What Does the Bible Say About Judging Others?
The Bible describes two forms of judgment, one good and the other bad. How can a Christian judge with righteous judgment and avoid being judgmental?
There is one concept of Christianity that many seem to have a hard time understanding: judging.
The Bible teaches two sides of the subject of judgment: judging others with righteous judgment (using discernment) and avoiding self-righteous judgment (condemnation).
Today it seems that only the latter concept is emphasized, resulting in expressions such as:
- “Who are you to judge me?”
- “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Who am I to judge?”
In order to understand both correctly and in harmony, we have to understand what the Scriptures say about both concepts.
Judge with righteous judgment
- “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
- “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
So, judging is something a Christian is expected to do.
- “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:3).
- “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3).
So, judging is something a Christian is not to do!
Reconciling the two forms of judgment
The four scriptures above actually do not contradict each other. They represent a complete understanding of the subject of judging. They teach how judging is done appropriately and how judging is done inappropriately.
We should judge actions and ideas, but first we must judge our own lives. In basic terms, correct judgment is determining the righteousness or unrighteousness of an idea or behavior using the Bible as the standard. Incorrect judgment is pointing the finger at other people for doing the things we are guilty of, or excusing ourselves for our sins while condemning others for their sins.
The point is—we should judge actions and ideas, but first we must judge our own lives. Judging others by a standard we do not demonstrate ourselves is unrighteous judgment.
Here are some questions to consider in determining which kind of judgment we practice:
- Do we discern what is right and wrong and then encourage the right?
- Do we have the biblical knowledge and the fortitude to not ignore sin, but to avoid it?
- Do we make sure we avoid judging in a way that is only designed to make us feel personally superior to another person?
- Have we become so prideful and uncaring (not loving our neighbors as ourselves) that we have lost our ability to be merciful and forgiving?
To find out, let’s look at the following scenario.
A hypothetical scenario on judging
Judging others by a standard we do not demonstrate ourselves is unrighteous judgment. A coworker who frequently engages in hard partying and promiscuous behavior has come into work late, again. He is hung over and you have been covering his responsibilities for about an hour now, making this the third time in the same month you have had to do extra work because of his late-night escapades. He walks up to you to resume his duties. He says, “Thanks, I owe you one again!”
Here are three ways you could handle this situation:
Option A: You say: “That does it. You go out all the time getting drunk and sleep with half the women in the city, and then expect me to do your work for you? You make me sick! It’s disgusting what you do. I’m not covering for you anymore. You and I are DONE. If it were up to me, I’d fire you right now.”
Option B: You say: “We have to talk. I don’t feel comfortable covering for you anymore. It’s not just about your coming in late to work, but also what is happening outside of work. I’m worried about you. I don’t want you to get fired or get yourself into personal troubles. I’ll cover for you when it is a real emergency, but please don’t ask me to do something against my conscience again. Do you understand where I am coming from?”
Option C: You say: “No problem! I’m happy I can help. Looks like you had a great time last night. Let’s hear the details! Anytime you need me to cover for you, I’m on it. You are my friend, and I’ll always be there to help you out, no matter what you are doing.”
Which option most closely describes you?
Let’s take a closer look at what is actually being said. Though we will rarely respond to something perfectly, let’s analyze the three approaches and see what we can learn.
Option A: This option characterizes self-righteous condemnation. Letting the person know that we disapprove isn’t enough; we have to also insult him and elevate ourselves in the process. We cut off ties without compassion, in effect “giving up” any chances we could have to help or positively influence the individual. At the same time, we pat ourselves on the back.
Option B: This option characterizes righteous discernment. We let the person honestly know that we are not comfortable with enabling wrong behavior; but it is done in a loving and compassionate way, allowing him to explain his opinion on the situation. It is an open dialogue where we strive to help him, but make very clear that we believe his behavior is wrong.
Righteous judgment requires a deep knowledge of right and wrong, and the courage to truly love and care for the well-being of others. Option C: This option characterizes what so many mistakenly call “love,” but actually is better described as irresponsible tolerance and perhaps enabling. To avoid offending him or feeling uncomfortable ourselves, we ignore his behavior and the damage and destruction he may be doing to himself. We enable behavior that we know is wrong and has destructive consequences and just look the other way.
No matter how the other person responds, Christians are to judge righteously. That is, even when we try to be the epitome of tact and gentleness, correcting others in brotherly love and affection, they may still simply say, “Don’t judge me!” They may also state true things about our lives that are somewhere on the spectrum of “could be better” to “dumpster fire.” But again, that doesn’t change how we should discern right and wrong. No matter who says it, the following excuse is just not true: “The bad thing I’m doing isn’t really a bad thing because you do bad things too.”
God has the power, and He gives power to various authorities, to provide consequences and sometimes even vengeance for wrong deeds. Christians, on the other hand, are limited to the power of figuring out what is right and wrong and making choices to promote what is right—that is, judging righteously.
Jesus’ example on judging
Our model for righteous judgment is ultimately found in the example of Jesus Christ in John 8. You can read the account for yourself, but essentially, the way Christ dealt with the woman who was caught in adultery and brought to Him by the religious leaders covers all the bases of judgment.
- Jesus started by exposing the hypocrisy and partiality of the crowd’s judgment, and not allowing that to sway or confuse His righteous judgment on the woman herself. Jesus forced all those who were seeking to stone her to take a hard look at themselves. They had to realize that, yes, they, too, had sin in their lives, and that they were being much gentler on themselves than they were on the woman. For example, where was the man caught in adultery with her? He, mysteriously, wasn’t anywhere to be found, even though he had committed the same sin.
- After the self-righteous crowd had slunk away one by one, Christ encouraged the woman to overcome her sin and change her way of living. He did so in a compassionate and caring spirit. (He had just saved her life, and also called out the viciousness and self-righteousness of the crowd before even focusing on what she had done.) He did not take the approach of pretending the woman hadn’t sinned or thinking it was okay for her to continue sinning, bringing harm to herself. He simply said: “Go, and sin no more.” Unrepentant and continuous sin brings extra and profound misery and loss to a person’s life, so Christ showed love to her by telling her to “go, and sin no more.”
No matter the resulting effects, our goal should be to practice righteous judgment. Our discernment should be without self-righteousness and spoken in love.
Whether to judge or not to judge isn’t the question—how we judge is the question!