By Ben M. Shropshire
A woman told me once that she could not agree with me in what I was teaching because I was too “judgmental,” implying that I had no right to judge anyone. Somehow it did not occur to her that she was judging me and my teaching in her statement. Such is the problem in trying to apply the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5. In her view, ,l was violating the teaching of Jesus in this passage, but her own judging was no violation thereof. This, of course, is precisely the thing that Jesus was condemning in this passage.
The word “judge” in the New Testament has two basic and related meanings: (1) “to separate, select, choose, to make a determination” as in Luke 7:43 and Acts 4:19; and (2) “to condemn or find fault with as a result of the selecting” as in John 12:48, 3:17, and James 4:11. These definitions need to be kept in mind in any study of what the Bible says about judging.
It is true that Jesus forbids our judging others in such places as Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37, and His teaching is amplified in James 4:11, 12 and Rom. 14:13. On the other hand, in other passages we find that we are commanded to do a certain kind and amount of judging, as in John 7:24, Luke 12-57, and I Corinthians 5:12, 13. Obviously, the New Testament is not contradicting itself in these passages; therefore, there must be a kind of judgment on our part that is prohibited and another kind of judgment that is commanded. We must be careful to discern one from the other so as to be void of offense unto the day of Christ (Phil. 1:9-11).
First, let us take a quick look at the passages which require us to make some judgment, even to the extent of finding others wrong and subject to being lost: (1) The civil courts (the “powers that be”) must judge to determine those who are evil doers (that is, those who violate civil law) in order to administer punishment (Rom. 13:1-5); (2) A local congregation must judge its own members in order to determine those who are living ungodly lives or are walking disorderly so that the congregation may withdraw themselves from such (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Thess. 3:6, 14); (3) Individual Christians are to decide between teachers in order to be able to determine the ones who are teaching error and to reject them (Matt. 7:6, 15; 3 Jn. 9-11; Titus 3:10, 11; 1 Jn. 4:1); (4) Christians must also judge the actions of other Christians in order to decide who has been “overtaken in any trespass” in an effort to restore such a one to faithfulness (Gal. 6:1; Matt. 7:5; Jas. 5:19, 20); (5) Gospel preachers must draw the line between truth and error, right and wrong, the saved and the lost, in order to convict men of sin to lead them to obey the gospel (2 Tim. 4:1-5); and (6) False teachers must be identified at times as being such (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:16-18) and this cannot be done without their being judged by someone else. It should be obvious that these tasks, as unpleasant as they may be to us in doing them, cannot be performed without our doing some “judging,” even to the extent of determining that some are in error and subject to being lost.
It is important to note in all of these cases of required judging, though, that the one doing the judging is never allowed to judge another on the basis of his own law, opinions or prejudices. With the exception of judgement by the civil courts, which are ordained of God and which may judge on the basis of the civil laws that are arrived at by human procedures (but a judge may never decide on the basis of his own will, but only on the basis of the civil law which he is sworn to uphold), all of the required kinds of judging is to be done only on the basis of God’s law as it is revealed in the scriptures. Thus, when a judgment (even of condemnation) is rendered on this basis, it is not really the person doing the judging (deciding) who has made the judgment (condemnation), but the judgment has really been pronounced by God. Of course, for this to be true, a correct interpretation and application of the scriptures is essential, but the scriptures themselves presume that such is possible. I recognize that this is the difficulty for most -people today when it comes to judging.
We have been so influenced by subjectivism that most people do not feel they can ever be sure of their own understanding and application of scriptural teaching, and they are equally positive that no one else can know whether they are right either. Hence, if no one can ever be sure of what is right, how can anyone dare to judge anyone else to be wrong? Such uncertainty about truth is to say that God has miserably failed in giving us a revelation of truth in the scriptures which we can understand and apply (compare 2 Timothy 2:15). Who would dare charge God in such a way? The fact that God has charged us with such tasks as the kinds of judging mentioned above is indicative that He has also given us an understandable and applicable law on which to base such judging, and for us to fail in the discharge of these duties is for us to be judged by His law ourselves!
If the above kinds of judging are required of us, what then are the kinds of judging which we are prohibited as Christians from exercising? We will look at these in next week’s article.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 26, p. 418
June 26, 1980