Probably the most popular verse among Jesus-followers is John 3:16. But, among non-believers, the most popular verse might be Matthew 7:1.
Matthew 7:1 (ESV) “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
This verse is misused by folks who are essentially saying: “I can do whatever I like and you have no right to tell me if my actions are right or wrong. Don’t judge me. Leave me alone and let me do whatever I want to do without sticking your nose in my business.”
So, are Christians to judge or are we not to judge? That is the question that arose from my time in God’s Word this morning. My daily Bible reading was 1 Corinthians 4-7. In those four chapters, I saw three separate instances that speak to the matter of whether or not a Christian is to judge.
Let’s look at the three references with some reflections of my own.
The first reference to judging is found in 1 Corinthians 4.
1 Corinthians 4:3–5 (ESV) “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
We see clearly in these verses (and if we read the larger context of these verses), that the Apostle Paul is talking about final judgment. He is also not simply talking about actions but motives and attitudes (“things now hidden in darkness” and “the purposes of the heart”).
I may be able to see an action you perform and assess whether it is sinful or not. But, it might be virtually impossible for me to assess what motivations you had that caused you to perform that action. I might not know what thought patterns you had beforehand that spurred you to act in a way that you did. So, if I’m not careful, I may come to a wrong conclusion if I judge some of your actions since I don’t know all the facts.
For instance, I once had an employee who worked for me that proved to be a very bad fit. Fellow employees found his performance sub-par and sometimes reckless (although he didn’t know of their feelings toward him). Loyal customers were threatening to leave (although he didn’t know that). He even became resistant to my leadership. So, for the health of the organization, I made his “nest” uncomfortable. In other words, I didn’t fire him – I gave him some time and ample motivation to find another job. Soon, he found another place of employment. To this day, he remains angry at me. He has judged my actions but has come to a wrong conclusion because he didn’t understand my motives nor the magnitude of the problems his presence was causing.
This is the kind of judgment that we are to avoid. We may be able to assess the nature of someone’s actions – but we sometimes cannot pronounce a correct judgment because we don’t understand all of the facts. We don’t know why they did what they did.
God does. He knows our hearts. That’s why His judgment will be completely just and right.
The second reference to judging is found in 1 Corinthians 1-3, 11-13.
1 Corinthians 5:1–3 (ESV) “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.”
1 Corinthians 5:11–13 (ESV) “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'”
In this text, we observe that the action is sinful, regardless of the motive. It doesn’t matter what motive or attitude the person had when they engaged in sexual immorality – the action is wrong.
So, Christians are called to “judge” the fellow believer in their church (not unbelievers) who has committed the offense. That means that they are to make a determination that what has been done is wrong. They are to make a determination as to whether or not the person is still doing it or whether that person has genuinely repented and tried to make things right. If that believer remains in sin and is content to do so, then the believers in the church are to unite in removing the unrepentant believer from their favor. In doing so, they are drawing a line in the sand. Essentially, they desire for the person in sin to stop it, repent of it, and to come back into fellowship with the church.
Let it be clear – judging fellow believers who are in sin is clearly commanded in this text.
The third reference to judging is found in 1 Corinthians 6.
1 Corinthians 6:1–3 (ESV) “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!”
In this text, we observe that there was another serious problem in the church at Corinth. They were suing each other and bringing their grievances before unbelieving judges. In doing so, they were discrediting the Gospel in front of an unbelieving world that desperately needed it.
So, Paul told them that they needed to judge such cases in the church. Matters among church members were to be tried within the protective confines of the church.
So, let’s end by asking the question: Are Christians supposed to judge or are we forbidden to judge?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
There are situations in which we are discouraged from judging and there are other situations in which we are commanded to judge.
It just depends upon the scenario.