Judge Not? Is That Right?
By Jack Kinsella
Generally speaking, when a carnal Christian is trying to justify behavior he knows is outside the will of God, he’ll quote the words of Jesus: ”Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1)
Later, in John, we find Jesus seemingly contradicting Himself. “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
Then Paul comes along and tells us to judge those that are without God and to put away from ourselves that wicked person (1st Corinthians 5:13).
But then turns around and writes; “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (1st Corinthians 6:5)
James writes, “There is one Lawgiver, Who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4:12)
Are you confused yet? I thought the Bible didn’t contain any contradictions, yet here are four. Do we judge not? Or do we judge the wicked? Are we to convene a panel of judges? Or are we usurping God’s authority?
It would appear that whatever position you want to take on the issue of judgmentalism, there is a Scripture one can use to back it up. But what if all a person wanted was the honest answer to the question, rather than to win a debate or excuse bad behavior?
What IS our responsibility as believers when it comes to judging the behavior of others?
On one end of the spectrum are the Genesis 4:9 Christians (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”); on the other the 2nd Corinthians 6:17 Christians (“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate”).
In the middle, Hebrews 10:30: “For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.”
Judgment is a very broad term; although it is derived from the word ‘justice’ it also includes everything from how to drive a car safely to what kind of tie goes best with your shirt.
There is no contradiction in the Scripture — there is only context. Remove the context and one can ‘prove’ pretty much anything they want to.
A proof text without context is a pretext.
The contradiction isn’t in Scripture, it is in the interpretation of the word ‘judge’ in the judicial sense of the word in every case, rather than in context. In some cases, it means judge in the sense of discernment, like judging when the best time is to try and get through rush hour traffic.
Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged” is the whole verse, but it is not the whole story. In Luke’s synoptic account, (6:37) Jesus says, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”
The Gospel is a series of continuing revelations direct from God to one of the most religiously judgmental societies of antiquity. Jesus is teaching doctrine here — the point is not judgment, but forgiveness to a people that heretofore knew only of atonement.
(“Atonement” means ‘to make restitution’. “Forgiveness” means no restitution is necessary.) You see what I mean about context being everything?
Paul’s admonition about putting away a wicked person is made in the context of spies inside a church during the days of Nero. It is judgment in the sense of smart thinking, not judicial conduct.
Paul’s reference to one judging among his brethren (1st Cor 6:5) is in the judicial sense, but in the context of two Christians not going before a pagan judge to decide a civil dispute.
In John 7:24, Jesus IS speaking of judging in the judicial sense when He tells His followers, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He is admonishing against blind justice, or put another way, rendering judgment without considering the context.
I call it the “Jimmy Swaggart Syndrome.” Jimmy Swaggart served the Lord for decades and decades. He used his gifts to the glory of the Lord instead of following his cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and country singer Gene Watson into secular show biz.
But Jimmy Swaggart isn’t judged by us according to his decades of service to the Lord, the sacrifices he made along the way, the thousands he led to Christ, his Bible ministries or his missionary work.
Instead, Jimmy Swaggart is remembered as the caricature sobbing “I have sinned,” and judged by his Christian brothers and sisters according to the worst moment is his life.
I’ve even seen it as a Hallowe’en mask.
Christian soldiers are just about the only army I know of that, when he sees a wounded comrade fall, immediately turns away from the enemy and bayonets his wounded.
While that is the sense of judgment most often exercised by well-meaning but legalistic Christians, it is the ONLY sense of judgment absent from Scripture. The one area of judgement expressly forbidden to believers is another believer’s heart. So of course, that is the first place we rush to judge.
One hears such comments all the time — “I don’t think that person’s heart is right before God,” or “he needs to get his heart right” and so on. THAT is where we like to pass judgment. Particularly if it is judgment against a struggle we don’t personally share.
You never hear a fat person condemn gluttony; you don’t hear smokers condemn smoking; you don’t hear drinkers condemning drinking…but drinkers condemn smokers, smokers condemn gluttons, gluttons condemn smokers…
It has been my experience that fat smokers who also drink are generally the most agreeable Christians of all. They also seem to have the best grasp of the concept of grace and are the least judgmental.
An expert swimmer in calm pool has little regard for the lifebuoy ring on the wall. A drowning man in a raging sea is profoundly grateful for his lifebuoy ring. Grace is most greatly appreciated by those who need the most of it to get through their day.
When we render judgment against a brother, we are basing that judgment on a single slice out of that person’s entire life. Think about the worst moment you’ve ever had in your Christian walk.
Recall the most profound and painful failure you’ve experienced since coming to Christ. Now imagine your entire Christian life being judged according to that particular moment.
That’s what we Christians do when we attempt to judge the heart of another. We’re judging that person’s entire life according to the context of a tiny part of their entire lives, as if God was all done with them and therefore, we should be, too.
God isn’t done with you. Wherever you are in our walk with God at any given moment, that’s not where you are going to be later on. You are not marching in place — time doesn’t stop until the body is separated from the soul and spirit at death.
And so neither does our walk with the Lord. As we walk, we change. Our judgments change. Our opinions change. Our worldview changes. NONE of this happens at the moment of salvation.
At the moment of salvation, your spirit is quickened (made alive) and you were transformed into a new creation of God. Spiritually, you are no longer Gentile or Jew, but are now and forever a Christian.
But spiritually speaking, you came to Christ as dumb as a bag o’ hammers and susceptible to almost every possible wind of doctrine.
If your heart were judged by your fellow Christians right then, you’d be judged differently than you would be today. And it would be a different judgement if rendered twenty years from today.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 tells us, “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”
It is only at the day of one’s death that one loses the ability to continue to be conformed to the image of Christ.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
My counsel would be to be absolutely sure you know Who it is you are passing judgment on. Because that’s the standard He will use when its your turn.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on August 19, 2009.