Episode 7: “Judge not!” Are Christians Completely Forbidden from Judging by Jesus? Reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Matthew 7 and Acts 7.
When I was a kid growing up, the most well known Bible verse was probably John 3:16. Even people who didn’t go to church knew about that verse, and would probably see it quoted on TV, or held up on a sign at some point every year. I think that has changed in the last few years – the most well known Bible verse today, at least to people that would not identify as Christian, is likely Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.” Our main question of the day is: “must Christians never judge? Let’s read the chapter together, and then discuss what Jesus is teaching here.
In a 2013 message when David Platt, former head of the Southern Baptist IMB, was pastor at the Church at Brookhills in Birmingham, he tackled the issue of church discipline – something that is commanded in Scripture. The thorny question for many in the church is how can church discipline happen when we are told not to judge each other? It’s a great question, and Platt gives a great answer:
“What about Matthew 7:1,” people ask. Well, keep going to Matthew 7:5. Yes, Jesus gives us warnings about judgment in Matthew 7:1, but when you keep reading, you hear Jesus say, “Why do you see the speck [of sin] that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log [of sin] that is in your own eye?… first, take the log out of your own eye, and then …” Follow this! “… you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3, 5). The whole implication is that you need to look inward first and humbly examine your own purity, so that you can help a brother or sister become pure. People say, “Well, it’s not my place to judge you, and it’s not your place to judge me.” But we just read in 1 Corinthians 5, church, that it is our place to judge. Look at 1 Corinthians 5:12. “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12) The question is, how? We’re going to talk about how in a moment, but suffice to say at this moment that we don’t hide behind phrases like, “It’s not my place to judge,” or, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. So since I still sin, I can’t say anything.” Brother or sister, if you see me walking into sin, caught in sin, being pulled into sin, please don’t use super-spiritual jargon like that. Pull me back. And let God use the whole deal to sanctify you in the process, too! That’s what Matthew 7:1–5 is all about; it’s what 1 Corinthians 5 is all about.David Platt, “The Cross and Christian Discipline—Part 1,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2013), 3919–3920.
David Platt’s teaching here reminds me of Galatians 6:1, “ Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted.” This does show us that sometimes Christians are called to help restore and lead other Christians to repentance when they sin – but it MUST be done with a gentle and humble spirit. There is never any room in the people of God for what people call judgmentalism or pharisaical attitudes. Jesus gives us an incredible picture of what that is in Luke 18:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 18:9-14
The self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee here is always wrong and always at odds with Jesus’ commands about judging. However, as Platt has pointed out – there IS a time to make judgments among the people of God. And those judgments can and should happen in only one particular area: INSIDE the church in terms of church discipline.
Before we discuss that, I do need to say a word about what is NOT being forbidden by Jesus here. When the Bible is very clear about a certain practice, lifestyle, behavior, attitude of mind, or action being sinful and against God, it is NOT even remotely judgmental to teach and practice biblical truth. MOST of society considers people in the church to be judgmental when they proclaim certain truths in the Bible and call people to repent of their sins. While there is CERTAINLY a way to do this in a pharisaical, extremely arrogant and self-righteous way, that does NOT necessarily mean the person is judgmental. John the Baptist, for instance, was beheaded for calling out the sexual sin of Herod the Tetrarch, who had been trying to be intimate with his brother’s wife. John told him that such behavior was NOT biblical. Was John the Baptist being judgmental? ABSOLUTELY NOT – he was being RIGHTEOUS and obeying Jesus’ other major command on judging, “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
Standing on biblical truth in a humble way that is preceded by self-repentance and not accompanied by hypocrisy is NOT being judgmental. Jesus is NOT outlawing that – He is NOT advocating a “to each his own” kind of philosophy. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 is very clear that the church must make judgments when there are people who are claiming the name of Jesus, but not living the teachings of Jesus:
11 But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.1 Corinthians 5:11-13
It is also clear from Scripture that the Word of God IS A JUDGE of our actions. Consider Hebrews 4:12 ” 12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. “
So, in that one fairly narrow arena, Christians are commanded by the Word of God to make righteous judgments and to make those judgments in a righteous way. A righteous judgment is one that is done in accordance with the Bible and not opinion. Do you think somebody is wrong for being a vegan? The Bible tells you NOT to judge them in Romans 14. Do you think somebody is being unethical and insensitive for eating meat? The Bible tells you NOT to judge them in Romans 14. Because the Bible neither condemns vegetarianism nor meat-eating, then Christians must not pass moral judgment on such things. In areas where the Bible DOES give clear commands, however, it is unfaithful for us to fail to follow those commands and call other Christians to as well. When we AGREE with the Word that something is a sin, we aren’t make an ungodly judgment, but are making a righteous judgment.
A righteous judgment is a biblical judgment, but even righteous judgments must be done in a righteous way. You simply CANNOT make a judgment if you have not repented of the obvious sin in your life – otherwise, you will be a plank-eye looking down on a speck-eye, and that is foolishness, as Jesus pointed out. Once God has cleansed the plank from your eye, you will be in a better place to make a righteous judgment in a righteous way, and you will do so with the HUMILITY of somebody who has just had a plank taken out of his eye, and not the ARROGANCE of a self-righteous jerk. Frankly, there are way too many self-righteous jerks running around in Christian clothing, and they are bringing shame to the name of Jesus.
Even though I believe that Jesus allows (and even commands) for a certain narrow type of making judgments (given the above parameters), I believe the preponderance of Scripture gives us multiple warnings about making judgments. The overarching concern seems to be that Christians walk in humility, not hypocrisy, and be quicker to point the finger at our own sin (and repent of it!) than to point the finger at the sins of others. These Scriptures bear that philosophy out, and should be a challenge to every fiber of our judgmental, pharisaical and self-righteous beings:
Romans 14:2-4: ” 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while one who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not judge one who does, because God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s household servant? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand, because the Lord is able to make him stand.“
Psalm 31:8-10 ” Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.
9 Speak up, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy. “
Romans 2:1-3 ” Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. 2 We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. 3 Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment? “
Romans 14:9-12 “9 Christ died and returned to life for this: that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.13 Therefore, let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister.“
1 Corinthians 4:3-5 ” 3 It is of little importance to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even judge myself. 4 For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 So don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts.
Colossians 2:16-17 ” 16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ. “
James 2:2-6 “2 For if someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor person dressed in filthy clothes also comes in, 3 if you look with favor on the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor person, “Stand over there,” or “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 Yet you have dishonored the poor.“
James 4: ” 11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? “
I’ll close this section on Judging with some great Gospel truth that reminds us who the ultimate judge is: ” 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31