May we judge our neighbor?
To judge is to decide on someones guilt or innocence, either in a court of law, or as personal evaluation of behavior.
Listen carefully to this command of God: You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. But in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor (Leviticus 19:15).
Thus, God commands us to judge our neighbor! He also tells us how to judge. Our judgment is to be just, impartial and righteous.
Our competence to judge is limited.
You may be thinking, Why did Jesus say not to judge?
There are circumstances in which we may not judge, but there are also circumstances in which we are obligated to judge.
Jesus said: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24).
Thus Jesus also commands us to judge! And He tells us how to judge: with righteous judgment and not according to appearances.
What do the Scriptures teach about judging?
We may not judge according to appearance.
This means that we may not judge on the basis of insufficient, superficial information. Outward appearances are often misleading.
It was night. The street was dimly lit. A man lay on the pavement with blood oozing from a wound on his head. I stood beside him with blood on my sleeve. From appearances, some might have concluded that I caused his injury. Actually, in a drunken stupor the man had collided with a lamppost while riding his bicycle. Having arrived first on the scene, I got blood on my shirt when I helped him off the road so he would not be run over by passing cars. I asked bystanders to phone an ambulance and we were waiting for its arrival.
Righteous judgment must be based on conclusive evidence: how it is rather than how it looks.
Sometimes we are personally unqualified to judge.
Jesus said, And why do you look at the speck in your brothers eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me remove the speck out of your eye; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brothers eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
What if we condemn someone for something we are doing? Our judgment may be correct, but we are not qualified to judge someone else if we are under the same condemnation.
After listing sins deserving death, Paul explains: Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3).
We may not judge on the basis of personal opinions.
Later in Romans, Paul discusses a situation where some Christians were vegetarians and others ate meat, a matter of personal preference: Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge anothers servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand (Romans 14:3, 4).
In the same context he says: But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brothers way (Romans 14:10-13).
Sinful activities are not being discussed in this passage. It is not sinful to eat meat, nor is it sinful to refrain from eating meat. In connection with personal preferences, we may not judge one another.
We may not judge when evidence is lacking.
Since only God knows the hearts of men, we can easily be mistaken.
As Paul wrote, Some mens sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later (1 Timothy 5:24).
When sins are evident, we must judge. Those committing hidden sins will be judged by God. We should not play God by presuming to judge things that are hidden.
As Paul wrote: Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Hidden matters must be left to God.
Our judgment must be righteous.
The LORD our God is righteous (Daniel 9:14). Righteous judgment is based on the righteousness of God.
If our judgment is contrary to the will of God, we are condemning God! As the Lord asked Job: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:3).
By judging wrongly we contradict Gods judgment. Therefore we must be extremely careful how we judge.
God requires everyone to judge righteously.
Paul explains that even the heathen - and we live in a heathen society - are responsible for judging rightly because of knowledge of the righteous judgment of God that they have from creation, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them (Romans 1:18, 19).
After specific condemnation of idolatry, homosexuality and lesbianism (Romans 1:21-27), Paul lists other common sins of then and now: being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:29-32).
Even the heathen ought to know that such things are wrong; yet, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them. A judgment that glosses over such sins is not righteous.
Of course, evil men object when their sins are exposed. When Lot said to the homosexuals of Sodom, I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly! they replied, This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! (Genesis 19:7, 9 ESV).
It is a gross misuse of the words of Christ when evil men say Do not judge to ward off sanctions for their sins.
Sin in the church must be condemned.
The church at Corinth tolerated a brother who was living with his fathers wife!
Paul wrote, It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles - that a man has his fathers wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2).
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner not even to eat with such a person. 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. Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
In such cases, the judgment of the church is merely the application of the righteous judgment of God. To neglect to judge is to ignore the judgment of God.
A wise brother should resolve disputes between Christians.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? (1 Corinthians 6:1-5).
God will judge us the way we judge others.
In that list of sins deserving death in Romans chapter one we also find unforgiving and unmerciful. If we are unmerciful, we will not receive the grace of God.
From that perspective Jesus says: Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Matthew 7:1, 2). 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. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:36, 37).
To receive mercy we must bestow mercy.
We want to receive mercy when we are judged. Thus we must be merciful when we judge others. This is why James says, So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12, 13).
We may not condemn the guiltless by neglecting mercy: But if you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless (Matthew 12:7).
Does this mean that everyone will be absolved by God? Certainly not. Jesus says that few will be saved and many will be lost (Luke 13:23, 24; Matthew 7:13, 14).
Mercy, too, must comply with the righteous judgment of God. What if we are unmerciful to those to whom God shows mercy, or if we are merciful to those to whom God does not show mercy? Thus, we must study the Scriptures so we can judge our neighbor in righteousness. He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD (Proverbs 17:15).
What have we learned about judging?
God commands us to judge our neighbor! Our judgment must be just and impartial. Our competence to judge is limited. We may not judge according to appearances. Sometimes we are personally unqualified to judge. We may not judge on the basis of personal opinions, and we may not judge when evidence is lacking. Our judgment must be righteous. Sin in the church must be condemned. God will judge us the way we judge others. To receive mercy we must bestow mercy.
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24).
You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. But in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor (Leviticus 19:15).
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers
unless indicated otherwise. Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive