Since the Word of God is consistent in its teaching (John 10:35) and stands forever (Isaiah 40:8; Psalm 119:160; and 1 Peter 1:25), the instruction to both judge and not to judge is not a contradiction. Therefore, it is vital to understand the difference between the types of judgment that are appropriate and the types that are inappropriate. The Bible draws a distinction between righteous judgment and situations in which judgment is to be avoided. The Bible is clear in its instruction for Christians both to judge righteously and to abstain from judgment. How can we reconcile the difference? The answer is that not all judgment is the same. Reading closely in the Bible, we find that judgment requires context in order to determine if it is appropriate behavior.
Let us first examine situations in which judgment is inappropriate. In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus Christ gives us a simple and concise instruction, “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.” Here, the plain statement to “judge not” is quite clear. We are not to pass judgment on others. However, Jesus doesn’t stop with that instruction, but provides a reason for not judging. It is for our own good that we do not judge others, so that we might “not be judged.” Reading further, we learn that it is really unfair judgment or condemnation that should not be performed. The judgment that we want to avoid for ourselves is that which is erroneous, overly harsh, unforgiving, and condemnatory.
The instruction to refrain from judgment – of the type that is unfair – is an instruction to be merciful. Jesus Christ emphasizes this point when making a similar statement in Luke 6:36-37, where we read, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” When we abstain from making judgments about others, we practice merciful behavior. Since our understanding of others is inherently imperfect and incomplete, our judgments are bound to be flawed. A flawed judgment with a lack of empathy is not the way we wish to be judged ourselves when we appear before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. This is the practice of forgiveness.
Even Jesus Christ was careful about when he judged. In John 3:17 we read that God the Father did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. This too is an example of mercy. Jesus knew that the purpose of His appearance on Earth was to teach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, providing an opportunity for others to receive the gift of forgiveness. While He knew that all sinned, He abstained from condemning sinners at that point because they did not yet have the understanding of the truth.
He also was careful about what was in his jurisdiction of judgment. When asked to divide an inheritance between two brothers, He refused because it was not His position to make such judgment. Luke 12:14 states: “But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’”
In this context, please note our statements in our free booklet, “Should You Fight in War?”, specifically addressing the biblical reasons and principles enjoining us not to serve on a jury:
“A true Christian is a stranger, alien and exile (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13) while here on earth; an ambassador for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20); and a representative of God’s Kingdom. As such, and in being a light to the world by proper conduct (Matthew 5:14-16), a true Christian does not take part in this world’s governmental or political affairs, as presently, it is not God who rules this earth, but Satan the devil (Revelation 2:13; Luke 4:5-6). Christians are challenged to come out of the governmental and political systems of this world. Christ, knowing that God’s Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), refused to judge a civil matter when He was asked to do so (Luke 12:14). Paul, likewise, prohibited judging those ‘who are outside’ the church (1 Corinthians 5:12).
“Further, man’s judgments are concerned with the letter of the law. In contrast, God looks on one’s heart, and is concerned with the spirit and intent of the law. Man’s laws usually do not take into account repentance, forgiveness of sins, and other spiritual factors in the way that God does (Acts 2:38). Jesus, in looking at the heart of the accused, refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Jesus taught that true Christians must be willing to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15).
“Another principle against participation in jury duty is that true Christians are to learn to judge according to the law of God as seasoned by judgment, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23). They are also to render ‘righteous’ judgment (John 7:24). Presenting selective evidence, where facts may be suppressed for technical legal reasons as permitted in the courts, may not necessarily lead to Godly justice, mercy and truth, and to the rendering of a righteous judgment.”
Even though the example and instruction of Jesus teaches us to be merciful and refrain from judgment in many kinds of situations, and never to condemn another human being, we also find examples in the Bible where Jesus judged others quite strongly. Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple, and made vehement statements about the hypocritical teachings, motives and conduct of the scribes and Pharisees. So, what is the difference between this judgment that Jesus provides by example, and that which He rejects?
A significant difference relates to the kind of judgment made. The judgment that Jesus Christ committed was inspired by God; it was the kind that was fair and righteous, being in harmony with the perfect judgment of God the Father (John 5:30, John 8:16). As mentioned, John 7:24 clarifies the difference between right and wrong judgment: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” This teaching is absolutely consistent with the previous claims about judgment, which is to be avoided. When relying on appearances or hearsay, we are led to make unfair condemnatory judgments, based on an imperfect understanding.
We must never condemn others, but we can make righteous judgments about situations and conduct, analyzing and evaluating whether a certain behavior is in harmony with God’s Way of Life. To give a most recent example, the horrendous mass murder in a theater in Colorado should be judged as evil and must be condemned. However, we must refrain from condemning the murderer—this is not our task, but God’s. As it has been stated so many times before: We are to condemn the sin and sinful conduct, but not the sinner.
However, when we do make judgments, they must be righteous. Applying the same concept, if we judge righteously, we too will be judged by that righteous measure; with mercy, if we are merciful, with empathy, if we are empathetic, and with fairness, if we are fair.
This is not to say that when armed with an understanding of true Godly righteousness, we have an unconditional license to judge others. A very important element of judging righteously involves self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:31), so that we too do not become hypocritical. As Jesus instructs us in Luke 6:41-42, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” This reminds us that even righteous judgment requires the correct source of motivation.
With an attitude of humility and an understanding of God’s righteous truth, we are also to help each other who are converted Christians today. 1 Peter 4:17 informs us that “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Since it is true that God is evaluating the behavior of a converted Christian right now, we need all the help we can get in correcting our paths when we may go astray. Because of this, converted Christians have a special responsibility to each other to help each other out.
Paul, in writing words of guidance to Timothy, provided clear direction to “not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Therefore, judgment made for the purpose of helping others advance and grow in their conversion is important. However, it is also important that any such judgment be made with humility, seeking the glory of God rather than our own.
Even though it is appropriate for us to use righteous judgment for the purpose of helping each other to grow, it is not appropriate to make judgments of condemnation regarding others, including non-believers. As mentioned above, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 states, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges…” The time will eventually come when the entire world will be judged by Jesus Christ, but it is not the responsibility of Christians today to judge or condemn others, including those who are not yet converted, condemning their behavior. “For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9).
When to judge the behavior of others and when not to judge others can be a difficult matter to discern. However, understanding the nature of righteous judgment and how it is best applied will guide the converted Christian in that activity.
Lead Writers: Eric Rank and Norbert Link