I think the most well know passage of Scripture these days is no longer the “For God so loved the world…” of John 3:16, but the “Judge not, least you be judged” of Matthew 7:1. When are Christians to judge and when are they to refrain? This is a difficult question, but I think the answer comes in the type of judgment that Christians are to avoid. There are primarily two ways of judgment that are condemned in Scripture. Not only are they condemned, but they seem to be presented as the antithesis of grace and forgiveness.
Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 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? 4 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? 5 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.”
Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
1. Christians are not to judge others self-righteously. We are not to look down upon anyone. Self-righteous judgment comes when we look at the acts or lifestyles of others and proceed in those relationships with the settled belief that if we were in their shoes we would make better decisions. This is self-righteous because the person who judges in such a way is coming to the conclusion that there is something inherent within them that is more righteous than another thus allowing them to make the right decision while the other person has made the wrong decision. The log in this person’s eye of Matthew 7 is the self-righteous attitude. This log makes them unable to come to the aid of anyone since they lack understanding, sympathy, forgiveness, and grace. The self-righteous person fails to see that if they have made the right choices, these choices come only by means of the grace of God. For example, I cannot self-righteously judge someone who has made the decision to get an abortion. I can judge the act as sin based upon a deferred judgment taken from God’s revelation, but I cannot in any way say to myself that if I were that person, having faced the same circumstances, having the same upbringing, and having the same genetic inclinations, that I would make a different decision. In fact, I can say with much assurance that unless God were to intervene, I would make the exact same choices because I am prone, just as they, to go astray. Since we share the same dilemma—a sinful nature—I can only be saddened by their choice. It does not make the choice right, but it does keep me from committing a greater sin on self-righteousness.
2. We are not to judge in areas that are gray. Paul, in Romans 14, exhorts the believers not to pass judgment on the opinions of others. The word for opinions is interesting. It is dialogismos. This word is used in other contexts to speak of the reasoning of others, sometimes good or bad. The word itself contains no inherent connotations of whether the reasoning is sound or unsound. In this context, it is best translated “opinions.” Paul goes on to speak about the opinions as disputes that people have over issues that we might call gray. It would seem that there was the practice among Christians to judge others for doing things that they believed to be wrong, but were not clearly said to be so in Scripture. These matters have historically been referred to as the Adiaphora, “the things indifferent.” Many times (more than we would like to admit), we place ourselves in the judgment seat of God and deem to be right or wrong about things which He has not spoken. These disputable or indifferent issues take all kinds of shapes. What is the style of worship? Do you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? What type of car do you drive? Do you go to the movies? Do you do topical sermons or expositional? These are all matters that you may have your opinions on, but about which we are not to judge others. Why? Because we cannot sit in the seat of God. As Paul says, “Who are you to pass judgment upon another. By his own Master he stands or falls.” In other words, “Who do you think you are judging things to be right or wrong when God has not even done so? Do you think you can take God’s place and pick up where he left off?” This kind of “judgment of the gaps” that we see so often is wrong.
These are the two primary types of judgment that are condemned in Scripture. We dare not say that you and I can’t or shouldn’t agree with Scripture judging things to be right or wrong. So many people are misinterpreting the “judge not…” in such a way. Let’s just be careful not to judge self-righteously or in gray areas. If we follow both of these, I believe that we will set an example of grace and forgiveness to a confused culture that has lost its way.