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Who Are You To Judge?

Drinking.  Premarital sex.  Abortion.  Homosexuality.  Same-sex marriage.  Christians have so many hang-ups with the behavior of non-Christians, don’t they?  It all seems so judgmental.  Christians have enough problems of their own, so why worry about others?  And even Jesus warned against this.  “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Who are Christians to judge others?

This common objection to Christianity packs some punch.  But why?  First, we’re swimming in a sea of moral relativism that prohibits any moral judgments (that is, if you want to be a consistent moral relativist).  Against this relativistic backdrop, to identify some behavior as morally wrong is itself wrong.  Hopefully you see the self-contradictory nature of this claim, but sadly, many do not as the muddled thinking of relativism blinds its adherents.

Second, tolerance, the one virtue relativists like to apply universally, is incompatible with moral judgments.  Mind you, this is the modern version of tolerance that claims all viewpoints are equally valid and therefore, no one’s moral views should be considered better than another’s (a further self-contradictory claim).  So modern tolerance is intolerant of moral judgments.  If tolerance is good, then judging is bad.

So how should Christians think about judging?  First, we must ask what one means by “judge.”  The dictionary distinguishes several definitions.  To judge can mean to pass legal judgment, like a judge sentencing a criminal at the conclusion of a courtroom trial.  Nothing wrong with this kind of judging. 

To judge can also mean to form an opinion or conclusion about someone or something.  These are assessments or evaluations.  A coach judges the skill level of a player trying to make the team.  A mom judges the nutritional value of food she serves her family.  A plumber judges a clogged sink to fix it.  Such judgments or assessments are made all the time, everyday.  Again, nothing wrong with this kind of judging. 

But Jesus definitely suggests some sort of judging is wrong, so what was He talking about?  Well, if you really want to know, never read a Bible verse.  To determine the meaning of a single verse, you must read the surrounding verses.  Context is king.  When we look at the rest of Matthew 7, we actually discover Jesus doing the very thing most Christians think He has forbidden.

In verse 6, He warns, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine…”  He calls out “false prophets” (v. 15) and says there will come a day when he will say to some, “depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (v. 23).  Ouch, those are harsh moral judgments.  So clearly, not all judging is out-of-bounds for Jesus. 

The context makes clear Jesus is after a particular kind of judgment: 

For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at 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,” and behold, the log is 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 (vv. 2-5).

When Jesus warns “do not judge,” He doesn’t mean we should never assess moral behavior.  Rather, he warns against self-righteous and hypocritical judgments.  When you judge, take the log out of your own eye first.  This is something we Christians need to work on.  But notice that Jesus is not saying it is never right to judge, He is explaining how we are to judge rightly. 

Furthermore, Jesus’ instructions on judging are for individuals, not societies.  He is not arguing against the predominant moral views of any particular culture, insisting we adopt moral neutrality (which is a myth anyway).  His warning does not bar governmental authorities from judging behavior and dishing out punishment.  Jesus is addressing the personal behavior of believers. 

Think about the logical consequences if we prohibit all moral judgments.  We could no longer declare child abuse, rape, injustice, theft, or racism to be wrong.  But these are obvious cases of moral ills.  If you were to experience any one of these, you would cry out for justice.  However, justice assumes a legitimate judgment. 

Indeed, Jesus’ gospel starts with judgment:  “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Jesus points to the reality of our sin and the appropriate punishment—the bad news.  Thankfully, Jesus’ message ends with good news, His promise of mercy and forgiveness.  His just judgment is removed from our heads as “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). 

We cannot point to Jesus as an example of one who did not judge.  Rather, He is an example that moral judgments are appropriate because there is an objective Moral Law given to us by a Law Giver, backed by His justice and love.  He is just because violation of His law results in appropriate punishment.  He is loving because obedience to His law results in human flourishing. 

Comments

The Bible is really just about seeing what you want to see for so many people.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). That is pretty clear. Yet because it suits some people's interests to judge others, they find their way around that. It is one's prerogative to be focused on the opinions and actions of others, but the logs and specks will inherently remain in the eyes of those who do so.
There are as many beliefs within moral relativism as there are within Christianity. No form of moral relativism that I am aware of "prohibits any moral judgments." Those who believe in moral relativism realize that people disagree (& these disagreements become more significant than the agreements) and that moral judgments are based on tradition/culture/practice, making them subjective. Yes, the word "subjective" probably seems threatening to anyone with strong moral beliefs. But the whole understanding of moral relativism in this article proves to be off. Today, moral relativism is used as criticism for others much more than it is professed by anyone. The ancient reaction to moral diversity, which has permeated Western philosophy, was of moral skepticism (there is no moral knowledge) because there wasn't a need to defend moral relativism. It was accepted at face value. Yes, there are diverse beliefs. It wasn't until the Europeans and colonial Americans with their "superior moral values" began exploiting/converting/killing those with beliefs other than their own that the idea of moral relativism came into play.
The most extreme form of moral relativism, normative relativism, is extreme in that it's the only form of relativism that implies people "ought" to do something. That something is to tolerate the behavior of others even when it runs counter to personal moral standards. But if one's personal moral standards include being intolerant, then there is contradiction with this one strand of moral relativism, and it has been criticized for that. Then again, it's what people want to see in the Bible that makes them feel intolerance is acceptable. Being intolerant of your neighbor with different beliefs and loving your neighbor as yourself is contradictory as well.
We all know that even courtroom judges get it wrong sometimes. People have been sent to years of prison and even death for crimes they were not guilty of. Thus, no human can accurately judge someone or something, for there are mysteries behind all of it. The other definition of judge being to "make a conclusion" about someone promotes stereotypes and allows people to skim the surface of another human and make some assessment about their being, without knowing their whole story. "To determine the meaning of a single verse, you must read the surrounding verses." To determine the meaning of a single person, you must know their life story, their innermost fears, desires, intentions... Reading a Bible is much more straightforward than reading a person, and even a Bible is difficult to decipher without multiple meanings.
Jesus laid out rules for people based on the cultural and historical framework he was in. If Jesus is God, then he wouldn't have to worry about the verse "For in the way you judge, you will be judged..." But we should be. Any judgment is "self-righteous and hypocritical;" even this deduction, because I have unfairly judged others and I have felt that my way was the right way. And I was negatively moved by this article enough to write this response, so it is impossible to separate ourselves from our beliefs. The word hypocrisy was derived from this Greek: hupo ‘under’ + krinein ‘decide, judge.’ Under judgment. Hypocrisy.
This article urges to judge individuals, "not societies." I think it should be the other way around. Shouldn't we question societal norms and governmental decisions--both of which are subjective and strongly play into the interests of the corporate world? In this way, intolerance becomes very important. Intolerance towards human and environmental degradation, for those are two things of which we can be certain: we are human and we only have one planet.
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). Let us lead our lives in ways that let us focus on bettering ourselves and those around us. Let us build each other and our societies up to make this life more positive, respectful, and enjoyable. Since when should good news be delivered with such a harsh and demeaning tone?

Lauren,

You seem to be talking around the point of this article because it sounds offensive to you in some way. Do you disagree that its possible to speak truth in love? There is a good way to tell someone they have cancer and there are many bad ways. A cancer patient is more likely to respond well and take appropriate action when the truth is communicated in a loving way. I think Brett is addressing the WHAT of judging objective truth claims more than the HOW in this article. Christians have failed many times by sharing moral laws in a harsh way. The main point I got from this article is that Jesus was intolerant of that which goes against Father God's moral law, and in fact it is an amazing, unbelievably good thing for us considering the whole story of redemption.

If you truly believe it is impossible to know objective truth ("there is mystery behind all of it") then it seems to me you have a hopeless and chaotic world view. I don't have ALL the answers but I believe we CAN know objective truth by humbly seeking it out (v7 knock and the door shall be opened to you). Whenever I'm on the receiving end of correction, I think of Proverbs 10:17 "Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray". If you are having a hard time accepting that there is a moral law at all, I would encourage you to seek out objective truth claims through intentional biblical study and I think you'll be surprised that many of the same moral issues Jewish/Gentile cultures of 2,000+ years ago are still around today.

Dave

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We really don't have the right to judge other people. Each of us has flaws and sins. - Paul Perito MD

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About
Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason. He is a huge fan of his wife and 5 kids, surfing the Point in Newport Beach, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, in that order.