WHAT ABOUT JUDGING?

Raymond Elliott

Our Lord Jesus Christ instructs us in this important matter as recorded in Matthew 7:1, 2: “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.” This passage of scripture is often referred to by many who endeavor to prove that we should never condemn the actions of others. Usually this is the case when teaching is being done against doctrinal error and/or immoral living. A person may be guilty of fornication and efforts are made to correct such sin in a person’s life and the response is generally something like this, “You ought not to be judging your fellowman.” Especially is this true in our pluralistic society in which we presently live. Relatively to the varied doctrines of different denominations many religious leaders/authors will teach that we should let everyone alone in what they teach and practice in the field of religion. It is sad to note that this liberal attitude has even permeated the church of our Lord. One preacher in a large metropolitan church prayed to God following his sermon on worship in song and asked God to forgive us of our being so critical and judgmental of those churches that use instrumental music in their worship to God. Often such reasoning is based on what Jesus said in the passage that we are now discussing. But, is this really what Jesus was saying?

One rule of biblical interpretation is to understand a passage of scripture in the light of its context. If you will continue to read verses 3-5 in chapter 7 you will note that Jesus is actually condemning rash, unfair, unjust, unkind and incorrect judging. Here is a brother with a beam (a very large object) in his eye who is condemning a brother who has a mote (a speck) in his eye. It is true that we often prejudge our brother out of prejudice and without a thorough investigation. This is the kind of judging that is condemned by Jesus.

But look further in chapter seven and Jesus actually teaches us to “Beware of false prophets…” (v.15). How can we judge whether or not a man is a false prophet? Jesus answers, “You will know them by their fruits…” (7:16, 20). This is accomplished by evaluating a person’s teaching and work by the Holy Scriptures (7:21). This is what the people of Berea did when “…they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). And we can observe the evil works (fruits) brought about because of their labors of those men who teach false doctrines. Such observation, investigation and correction would not be considered judging that the Lord condemns but the type that would be scriptural and right.

Jesus also taught us, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Thus we find a directive from the Lord to judge but the judging is to be according to righteous judgment. So the Lord does not prohibit all judging, just the unkind and unfair type. The apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian brethren not to have fellowship with evil men; however, he was not speaking of such persons in the world but rather certain members of the church who were living in an ungodly manner (I Corinthians 5:9-11). Then he said, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside” (5:12)? This clearly teaches that the church could and should do some judging of character. Paul further instructed the Corinthians to “put away from yourselves the evil person”, that is, the brother who had his father’s wife (5:1; 13). The apostle Paul also wrote in II Thessalonians 3:6, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” As you can plainly see, there are times when some judging of another’s character has to be done.

While the Lord condemns a harsh and unfair judging of others, He nevertheless requires that a man’s life and teaching to be evaluated by the divine standard, the Word of God.