I recently heard a Christian say, “I cannot judge that. It is a sin for a Christian to judge anything.” You know, I went home and really thought about that. It sort of bothered me, yet I, too, remember Matthew 7:1. Did Jesus mean that we are never to judge anything wrong? If so, a Christian could never warn a brother that he was in danger, could he? Well, I think we need to see what the Bible says about the subject, don’t you?
Although Jesus said not to judge (or seemed to) in Matthew 7:1, the same Jesus said in John 7:24 that we are to “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” This points out at least three things:
- Judgments coming from civil courts,if they do not violate God’s higher laws, are to be accepted and obeyed. (Romans 12:1 and following)
- Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 3:16-20). So, also, can we judge men by their conduct (I Corinthians 6:2). We have the approved example of John, the apostle, who judged Diotrophes (III John 9), and Paul, who told Titus to refuse those who were sinning (Titus 3:10-11), which he could not do unless he judged them by their works.
- The church, in particular, is told to withdraw from those who walk disorderly (II Thessalonians 3:6-12). Obviously, this requires that we observe their “fruits” and judge according to whether the fruits are good or bad (Romans 16:17).
Also, there are times when it is definitely necessary to speak out against men and movements within the church itself if those movements and/or men threaten the purity and sanctity of the church. (I Timothy 1:3-4; I Timothy 1:18-20; I Timothy 6:3-5; II Timothy 2:16-18; II Timothy 4:14-15). If we fail to do this, if we fail to stop those who would destroy the purity of the Word, then we have been faithless to the charge God has given us.
Paul instructed positively that we must “judge” those within — that is, within the church (I Corinthians 5:12) — which obviously requires us to critically look at the actions and character of those involved. When Jesus said, “Judge not,” He forbade us to make unkind, superficial, unjustified judgments without the proper examination of the situation, and never to judge the intent of the heart, which we cannot, as humans, know. Jesus went on to warn, “For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured unto you. (Matthew 7:2).” People who use kindness and forgiveness in judging usually receive the same in return. Those who are extremely “judgmental” and harsh can expect the same in return.
So what is the answer? We are appointed, by God, to be “fruit inspectors.” That is, we can, and, indeed, must, look at the character and actions of others, and base our “judgment” of them on the visible proof of their fruit. We must never seek to judge the inner heart of another, because only God can read the heart of a man. If a brother is displaying “bad fruit,” it is our duty to go to him and help him, but we cannot read evil intent into the action of anyone, as we cannot know their hearts.