Author: David Wilber
It is often said that believers ought not to judge. Indeed, “Judge not that you be not judged” is one of the most memorized Bible verses ever. Even people who have never read a Bible in their life will immediately quote that verse to silence anyone who might dare express disapproval toward them. But is it true that we are not to ever judge anyone?
There are two problems with the idea that it’s wrong to judge. First, it’s self-defeating. If it's wrong to judge, you would never be able to say that it's wrong. You can’t say that someone is wrong for judging because you would be wrong for saying that they’re wrong! Secondly, the Bible explicitly commands us to judge:
And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him.” (Deuteronomy 1:16)
The Lord commanded the judges of Israel to hear each case and to judge righteously. This was a very serious job. In some cases, people’s lives were literally on the line. The judges needed to be patient, careful, and fair in delivering their rulings. In the same way, we must be patient, careful, and fair in our own judgments. We must avoid jumping to conclusions about people and situations before we’ve heard all the evidence (Proverbs 18:13). Yeshua taught these same principles:
Do not judge by mere appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)
Yeshua never prohibited judging. When He said, “Judge not that you be not judged” in Matthew 7:1-5, His point was that we shouldn’t be prideful and hypocritical in our judgments. We must recognize that we too will be judged in the future. We must not carelessly judge something or someone based only on appearances.
In addition to hearing all the evidence and avoiding hypocrisy, a righteous judge must be willing to extend mercy. When there is genuine humility and repentance on the part of the sinner, God forgives them. We’ve all sinned and have been shown great mercy by our Father in heaven. Since God is the perfect judge, we should look to His example and thus be willing to forgive others.
As demonstrated above, righteous judgment is most often applied in the context of right and wrong, sin, justice, mercy, etc. But in the epistle of James, there is additional instruction on how we are to judge righteously as believers. James appeals to the Torah's instructions against showing partiality in court and applies them in a more general way.
In James 2:1-7, we're given examples of how people in the first-century congregation were showing favoritism and thus judging unrighteously. They were sucking up to the rich by giving them the best seats in the synagogue while being unloving and disrespectful to the poor by making them sit on the floor. How often do we make similar unrighteous judgments today? How often do we disrespect and exclude people because of their social status, age, race, or personality?
We are not to treat one another unfairly in the congregation. We are neither to put people on a pedestal nor disrespect and exclude people. Again, judging righteously includes being patient, careful, and fair, and thus not showing favoritism. And if someone in our community is in sin, regardless of who they are, we must love them enough to rebuke them so that they might come to repentance.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1)
So who are you to judge? Are you patient, careful, and fair? Do you take the time to hear each case? Have you removed the plank from your own eye by walking in honesty, humility, and integrity? Are you willing to extend mercy? Are you impartial towards your brothers and sisters? We all make judgments. Let’s make sure we’re making right judgments.
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