Judgement has been a much debated issue among Christians. There are many well known Biblical verses which speak negatively of judging others and these are often used to stifle Christian input on issues. The dilemma is that it seems impossible for anyone, Christian or not, to go through life without making judgements and almost all judgements we make, whether negative or positive concern the actions of others.
In reality, if we made no judgements at all, how do we tell our sons and daughters that it’s bad to steal? If we discipline them should they persist in their bad behaviour, we’ve actually taken judgement to the next level with the imposition of punishments as a result of judgement against our own kids.
We routinely take judgement beyond our kids also. Do any of us hesitate to be judgemental concerning the Nazi, Communist, or Fascist parties that turned our last century into such a bloodbath? Most of us would likely think it wrong not to be judgemental in cases like these because without proper condemnation, the atrocities committed by those parties could more easily happen again. We should stop short of condemning any one person to eternal hell because that amounts to taking the judgement seat of God, but the condemnation of the atrocities themselves still stands as a case of good, sensible judgement.
The act of judgement, it seems, is a natural and necessary part of life. In truth, whenever a person is accused of being judgemental, it actually means the person making that accusation has himself made a judgement about his fellow man’s judgementalism. It begets a very ironic question, how do we differentiate between judgemental and non-judgemental positions without using judgement ourselves? We can’t.
What seems to get overlooked many times is the fact that despite the well known Biblical verses against it, judgement remains a very Biblical practice. But like nearly everything else in the Bible, from Old Testament sacrifices to New Testament prayers, judgement can be done either wrongly or rightly.
During a discussion on Old Testament law and the Sabbath Day Jesus Christ actually gave instructions on right and wrong judgement in John 7:23-24, telling his detractors to judge not by appearance but to judge righteous judgement. In a discussion with a Pharisee, Christ complimented the man in Luke 7:43 telling him that he had judged correctly.
In Matthew 18:15-17, we are given very specific instructions on how deal with judgements we’ve made against others. So specific in fact, that we’re told how to escalate our accusations against others if they don’t immediately correct their behavior. Initially, we’re told to deal with the person being accused on a one to one basis. If the person will not listen, then we’re to try again with one or two others at our side serving as witnesses. If there is still no change, we’re told to take the matter before the entire Church. In light of this passage, it could be said that most Christians are actually not being judgemental enough because in almost no Churches are an individual’s sins being broadcast for the entire congregation to know.
Part of the problem with our misunderstanding of judgement is that it is often associated with outright condemnation. It can get more complicated when you do word studies in the original, old world language of the Bible. Judgement can sometimes include sentencing someone as a judge would do, and sometimes it can mean making a simple distinction between right and wrong. As Christians we know that God is the judge of all men so we are clearly not to take judgement to the point of condemnation. From Scripture however, we know that some judgements are allowed because Christ compliments a Pharisee on correct judgement and gives instructions on judgment in the book of Matthew. Judgement can wrongful then, but not always. It can also be rightful.
It pays to remember though there are still lots of wrong ways to do one right thing. Just because we stop short of telling a person they’re going to hell doesn’t mean we’re correct in the way we judge. It is very easy to stop short of outright condemnation but still impose great guilt on a person anyway, along with an impending sense of condemnation. This sense of condemnation may lead the person to a sense of hopelessness if he cannot control the particular sin. The hopelessness may then lead the person even further from God, to a point from which he may never return. We could inadvertently made ourselves responsible for that person’s condemnation even though we stop short of pronouncing sentence. Judgement becomes a very dicey thing, no matter how we approach it, or how good our intentions may be. This is likely why there is more Scripture speaking negatively about judgement than there is speaking positively about it. The chances of us making a mess of it are just too high which may be why we were forewarned by Christ that we would be judged ourselves with the same severity by which we judged others.
In a fallen world where we are constantly bombarded with choices between right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and sin, judgment becomes a necessary thing in our daily life. If our judgement must involve others, we have strong admonitions about the severity of our judgement and clear instructions from Jesus Christ on how to proceed. None of this means we have to pursue opportunities to judge others though. We need to examine our own consciences carefully and ask ourselves if our judgement on others doesn’t end up serving as a mere distraction from our own sins. For the most part, judgement is to remain a thing that we use to gauge our own behavior by, rather than the behavior of others. In rare occasions when our judgement does involve others, we are to tread very lightly and with great caution, always recalling a favorite verse from Paul in 1st Thessalonians 4:11, where we are told to make it our own ambition to lead a quiet life and (rather bluntly even for Paul) to mind our own business.