“Only God can judge me!”
That’s what the license tag said on the car parked in front of me. It's not an uncommon thing to hear in the world today. It’s definitely a prevailing attitude and mindset among many. It feels wrong to judge people. And, we don't want other people judging us. So, we tells us not to judge us, and we “say” that we don’t judge people.
But that is a foolish thing to say. Humans make judgments all the time. We judge apples and bananas at the store, and we judge the actions and attitudes of others. It's human nature. We ought not deny that we do it.
But statements like, “Only God can judge me,” reveal two things. First, it reveals an awareness that we know our actions are wrong and sinful. When we do what is right, moral, and upright, we feel no need to justify or defend ourselves. It's only when we know we’re doing wrong or living in sin that we rush to our own protection with trump-card statements like, “Only God can judge me.”
But, a second thing it reveals is either a serious ignorance, or a careless lack of concern for the Bible and what God actually says on the subject of judging.
But first, what is Judging?
-Judge, judging, and judgment are related terms, and speak to similar, yet slightly different actions.
To Judge (verb form): To form an opinion through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.
In the noun form, Judge means, “One who gives an authoritative opinion.”
-So, at the heart of the issue, judging and judgment refer to the forming of a carefully constructed opinion based on the facts.
Judging is part of Bearing God’s Image.
-In the creation story of Genesis 1-2, we find that God not only creates mankind, but He does so in His image. We call this the imago Dei (image of God). Mankind is the only creation in God’s creation that bears God’s image, placing man and woman as the pinnacle of God’s creative act.
Genesis 1 provides us with a broad, sweeping view of God’s creative acts, but in Genesis 2, we find a more intimate, detailed description of God’s creation of man. It’s almost like the writer stops the tape after chapter 1, rewinds a bit, and says, “pay special attention to this part!”
Anyhow, in Genesis 2, we find a few different judgments taking place. First, we find Adam judging the animals in search of a suitable mate. As they parade by, he judges them all unsuitable. So, God makes the man a suitable helpmate, whom Adam names, Eve.
But, we also find a second episode of judgment. God commands Adam and Eve to eat of any tree in the Garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The implication of this command is that the man and the woman had the ability to judge the various trees and plants in light of God’s command. They were to evaluate/judge the fruit, and act accordingly.
-So, to be human, to bear God’s image, is to be a creature of judges.
God Instructs us to Judge Ourselves and Judge Each Other.
-Knowing that judging is part of being created in God’s image, it should come as no surprise that God commands His people to participate in judging in various ways.
In many of the New Testament letters, we find instructions regarding judgments.
We are to judge ourselves to see if we are in the faith. (2 Cor. 13:5)
And, in what is probably one of the most overlooked and ignored passages in the Bible, Paul says we are to judge one another in the Church. In other words, Christians, judge each other!
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.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
Here’s the context: The Corinthian Church was tolerating some gross sin (1 Cor. 5:1). Tolerating in that everyone knew about it, and no one was doing anything about it (who am to judge, right?) Paul says, Church, don’t you know that tolerating sin will ruin the whole Church? (v. 6).
So, what is Paul’s instruction? Judge the man. Pronounce judgment upon him and excommunicate him from the Church! Why, because while he claims to be a Christian, his actions and gross sins are showing that he isn’t. So, pass judgment on the man and kick him out!
We find Jesus giving the same kind of instruction in Matthew 18:15-20. Judgment among Christians is a part of the Christian life.
And in Hebrews 3:12, we find the writer instructing us to guard (judge) each other's hearts, ensuring that sin doesn’t lead us astray.
But we ought to note the aim in each of these passages. Never does Jesus or Paul instruct us to judge and condemn and leave it there. Both our Lord, and the Apostle command judgment with the goal of repentance and restoration. That’s always the goal of godly judgment.
Christians are not to be finger pointing people. We are to be corrective and restorative people (Gal. 6:1).
But, but….what about Matthew 7:1-2
In these verses, Jesus says, “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.”
This is the verse that so many often quote when it comes to judging others. The first part, at least… “Judge not, that you be not judged.” The problem is that when we read that statement as an absolute prohibition against all judgment, we get ourselves into a bad spot. Because, if that is what Jesus means—"don’t judge anyone, ever"— then it immediately comes into conflict with other texts of the Bible, like 1 Cor 5:12-13.
But thankfully, Jesus and Paul are not contradicting each other! When we employ our Bible study tools, we come to see that they are saying the same thing! Judge each other rightly!
In context, we see that Jesus is not handing down an absolute ban on judging. Rather, He is specifically speaking about our own personal righteousness. Jon Bloom, writer for Desiring God, writes, “Actually, when Jesus says, “Judge not,” He’s not really issuing a prohibition on judging others; He’s issuing a serious warning to take great care how we judge others.”
-This is clear from the rest of Jesus’ teaching in that passage where He says, “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.”
Bloom goes on to say, “So, Jesus is placing, as it were, a neon-red-blinking sign over others that tells us, “Caution: judge at your own risk.” It is meant to give us serious pause and examine ourselves before saying anything. Our fallen nature is profoundly selfish and proud and often hypocritical, judging ourselves indulgently and others severely. We are quick to strain gnats and swallow camels (Matthew 23:24), quick to take tweezers to another’s eye when we need a forklift for our own. It is better to “judge not” than to judge like this, since we will be judged in the same way we judge others.”
So, understood properly, we see that Jesus is not only not banning judging, but actually instructing on how to properly go about the action itself!
What Sorts of things are We to Judge?
The Bible never encourages us to be petty when it comes to judging. Rather, we are encourage and commanded to look after one another when it comes to things like...
Sin (Mt. 18; 1 Cor. 5; Heb 3);
Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5);
Whether or not we are walking in holiness (Eph. 5);
The health of our marriages and families (Eph. 5-6);
Growth in Christ-likeness (1 Thess. 4);
Getting along with one another (Phil. 4);
Racism and prejudice (Rm. 9-11);
Living together in harmony (Rm. 15; Gal. 6);
False teaching (2 Cor; Gal; Titus; 2 Pt);
Being domineering and abusive (3 John);
The New Testament's commands to judge are always focused in spiritual health and obedience to Jesus.
The true Church is the Highest Court of All.
A final passage that shows that we are to judge comes in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 where Paul says that Christians have no need of secular courts, being that we have one another.
He writes, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!”
Here is Paul’s point: Church, you have the wisdom of God; you are a spiritual people, filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore, as people of the Word, and people of the Spirit, you are more equipped than secular courts—who have neither Word nor Spirit—to properly judge the matters of this life.
How incredible is this teaching!? Paul is saying that true Christians are expert judges who will even judge the angels in the future.
How does Paul arrive at this Instruction?
-Before Paul ever gets into explaining 1 Corinthians 6, he’s already laid a lot of groundwork in the first 5 chapters of the letter.
In 1:18-31, he explains how Jesus makes us holy, useful, and wise.
In chapter 2, Paul explains what true wisdom is: Christ Jesus crucified and raised! There is not other wisdom more true, more solid, or more life-giving than this.
In chapter 3, Paul compares the silly wisdom of the world (which the world uses for its own judgment) to the incorruptible wisdom of Jesus, instructing the church to never rely on the world, but rather, we are to build our lives around the wisdom of Jesus.
In chapter 4, Paul reminds us that he is an apostle of God, speaking with the authority of God Himself. What he is saying is not only right, it is eternally consequential…so listen up!
And then, in chapter 5, he lays some specific application on the Corinthian Church: You guys have what you need to make right judgments, and you aren't! So get busy judging!
Application: Judge unto Righteousness.
So, Christian, we have no right to say, “It’s not my place to judge” when it comes to others in the Church. In fact, we have clear biblical instruction to do just that. Our goal is not to put down or publicly shame. Rather, our goal is to hold ourselves to the standards of righteousness, and hold one another to those same standards.
Our own personal feelings and preferences are never to be the standards of our judgment. Jesus and Paul instruct us to judge each other in righteousness.
If we’re honest, we often avoid judging each other because we don’t want others to judge us.
But, this misunderstands the sanctification and discipleship process. God intends that we grow and change (Heb. 5), and He uses the watch-care and encouragement of other Christians for good in our lives.
And so, to fail to biblically judge others, or the failure to submit to the judgment of others is to fail the discipling process God has given to us.
When we avoid the hard work of judging, we don’t grow.
We judge each other according to God’s Word, which reveals that God Himself is the true Judge.
So, let’s be honest: The Bible calls us to judge one another.
But, we should do so carefully
We first judge ourselves. Are we walking in righteousness?
We should also make sure our minds have been trained and disciplined by the Word of God.
We must watch after one another, judging with the good of others guiding our hearts and minds.