byFaith | 4.27.15
By Alan Dowd
intriguing that the only wrong behavior nowadays seems to be judging something
to be wrong. “Don’t judge me” is one of the more common phrases spoken and
heard in our culture. It even has its own text-messaging shorthand: DJM. Some
people text DJM because, deep down, they know what they did was wrong and don’t
want to deal with the consequences. But others text DJM because, they are quick
to remind us, the Bible says, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”
Bible does indeed say that, but before we explore the fullness of those words,
let’s be honest. Most of us make judgments all the time: Should I go to church?
If so, where should I go to church? Should I be friends with that person? Should
I let my son watch that movie? Should I watch it? Should my daughter date that
boy? Should I eat a burger and fries or a salad? Should I hire this person to
watch my kids or fix my car or care for my lawn or handle my retirement? Should
I vote for this candidate or that one? Should I give that employee a raise? Is
this article worth my time?
these questions lead to judgments—judgments about people, values, actions,
consequences, behavior. In fact, we constantly judge behavior to be wrong,
right, good, bad, helpful, destructive or constructive. And thank goodness we
do. Judgment, when applied appropriately, is like a guardrail or a safety net
protecting us from danger—whether physical or spiritual.
sure, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the
same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it
will be measured to you.” But this passage, as with all of scripture, must be considered
in context and placed alongside the rest of God’s word, lest it become a
is that scripture is full of references to the need for, and benefits of, sound
judgment. This includes judgment about good and bad behavior—and even good and
bad people. As a matter of fact, in the very same chapter where we find that
oft-quoted “judge not” admonishment, Jesus invites his followers to use their judgment to be on
the lookout for false prophets. “By their fruit you will recognize them,”
he explains. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Deciding between bad and good presupposes judgment.
John 7, Jesus adds, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge
correctly.” In other words, there are wrong and right kinds of judgment. We
can—and should—“love the sinner, hate the sin.” But again, doing so presupposes
judgment about the sin. In fact, just using the word “sin” presupposes
judgement about right and wrong.
me knowledge and good judgment,” Psalm 119 petitions the Lord. Proverbs 13
tells us, “Good judgment wins favor.” And Proverbs 27 declares, “As
iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
we sharpen each other? It’s not by constantly affirming each other or showering
each other with unending praise—though there’s certainly a place for
encouragement among friends. Rather, we sharpen each other by pulling, pushing
and prodding each other back onto the right path. Again, that presupposes
judgment about where the right path is.
calls on us to “act justly” and “love mercy”—and reminds us the only way to
bridge the chasm between the two is to “walk humbly with God.”
As they laid the foundation of the Church, Peter and Paul personified Micah’s
timeless counsel. These two were expected to make countless judgments: what to
eat, how to worship, what to wear at worship, proper sexual behavior, who could
serve in leadership, what a believer had to do, couldn’t do and could do with
asterisks. The Council of Jerusalem offered the apostles’
prayerful judgment about what Gentile converts were required to do. And the
epistles are a collection of judgments made by Paul about types of behavior—and
about fellow believers.
Among other things, Paul unequivocally judges sexual immorality,
greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, gossip and dishonoring of parents to be
wrong. He reprimands believers who revert to legalism. He condemns lust and fits of
rage and “filthy language.” He rebukes those who succumb to idleness and laziness. And he provides a
detailed list of sinful behaviors—a list that convicts today’s seekers and
believers just as much as it convicted the Galatian church.
scolds believers for taking their disputes “before the ungodly for judgment
instead of before the Lord’s people,” asking, “Do you not know that the Lord’s
people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you
not competent to judge trivial cases?” Indeed, Paul’s writing suggests that
applying godly judgment is a given among believers. “Are
you not to judge those inside [the church]?” he asks. Even so, he warns
against judging hypocritically.
not limit his judgment to generalities. In his first letter to Corinth, for
instance, Paul “passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus” on a
man sleeping with his father’s wife. He had no problem judging it—and those who
did it—to be wrong. At one point Paul even judged Peter’s behavior to be wrong, admonishing his fellow Church
father for “hypocrisy” that had “led astray” other believers.
example reminds us that godly judgment is about caring, loving and building up
individual believers as well as the entire Body. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 18: “If your brother or sister
sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” Put
another way, Jesus rejects the DJM approach to BFFs. Instead, he empowers us to
conclude—based on his word and what he’s written on our hearts—that certain things are wrong,
and to point out a fault to a brother or sister with compassion and care.
our savior, Paul writes to the Galatian church, “If someone is caught in a sin,
you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch
yourselves, or you also may be tempted…If anyone thinks they are
something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”
seems Paul is warning us that loving, caring, godly judgment can devolve into being
judgmental, which is not about loving, caring or wanting to build others up. Being
judgmental is about building myself up and tearing others down.
followers of Christ, we have a right to make godly judgments. We have no right
to be judgmental. The difference comes down to motive, means and ends.
motive to help a brother or sister, or is it to make myself feel better? Am I
motivated by love or something less?
means, how I say something is as important as what I say. Jesus tells us to
point out a fault privately. Paul calls on us to speak the truth but always with love.
am I speaking to the right audience? My judgment is of little value if I don’t
know the person with whom I’m sharing godly, biblical counsel. I need to be in
community with him or her before I share my judgment about his or her behavior.
And if my words are to have any impact, he or she needs to have a desire to get
on the right path—and a sense of what the right path is.
will the result of sharing my judgment be humiliating or edifying; will it
improve the situation or worsen it; will it help to strengthen the Body or
weaken it; will it bring glory to God or disappointment?
can take what Jesus said to mean, “Do not judge anyone or anything, anywhere or
anytime”—and thus abandon the gifts of reason and wisdom. Or we can take it to
mean, “If you pass judgment unfairly, if you judge carelessly or callously, if
you are hypocritical or hypercritical, if you cross the line from good judgment
to being judgmental, then that’s how you will be judged.”
Dowd writes a monthly column exploring the crossroads of faith and public policy for byFaith.