I'm continuing my series challenging the sayings of pop-culture Christianity. Today’s topic is...“judgment.” We often hear claims like “Only God can judge me” or “The Bible says not to judge other people.” Usually, even a single snippet of one of these quotes hushes even the most zealous Christian who is attempting to explain that a certain action or lifestyle is sinful. Is the “Thou shalt not judge” card indeed the trump card? I'd like to address both sides of the coin. I’ll affirm a way that we might use these phrases in a manner that is consistent with Scripture and then quickly debunk the common pop-culture misconceptions.  

Correct Usage: While there are several passages typically used to quickly ramble off some scriptural support by those who use these phrases, probably the most notorious is an allusion to Matthew 7. The verse reads:

 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”

I think it is quite possible that Matthew 7:1 is the most misunderstood line in the entire Bible.

I think it is quite possible that Matthew 7:1 is the most misunderstood line in the entire Bible. The point of the first few verses is to demonstrate that the standard the hypocrite holds another person to is the very standard by which they will be judged.

Judged by whom? Society? Others?

No, the verb here is future and passive, implying that a final, ultimate judgment is made by God on the Judgment Day and the hypocrite is found guilty of the very crimes he accuses of others. From this passage, we might conclude:

  • It is not the believer’s job to pass “final” judgment.
  • It is not the believer’s job to embrace an attitude of superiority and pomp in his rebuke of another.
  • It is not the believer’s job to be destructive, and not loving, in his rebuke.
  • It is not the believer’s job to excuse his own faults and not his brother’s faults.

In these ways, the believer must not “judge” another and it is true that, ultimately, only God will have the final judgment of a person (though I’m not sure why that is a comfort for those living a sinful lifestyle).

Pop-Culture Error:  The above is not typically the meaning people who use these types of phrases intend. Usually what is intended is that the believer has no right to call out another person’s sin or that a believer must privatize sin by only being concerned about his own sin, not the affairs of others.

This cannot be what this text is saying for a number of reasons, but I’ll start with this one—if that’s true, Jesus is breaking His own rule! In these very verses He is judging these hypocrites. In the following verses of the same chapter He calls false prophets “ravenous wolves” and fake church leaders “workers of lawlessness.” Jesus clearly points out others’ sin. Should we not follow in His model of ministry?

Jesus clearly points out others’ sin. Should we not follow in His model of ministry?

The believer, likewise, is called to make all sorts of “judgments” about worldly lifestyles and sin. Of course, these must be kept in check according to the spirit and posture that Christ Himself demonstrated and in accordance with these instructions in Matthew 7. With this in mind, there are a number of passages that seem to instruct the believer to “judge.” (And by “judge," I mean discern and gauge actions and lifestyles by the Word of God.) Each of these need to be understood within their own contexts of course, but try reconciling these passages with the typical pop-culture interpretation:

-- 1 Corinthians 5:11-13: “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.'”

--Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

--Titus 3:10-11: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

--2 Thessalonians 3:14-16: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”