I am buried under a mound of papers to grade right now. I mean it; I think these research papers have morphed into a giant sarlacc which desires to digest me over a thousand years. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic but it feels like it right now.
As I am grading all of these papers, I am in a sense judging my students. They submit work to me, and if I do not judge it to be up to standards I fail them. Then they have to take my class all over again! (hey, this could mean job security if I play my cards right…) I tell them whether their work is outstanding, average, or failing. That sounds a lot like I am judging them, and Jesus commands us not to do that in Matthew 7:1-2. Heck, in John 3:17 Jesus said He didn’t come to judge, so why should I be able to judge?
Obviously I am being somewhat facetious, but this is a charge I hear all too often from Christians. “Don’t judge me,” they say. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what’s going on in my life, and God and I have an agreement. You know, Jesus doesn’t judge me so why should you?” That’s where it usually ends, but I can muster even more arguments than that! Paul says in Romans 2:1 that when we judge others we practice the same things that we judge them for, making us hypocrites. In 1 Corinthians 4:5 Paul tells us not to pass judgment “before the time,” meaning when the Lord comes again. Paul also says in Colossians 2:16 that no one is to be our judge in regards to matters of conscience. So why would we ever say a thing about someone else’s walk with God or their conduct in the world? Don’t judge, right?
I don’t mind the charge from those who are not following Christ, as I can’t and shouldn’t expect someone who does not follow Christ to obey what He has to say about life. However, from Christians it irks me sometimes because of the heart behind the words. First and foremost it many times evidences a heart that is indulging in and even enjoying some sin that the person is not willing or not ready to give up, and they are seeking to justify their sin by condemning others for calling it out. Also, this kind of attitude ignores what Paul tells us about how we live together in community in 1 Cor 5:12-6:6:
12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?
13 But those who are outside, God judges. “REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”
1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?
3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?
5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren,
6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
Paul not only encourages the body of Christ to intervene in one another’s lives and decide disputes, he commands it. He commands us to settle disputes within the body and laments when we won’t. Also, this is the command of Jesus regarding sin in our midst in Matthew 18:15-17:
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.
17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Jesus commands us to go and show our brothers and sisters when they sin. He commands it! He won’t let us sit idly by while our fellow Christian hides from God. I notice a couple of important points in Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18:
- He doesn’t command us to be judgmental; instead He tells us to go “show him his fault in private.” Respectfully we are to show someone where they have missed the mark. We’re not to wag our finger at fellow believers, but to exhort them and help them grow.
- We aren’t supposed to give up after one try!
- Jesus didn’t beat tax collectors or Gentiles up for their sin; instead He reached out to them and tried to bring them into the household of God. So the last bit of verse 17 is not about giving them the Heisman; it’s about reaching out to them and inviting them back into the fold when they are ready.
So in a real sense there is a BIG difference between the biblical idea of “judging” as in evaluating, and “judging” as in making yourself the arbiter of right and wrong. We are called not to think the worst of one another and not to assume the worst in each other. That being said, we are told to encourage and exhort one another, to show each other our faults when appropriate and help one another strive after greatness.
So to all of my students, remember that I am not passing judgment on your character or your godliness. Rather I am evaluating your performance, as you asked me to. Likewise, as a Christian I am called not to stand in judgment over my friends in Christ but to evaluate life alongside of them and help them become better disciples. That doesn’t happen when we don’t evaluate and work on each other a little.
So stop judging others, but never stop helping them strive after Christ by being willing to show them their weaknesses. That’s one of the hardest parts about biblical community, but in my opinion one of the most important.