The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them- 1stTimothy 5:24 NIV
If I were to venture a guess, I would say the best known and most quoted Bible verse of all time would have to be Matthew 7:1: “Judge not lest you be judged”. Bible believing Christians as well as some folks who have never actually cracked a Bible in their lives have the verse memorized and are swift to whip it out as their ace in the hole anytime they sense the tiniest bit of disapproval from anyone concerning anything at all.
Most have decided it means that the best way to escape God’s wrath (and perhaps even the fires of hell) is to simply never make a moral judgment concerning anything. A lot of people believe “you do you” and “live and let live” is the New Testament solution to escaping trouble with God.
I don’t think it means what they think it means.
If evading God’s judgment were as simple as not being judgmental there would have been no reason at all for Jesus to come and sacrifice Himself on our behalf. Instead He could have just wrote STOP BEING SO DANG JUDGY OR YOU’RE GOING TO BE SUPER SORRY in the sky and saved Himself a whole lot of trouble. He didn’t. So, the meaning of His words matters.
If judging the actions of others is the fast track to our own punitive judgment then we should watch ourselves very carefully in this area. However, if judging actions is not wrong, then maybe, just maybe a tad bit more of the “right” kind of judging will make Christianity more what God intended it to be in the first place (Matthew 5:13-15, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 2:9, 1st Peter 2:12-15, 2nd Peter 3:11).
I’m just saying.
It is fair to assume “judge not, lest you be judged” is not a warning against making moral judgments about behavior. Jesus was clear: He came to fulfill the law—not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). Most of the Old Testament law (parts of Exodus, all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy) is just a long list of things God says are right and wrong. The rest is basically just a “how to” properly judge when someone breaks the law and what should be done about law breaking. It would be more than a little odd for God to say “no” to the whole notion of making moral judgments concerning right and wrong behavior after giving His people two and a half books of commands.
Cultural context is critical when it comes to understanding what the New Testament has to say about any subject. It’s especially important when talking about judgment in general and judging others in particular.
Here’s the thing:
First century Jews were some of the judgiest people on earth and they did not stick to judging actions. Mostly they were all about judging whether or not a person was worthy of heaven.
Jews believed they were special in the sense that they were the only people capable of being completely righteous and worthy of living forever in God’s presence. If someone was not a Jew—they didn’t stand a chance. Further complicating things, most assumed any Jew who did not fully obey the law was a lost cause as well. Religious leaders were all about deciding who obeyed the law “well enough” to be accepted and loved by God. Even the judging of behavior was tainted with judging the worthiness of the person.
Thankfully, for us, Jesus set the standard for who gets into heaven. No one is actually “good enough” to get to get right with God on their own (Isaiah 64:6, Luke 18:19, Romans 3:12). We all suck (Romans 3:23). God in His great mercy God chose to make it all about faith in Him so we would at least stand a chance (Luke 7:50, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 10:39). No one (except God) can really know who has saving faith and who doesn’t. No one except God can judge another person’s worthiness of heaven.
James 2:12-13 gives us some insight into Jesus words in Matthew 7:12. It says:
So speak, and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment-NASB
Okay, so, the English translation of this verse is awkward and tough to understand. The Greek, comes closer to saying something like this: You will be judged with liberality, kindness and generosity by God. So, you ought to judge other people’s actions and hearts with the same liberality, kindness and generosity you hope to receive on judgment day. If you don’t judge others with a measure of grace God will apply the standard you use with others to you.
Yikes. That sucks.
So. Judging the rightness or wrongness of actions or behavior is not a problem. That said, a very big problem arises when we judge the motives or the hearts of people.
We just don’t have the chops for that.
It is sometimes critical we make judgments about the rightness and wrongness of actions. However, we must remember the goal of making a judgment about behavior is never to condemn anyone, but ultimately to help and encourage everyone to become a better, godlier version of themselves.
The mercy we hope to be shown should ALWAYS be the standard of judgment we use on others.