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From time to time you will hear one Christian tell another they should not judge others. “Judge not” is a pretty common quotation among believers, but universally prohibiting all forms of judgment and evaluation leads to confusion, in the least, and anarchy, in the extreme.
Among the spiritual manifestations listed in First Corinthians, we find “the ability to distinguish between spirits.” This describes an ability to judge between subjects, to distinguish between persons, to discern. This is an essential role of the church and there are those who are especially gifted with this ability. Can we consider judging between spirits an essential role in the church, yet consider the more common form of judging earthly matters to be unimportant or even undesirable?
Let’s consider some Scriptures frequently used to prohibit any form of judging.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2). This is part of Jesus’ teaching and, by itself, it clearly says not to judge others, or you will receive the same kind of judgment. However, consider the rest of the teaching.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (vv. 3-5).
Did Jesus say you should not acknowledge that the other person has a speck in his eye? Or that you should not remove it? No, He said to clean up your own act before you help others clean up theirs. Self-centeredness motivates us to tolerate our own massive problems while expecting virtual perfection in others. Jesus places the emphasis on personal responsibility, but He does not rule out seeing imperfection in others, which is a form of judging.
He also said, “I pass judgment on no one” (John 8:15), so some believers contend that we should not judge, either. If only they would read Jesus’ next statement. “But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me” (v. 16). He made a similar statement earlier. “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30). So when Jesus said, “I pass judgment on no one,” He was not saying He never used judgment. Rather, He never relied solely on His own judgment, but instead judged as His Father would.
Jesus judged people and their actions, especially the religious leaders, and He sometimes condemned their actions. He said they made mistakes because they didn’t know the Scriptures, and they created unnecessary religious burdens for people. He drove their businesses out of the temple, which was a pretty strong judgment of their practices. He called them painted burial vaults and snakes, which was an extremely strong judgment of their motives. He told His followers not to emulate them by praying to attract attention to themselves or by taking the seat of honor at the table. By His teaching, Jesus showed the importance of judging others. If you do not judge a person’s actions, how can you know whether to follow their example?
Another frequent quotation is Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” If you look at the context, you see that Paul is addressing disputable matters, such as what different people consider sacred or acceptable. His point is that we are not to judge others as sinful because they have different religious standards.
By focusing on a few Scriptures and ignoring their contexts, Christians have come to a conclusion that is the opposite of what the Bible actually teaches. Consider the following verses that show the importance of exercising good judgment.
Jesus answered one of many accusations from unbelievers by telling them, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). If they should not have judged at all, He would have said so.
Paul told the church at Corinth to judge what he said for themselves (1 Cor. 10:15, 11:13). He had opened the letter by discussing the wisdom the believer receives from the spirit. In that context he wrote the following.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14-16).
Paul is explaining that human intellect cannot grasp spiritual truths. Therefore, if you receive spiritually derived understanding on some matter, you should not accept someone’s intellectual judgment of it; their spiritual judgment, yes, but not their intellectual judgment. Paul wrote that the spiritual man judges all things, which includes someone else’s spiritual understanding. The issue in this passage of Scripture is not whether to judge, but how to judge. The intellect cannot properly evaluate the spiritual. Your spirit evaluates or judges all things, then reveals the truth to your intellect. You have the mind of Christ, which is God’s spiritual perspective guiding your human spirit, which in turn guides your intellect.
At some point, everyone recognizes the limit of their own judgment and asks someone for their opinion. We initially wait to ask because we want to work it out ourselves. Some of us wait a long time, but eventually we all ask.
Your old selfish, proud attitude wants you to succeed on your own, not to rely on others for help; you want to be adequate and autonomous. You want to come to your own conclusions and you value them more than the conclusions of others. You resent those who come to different conclusions and you resist their efforts to impose their opinions on you. The driving force behind such an attitude is self-centeredness, and that is one reason God says we should judge each other. Accepting a different judgment than your own forces you to humble yourself.
When you make a judgment, you compare the facts as you see them with what you believe to be right or good. Judgment can be very subjective. So what happens when someone else views the same facts and makes a different judgment? Each of you believes his judgment is better and may try to persuade the other person. This happens all the time, and for a legitimate reason.
Consider, for a moment, the “body” analogy the New Testament uses to describe the community of believers. How do the members of the body serve each other? One way is to offer their special abilities in service to the others. Each is to offer himself to the others for the common good.
Your character influences your perspective, and therefore how you see the facts, as well as which facts you consider more important. Your character also determines how you think, and therefore how you judge. So if you have a community of believers with a wide variety of personalities and therefore differing judgments, how can they serve each other? By judging each other. Just as each brings a unique ability to the community, each also brings a unique perspective and judgment.
Offering your opinion or judgment to others is the easy part. Your self-centered attitude wants others to know and accept what you think, so it is very natural to tell them. The hard part, however, is accepting the opinions or judgments of others. Obviously, it would do no good for everyone to express their opinion if no one listened, so God also tells us to submit to each other; that is, accept their judgment.
Consider an example. Let’s say you have to make a decision, so you consider the facts, come to a decision and act on it. Then another believer, perhaps your spouse or friend, comes to you and explains why you should not have done it. Whose judgment do you accept, yours or theirs?
The natural (self-centered) reaction is to defend your decision. The supernatural reaction is to humble yourself, then remind yourself that God gave us different character types so we could serve each other. This will enable you to listen to them and try to see the situation from their perspective. You may or may not need to change your decision, but you certainly need to consider their judgment.
This does not mean you should automatically discard your opinion because another believer has a different one. It means you should recognize the validity of opinions other than your own. Of course, the more godly each believer becomes, the better this system works, but it works even with immature Christians.
Evaluating, judging and forming opinions are important parts of Christian living. The character God gave you affects how you do it and the conclusions you come to, so you can expect your judgment to be different from others’. It is equally important to consider other believers’ opinions, because their character allows them to see the same situation from a different perspective. This helps you see past your limited perspective. The key is to see and decide the matter on the basis of Scripture and spiritual insight as Jesus did.