as I have evaluated Church life in order to determine what could be some possible hindrances or stumbling blocks preventing the Church from moving ahead in maturity and ministry, I have realized that the Church suffers from internal mutual judging. I examine my own heart and I discover judging. I hear comments and remarks from different people, and I realize that they are judging. This matter of judging is a very serious problem, and that is why it is imperative that we address this matter according to the Bible's teaching. Few matters drain the vitality and the energy from a Church more readily than that of judging.

Perhaps the most pointed and relevant passage which addresses this crucial matter is found in Matthew 7:1-5 of the Sermon on the Mount – the personal ethics for kingdom living. It reads, "Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

The outline of this passage is as follows. First, we are given a command or, better, a prohibition, as well as the serious consequences of failing to carry out this command or comply with the prohibition – "Do not judge lest you be judged." Second, we are provided with some clarification of the consequences for not keeping the command or the prohibition – "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." Third, we are presented with illustrative rationale for the command or prohibition – "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold the log that is in your own eye?" Fourth, we are given an exhortation to moral and spiritual improvement – "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

The command

Let us first consider the prohibition or the command – "Do not judge." A more literal rendering of the original language is, "Stop judging." The implication is that judging is a natural or typical practice; and thus Jesus commands, "Stop judging." Generally speaking, we may define judging as simply an evaluating or assessing mental activity. Specifically speaking, judging is the act or process of drawing conclusions or making decisions concerning the value, worth or rightness of either someone, some thing or some situation. For instance, the Paul Bernardo and O.J. Simpson trials are in session right now. We are hearing different stories; we are receiving various facts from both the defense and the prosecution. Naturally, many of us have begun to evaluate the situation and the people involved. Is Paul Bernardo guilty? Is O.J. Simpson innocent? Many of us are rendering some kind of judgement. Some of you right now, I am sure, could tell me whether you think Paul Bernardo or O.J. Simpson is guilty or innocent. That is what we mean by judging. We are drawing a conclusion, making a decision, concerning the value, worth or rightness of someone, some thing or some situation.

Different kinds of judging

Now there are different kinds of judging. First, there is legal or moral judging. This kind of judging is given or rendered according to an objective, normative standard. So, for instance, yesterday the G7 Summit leaders denounced (i.e., rendered a judging) against Boris Yeltsin's military and political involvement in Chechenya. They politically and morally concluded that the actions of Yeltsin were wrong, being both a violation of human rights and political autonomy, as well as a subversion of the honouring of international law. The Bible itself refers to legal or moral judging which is rendered according to an objective, normative standard. For instance, the apostle Paul concludes his Mars Hill address by saying, "Because He [God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). This kind of judging is legitimate, it is justified; it is rendered according to a standard of rightness and justice. God, of course, has the prerogative to judge sin and evil. The Church, God's visible representative, has been invested with authority by God to also undertake this kind of judging. We read concerning a sexually immoral Christian brother, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES" (1 Cor. 5:12,13). This sinning brother was clearly violating biblical standards – an objective, normative standard – and on the basis of that violation, the Church was both justified and required to judge. Again, this kind of judging is legitimate.

Second, there is a personal or arbitrary judging. This kind of judging is given or rendered according to a subjective, relative standard. For instance, when I was a student at Toronto Baptist Seminary, I was required to wear a tie every day; that was school policy. The policy was enacted according to this particular institution's preference. The policy is amoral – it is neither an issue of right or wrong per se. The policy, ultimately, is according to a personal, subjective standard. In Romans 14, we have teaching which refers to this kind of judging. We read, "Let not him who eats meat regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats [thinking that you are better or more religious or more spiritual] for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another [according to your personal standard]? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind [and thus do what he or she prefers]...But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judging seat of God?...Therefore let us not judge one another any more [that is, according to our personal, subjective standard] but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in our brother's way" (Rm. 14:3-5,10,13).

A certain kind of judging is wrong

In light of the different kinds of judging, we can conclude that not all judging is wrong. Judging according to an objective, normative standard is acceptable; judging according to a subjective, relative standard is typically unacceptable; and this kind of judging is what Jesus addresses and identifies as blameworthy in Matthew 7:1. John 7:24 clearly brings out these two distinct kinds of judging. Jesus says, "Do not judge according to appearance [that is, how it personally looks to you; how it 'sits' with you], but judge with righteous judging [that is, a standard based on divine revelation or Biblical principles which is external to one's corrupt heart and personal expectations]." So Jesus commands, "Stop judging." This kind of judging is often characterized by, or associated with, criticalness and condemnation. So the Lukan rendition of this command reads, "And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned" (Lu. 6:37). Further, this kind of judging often reveals a superior and self-righteous attitude. One criticizes according to his personal expectations and preferences (which are deemed sacred or untouchable) – expectations and preferences that are based on personal, family, or traditional values. Wasn't this the problem with the Pharisees? They were judging from a posture of superiority and self-righteousness. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer praying in the temple is a good case in point. We read, "The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get'" (Lu. 18:11,12). What flagrant, pathetic judging! This self-righteous, arrogant religionist thought he was better than the next person. Now Jesus requires that our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. So this personal or arbitrary kind of judging often reveals a superior and self-righteous attitude.

This kind of judging destroys Christian fellowship. Yesterday I was speaking to a young lady and she asked me if I had gone to the Skydome last Saturday evening to see the evangelistic Youth concert, featuring some contemporary Rock music groups. I noticed that she was a bit hesitant in asking me. I responded, "Yes, and I enjoyed it." She gave a sigh of relief. I asked her if she had attended, and she said, "Yes; I had a great time. But when I was at work this past week some of the older folk criticized, saying, 'Can't they find a better way to reach the young people? Why do they need to use that kind of music?'" This young lady continued, "I could not talk to them about my experience of Saturday night because I knew I would have been judged." Personally, I think that this kind of music is required in order to reach young people.

Some examples of wrong judging

So Jesus commands, "Stop judging" or – to capture the essence of Jesus' point – "Stop personally criticizing." If the issues are ones of indifference and not legality, or personal preference and not morality, then you are not to pass or impose your judging. For instance, you should not conclude that a Christian brother is not committed simply because he does not come to every Church service. Where, according to God's righteous standard, does it teach that a believer must come to every single Church service? The Scriptures teach only that you must not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Hb. 10:25). Again, you should not conclude that a Christian sister is not spiritual because she attends the theatre or drinks a little wine. Incidentally, Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 clearly teach that drinking a little wine is acceptable within the bounds of Christian liberty. Again, you should not conclude that a fellow Christian is irreverent because he is wearing blue jeans to Church, or because he is not wearing a suit or tie to Church. Again, you should not conclude that someone must be spiritually immature because she never prays in public. So what, if she doesn't? Do you really know how much she prays in private? Again, you should not conclude that someone is ungodly because he loses his temper. So did Jesus. Again (and we could multiply the examples), you should not conclude that someone is compromising Biblical standards because she listens to upbeat, contemporary music. Why should that personal preference reflect on one's commitment to God and truth? Did you know that some of the great tunes of the faith were first bar room tunes? Unfortunately, well-meaning Christians are making these kinds of judgements all the time, and are thus destroying Church fellowship.

The serious consequences of judging

Notice, then, the serious consequences for personally judging a fellow Christian – "Do not judge lest you be judged." That is plain enough isn't it? There is a danger in personally judging. There is a danger in criticizing according to one's subjective, relative standard. Jesus warns that personal or arbitrary judging invites divine moral judging. The phrase: "Lest you be judged," does not refer to receiving personal or arbitrary judging, according to a subjective standard, from someone else, but rather to receiving divine moral judgement from God Himself. That is pretty serious, isn't it? You will be judged not only for your actual criticism, but also because you have usurped the position that belongs exclusively to God. So we read, "Do not speak against [i.e., say something bad or slanderous about] one another, brethren. He who slanders a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law" (Jas. 4:11a). What does speaking against and judging the law mean? Well, the summary of the law is this: Love God; love your fellow person. This twofold injunction succinctly captures the whole moral law. Thus, when you speak badly against a sister or a brother, you are not showing love. Accordingly, you are violating the law, and in this sense, you are 'speaking against and judging' the law. In speaking against a fellow Christian, you, in effect, are placing yourself above the law, rather than being subject to its requirements. The passage continues, "But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver [that is, only one person sets the universal standard] and Judge [that is, only one person who decides who has done right or wrong], the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?" (Jas. 11b, 12). Judging belongs to God, which He invests, in part, in His Church governed by Biblical standards, and not to individuals governed by their personal expectations and preferences. So, similarly, we read, "But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgement before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise shall come to him from God" (1 Cor. 4:3-5). Now personal judging reaches sheer audacity in this: Not only does one pass judgement on another's action and behaviour, but one dares to also pass judgement on another's motives and intentions. When was the last time you were in someone else's heart to know exactly what his or her motives or intentions are?

So, God is the judge; and God is going to judge us for judging. Make no mistake about it. This reciprocal judging by God is also implied in other passages in this Sermon on the Mount. For instance, we read, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Mt. 5:7). Who grants the mercy? God. Again, we read, "For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (Mt. 6:14,15). This reciprocal principle implies the law of divine retribution – you get what you deserve. Whatever a person sows, that he or she shall also reap. This leads us to the next point.

Clarification of the consequences of judging

Jesus clarifies this notion, and nature, of reciprocal judging, which implies divine retribution – "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." What is Jesus saying? He is saying that the content of your judging, that is, what you are actually criticizing about, as well as the type or nature of that judging, that is, whether it is harsh or lenient, will return on your own head. What you give out, you shall, in turn, receive; what goes around comes around. Let us be very clear about that. This particular point is inferred in Romans 2:1ff., though this passage is basically touching on a related matter. We read, "Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. And do you suppose, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?" No, not at all! Now, you may say the judging implied here is a moral one, and thus a justified one, and that is true, for we read further, "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?" And so, there certainly is the notion of moral judging here, but the critical point is this: You do not really have the right or qualification to personally judge morally or spiritually until you have made yourself morally or spiritually right, which the Matthew passage continues to teach (which we shall consider in a moment).

So the important point on the consequences of judging is simply this: If you show harsh judging, or condemnation, you demonstrate that you only deserve harsh judging, condemnation, and vice versa. If you judge leniently and graciously, God will, in turn, judge you leniently and graciously. So, in your personal judging of another, God has already, in effect, judged you in like fashion. In your harsh judging or criticizing, you bar yourself from the mercy of God. I must stress this point. This matter of personally judging affects your relationship with, and your stand before, God. You are only saved by the mercy of God, and God is pleased, even bound, to close the door on His mercy, if you engage in this kind of judging. Hence we read, "So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty [not by the Mosaic law, but by the law of grace which is in Christ Jesus, that grace that has delivered us from the wrath of God which is coming; by the law of the Spirit which has set us free from the law of sin and death]. For judgement will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement" (Jas. 2:12,13). The Bible clearly teaches that if you have not been merciful in your judging toward your Christian brothers and sisters, then neither will He Himself be merciful to you. Again, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy." As the children of God, we should be governed by love, and thus we should show mercy. Mercy is simply a particular expression of love. Our failure to show mercy demonstrates that we are indeed not the children of God, for unmercifulness does not reflect His character; and thus in our personal judging, we stand condemned.

Illustrative rationale for not judging

Why should we not judge in this personal way? Why should we not criticize and condemn according to our subjective standard? Because often we are guilty of both self-deception and self justification, as well as a lack of love, when we personally judge. So Jesus challenges us, "And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" Three practical points may be draw out here. First, often we are oblivious to our own faults, errors, and mistakes. I know I am. My Christian friend, we just do not see ourselves as we ought to. We are so pathetically blinded to our own sin. We just do not see the log in our own eye. Second, we are too quick to point out the faults, errors, and mistakes of others. Third, often our own faults, errors, and mistakes are more serious than others, and we don't realize it. Again, judging reveals a superior, self-righteous attitude.

We are not to personally judge because of the problem of self-deception and self-justification, but also because of the matter of spiritual disqualification. We read, "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye [that is, let me give you help in getting your life right, getting your conduct right],' and behold, the log is in your own eye?" With the first illustration, Jesus chastises us for pointing out another's person fault when we haven't first noticed or addressed our own fault; and, with the second illustration, He chastises us for wanting to help another person correct his fault when we haven't first corrected our own fault. So Jesus says that we can seek to morally or spiritually correct another only when we have morally and spiritually corrected ourselves. Moral or spiritual qualification derives from personal holiness and righteousness.

Exhortation to personal, moral and spiritual improvement

Jesus thus proceeds to exhort us to moral or spiritual improvement – "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." It is an interesting fact that those who are quick to criticize someone else reveal that they perhaps have the greater problem or areas of sin. The self-righteous ones continue to criticize, but they do not realize that they are the ones with the spiritual cancer. From this particular verse, we may derive three practical points. First, in personally judging others, before judging and correcting ourselves, we prove ourselves to be hypocrites. Such people are presumptuous. They may not be worth listening to. Second, only in judging and correcting ourselves first do we really understand what another Christian requires for his or her correction. It is sheer audacity to think that we know how to morally or spiritually fix up someone else up when we cannot even morally or spiritually fix up ourselves. Third, only in judging and correcting ourselves do we acquire credibility and qualification to help or correct someone else. Accordingly, Jesus calls us to self-examination, not other-examination, as well as to self-improvement, and maybe then will we have the spiritual and moral qualification to help someone else.

How to stop judging

How can we begin to stop personally judging? Here are a few practical steps: 1) Recognize that you personally judge more than you realize. Judging really is an insidious thing. Take special note of your actual thoughts or words when you refer to or consider people; 2) Confess your critical attitude (as well as your superior and self-righteous one), as well as the judging words that you speak, and have spoken; 3) Resist and reject all tendencies toward, and all entertainment of, judging thoughts. Through spiritual watchfulness and prayer, spiritually slay all risings of such sinful thoughts, bringing those thoughts "captive to the obedience of Christ" (1 Cor. 10:5b); 4) Identify and focus on the good or positive points of your fellow Christian. Everybody has some merits which can be commended; 5) Continually remind yourself that you will be judged by God in like manner as you judge. What goes around comes around. Whatever a person sows, that he or she shall also reap; 6) Realize that personally judging fellow Christians seriously damages relationships and destroys Church fellowship and unity. In a real sense, in attacking the body of Christ, we are attacking Christ himself; 7) Nurture a disposition of love. Love covers a multitude of sins (i.e., refuses to condemn) which we may detect in our Christian brothers and sisters.

Let me encourage you, my Christian friend, to stop wounding your own. Let us not unknowingly work for Satan by deliberately attacking our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. Let us battle Satan and his host, and not Christ and His Church. The Church of Christ has enough enemies to contend with, both spiritually and culturally, without also having to be demoralized, weakened, and undermined by internal strife, a party spirit, and in-fighting among those who are supposed to be the disciples of love. Let us build up our fellow believers, rather than tearing them down. Let us not present a pathetic and contradictory picture of community to the world, and thus dishonour Christ. But rather, let us be mature for the sake of His glory, and for the good of His Church.

Judge not.

The workings of the mind and heart

Thou canst not see.

What looks to thy dim eyes as stain

In God's pure light may only be a scar,

Bought from some well-won field

Where thou wouldst only faint and yield.