“Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” – James 4:11-12.
We have many opportunities to judge others. When we are asked to serve on a jury, we are expected to judge the guilt or innocence of the person who is on trial. Over the last year, we were asked to judge which presidential candidate will do the best job over the next four years. But our ability to judge extends far beyond legal or civic matters. We judge other people’s actions and behaviors as well.
Jesus knew humans would struggle with judging. He issued a warning in Matthew: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5).
This verse does not mean that we should never make judgments. We make judgments every day. We judge between right and wrong, dangerous choices from safe ones, to name two. Jesus is cautioning us to not to be a hypocrite. He is telling us to take the log out of our own eye so that we can help the other person. In other words, we shouldn’t be critical of someone when we have things in our own lives that need to be corrected.
This is not the only verse in the Bible about judging others. Don’t judge anyone by your human limitations. Only God’s judgments are flawless (John 8:15-16). Don’t be quick to condemn someone else’s actions. God is patient, but He doesn’t overlook anyone’s disobedience, especially our own (Romans 2:1-5). Don’t attack each other. Try to be a good example so others won’t copy our bad behavior (Romans 14:13). Don’t speak evil about others. Are we qualified to perfectly judge someone else? (James 4:11-12).
It is clear that we are not to judge others, but it is equally clear that we cannot or should not ignore sin. Not ignoring sin sometimes requires us to judge others, but in a Biblical way. I know that initially sounds confusing. It is important to understand the difference between the judging mentioned in Matthew 7:2-5 and the righteous kind of judgment that comes with discernment. John 7:24 says, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” This means that we should not judge on the basis of insufficient, superficial information. Outward appearance is usually deceptive and first impressions are often inaccurate. “Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light.” (1 Timothy 5:24,25). The Bible forbids us from judging on the basis of appearance, personal opinions or unsubstantiated suspicions.
- When you size others up, do you tend to write them off (condemn them) or walk away (avoid their problems)? Why do you think you respond the way you do?
- Talk about a time when your first impression of a person was wrong. How did what you later learned about the person change your relationship with him or her?
- Have you been sized up recently but refused to listen and instead wrote the person off as being judgmental? If so, what is one thing you can do this week to listen to the feedback you’ve received and begin to make changes?