A few words about judging others …

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You have no right to judge!” Sometimes they quote Jesus as their authority in saying so.

Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter. In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth. So, what exactly did Jesus say about judging?

Right before Jesus made his famous statement about judging, he said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). So, the context of his statement about judging others was one of showing mercy to others!

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)

In Luke 6:37 we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately. In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.

Matthew also describes the Sermon on the Mount and presents what Jesus said about judging others. Right after Jesus spoke about judging, he gave his disciples another command that made it obvious that they would not be able to avoid evaluating other people. He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added).

Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.

So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; the Lord requires that mercy be infused into our judgments.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Excerpted from The Path to the Cross (forthcoming).

9 thoughts on “A few words about judging others …”

  1. Barry,
    I agree that judgment is always difficult, whether giving or receiving it. The phrase, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” comes to mind. This morning a Christian brother had scheduled a call with me. I knew that he had made a number of “big” decision recently that I certainly did NOT agree with. I was a bit stressed over the coming call, because what I had to say to him was not going to feel good to him. My options–say nothing and let him continue on the path, or take a chance at offending him and being rejected. My wife and I prayed about the call and asked God to guide the conversation.
    When the call came, I reassured my friend of my care and concern for him which set the stage for him to be able to receive my concern (really criticism). I was amazed as the Spirit softened his heart and opened his eyes. My friend changed his course of action and saved himself much future trouble! Hmmm…what would have happened if I would not have “judged” him??

    1. Thank you, Kevin! I really like that idea you mentioned: “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” You have given a great example of how judging must be done for the good of the body of Christ. You have also added prayer to the process, and that makes a huge difference.

    2. Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid” Proverbs 9:8 “… Reprove a wise man and he will love you” Proverbs 12:15 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes. But a wise man is he who listens to counsel”

      Thank you Kevin for be willing to share in Love areas where your brother needed correction. I am also thankful that he listened.

      I am thankful to those people in my life who have cared enough to share with me the tough things where I needed correction. I am eternally grateful.

      1. Hi Mark! I like what you have said and wish many would take it to heart — including me.

        I was intrigued by the word “stupid” in the translation you quoted (English Standard Version) for Prov. 12:1. The Hebrew word ba’ar also occurs in Psalm 49:10, 73:22, 92:6 and Prov. 30:2. It apparently marks out those who behave as if they had the understanding of an animal rather than that rationality given to human beings made in God’s image. A man who hates reproof is something like a stubborn mule, but at least the mule has an excuse!

  2. Hi,
    I see a big difference between the two words…judge and judgment…and seems to me there’s some confusion..
    Barry, I see Jesus saying to us not to be judges…that’s His place to judge. The warning is
    that we judge or condemn ourselves in that same process.
    Judgment on the other hand is more towards making choices in matters of life, relationships and in preferences between good and better or right and wrong.

    1. Welcome back, Garland!
      Let’s treat your idea that “judge” and “judgment” are two different things as a hypothesis or model that needs verification. How would you go about verifying it? For example, how would your theory handle Jesus’ commands about “dogs” (Matt. 7:6), “pigs” (Matt. 7:6) and “false prophets” (Matt. 7:15)? I don’t see how the disciples can obey without making judgments.

      I do agree that by making a judgment, we ourselves are subject to judgment (Matt. 7:1). In my opinion, Matt. 7:2 tells what that means: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” So, a man who is overweight would be foolish to judge others for being overweight. But I think a person who judges a red-light runner is on safe ground if he is not one himself.

      It also seems to me that Jesus is saying we are more alike than we are different. Everyone needs God’s mercy, so no one is in a position to look down on others in a condescending way.

  3. Good thoughts, Barry.

    I have found that when people say “who are you to judge me” it is offered as an excuse for behavior they wish to continue. Too many take Jesus instruction here to mean that we are not to judge others at all but as you rightly point out the context is mercy and Jesus is getting to the heart issue, as He always does, by saying “in the same way.” There is a lesson here on proper judgment, not a ban of it, but we had best understand the lesson Jesus is teaching us.

    Kevin’s experience highlights this as well as the truth in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It is how we judge others, in the compassion, love and mercy of Christ, not heaping condemnation or accusation, that Jesus is getting to in Luke 6:37 and Matthew 7:1. When we judge with harshness we stir up anger and resentment that doesn’t accomplish God’s purposes. That is why we first need to remove the “plank” in our own eye but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to say, it just means we had better do so properly.

    The Apostle Paul gives us some clear instruction on how we are to render “judgment” in Titus 2 when he says, “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.” Today that might well be considered being “judgmental,” to say anything someone might disagree with, but we fail in our prophetic responsibility to others and to God if we remain silent. Paul continues in how this is to be done, “In everything (the Greek word here “pas” means indivudually and collectively) set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Paul concludes, “Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” That authority is Christ’s love and mercy, which when expressed properly will not be despised but prayerfully received, unless the other person’s heart is so hardened as to reject truth.

    Moreover, we need to understand the purpose of judgment. In Paul’s “judgment” of the church of Cornith, he brought conviction of sin that set people free from their lives of idolatry and debauchery. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…”

    There is a proper, Christ-like, way to judge, render judgment, and a primary purpose – repentance and salvation. God has given us a mind to use to make proper judgments about all matters and His Spirit to discern spiritual truth, and His authority to speak that truth. Let us use it for His glory, in His love and grace to lead people to Godly sorrow “that leaves no regets.”


    1. Great thoughts, Brian!

      While reading your comment, I was struck by your remarks on tolerance. These days any kind of criticism, even that which is constructive and well-intentioned, can be attacked as intolerant.

      I am reminded of something I heard Paul E. Sheppard say during one of his sermons: “I’m here to do permanent damage to spiritual ignorance!” When we as Christians stand up for what God has revealed in the Bible, someone is probably going to be offended.

      Speaking the truth in love is hard to do, but we don’t make matters better by skimping on the truth. Jesus did not seem overly concerned about tolerance.

      1. Indeed, “tolerance” has become very intolerant of truth, a symptom of the influences of postmodernism. Yes, it will be difficult and many today will be offended even when we speak the truth in love, but Jesus also did say, “Blessed are those who are those who persecuted for righteousness sake.”

        I like your Sheppard comment; ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s dangerous and fuel for cultural decay.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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