Does God Allow Anyone to Judge Another?
Have you ever judged someone else? What I mean is have you ever watched a person’s behavior and correctly assessed that it was immoral, illegal, or unethical? What did you do about it? Did you confront the offender? Did you call the police? Did you report unethical behavior to some higher authority? Or did you simply do nothing because you were convinced it was morally wrong to judge another? If we aren’t allowed to judge others, how do we hope to uphold our laws? How do we correct our children without good judgment? How can we enforce moral standards without judging impropriety? For that matter, how do we cast a ballot when we vote without exercising judgment?
There is a false premise widely encouraged in secular circles (and parroted by many Christians as well), which supposes that judging another human being for any reason is morally wrong and disapproved by God.
Many would argue that Jesus said as much in his teachings. Yet in reading the context of Scripture and what Jesus actually was quoted as saying, there is no mandate against judging another human being. Does God allow anyone to judge another? I believe the Scriptures allow it. However, there are some stipulations that must be adhered to when judging anyone.
What did Jesus actually say concerning the judgment of others? In reviewing the four gospels, and the context of his teachings, we find Jesus had a lot more to say on the matter of judging than is spoken of in the modern day public square. As is often the case, smaller portions of Jesus’ teachings are borrowed and manipulated to the advantage of the proponent of a particular notion against proper judgment. The most common misappropriation of Scripture is found in Matthew 7, in the first half of verse 1. In it Jesus said, “Do not judge.”
If the reader stops right there (and ventures no farther), it would be easy to assert that judging another human being was prohibited by the gospels. But by reading the full context of what Jesus said, and recognizing more importantly who was saying it, a different picture arises concerning judgment in terms of others. Did Jesus say, “do not judge”? Absolutely. Did Jesus say, “Never judge another”? Absolutely not! As the reader, God gives you the account and accountability to make a proper judgment of what Jesus said. In other words, God asks you to be the judge (based on His Word) in considering what is right and wrong.
Consider carefully the full context of what was said. Here, then, is the NIV translation of Jesus’ teaching concerning judgment, found in Matthew 7, 1-5:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”‘
Please take note that Jesus rendered a conditional statement in the first verse of Matthew. Think of it as an if/then premise. A way of paraphrasing verse 1, in the context of verse 2, would be as follows, “Be warned that if you judge someone else, you will be held to the same standard of judgment.” Clearly, the command from Jesus comes with a stern rebuke against hypocrisy. In other words, don’t point a finger of blame at someone else when you are guilty of the same thing.
As a follow up, Jesus told a story to illustrate this teaching with a comical scenario. In the example, a man with a large piece of wood protruding from his own eye, is trying to extract a small speck of sawdust from his brother’s eye. Imagine the fellow with the speck of dust trying to dodge the well-intentioned advances of his lumber-headed friend. Ow! Ouch! (How painful the experience of being pursued by a plank-eyed persecutor!) Can’t my friend see that big plank sticking out of his head? Why is he picking on me?
This cautionary tale from Jesus gives perspective to the true nature of judgment. First, judging another is not a 17th-Century witch-hunt when there is a clear act of wrongdoing on the part of the violator. For instance, imagine you were standing in a long line at a grocery store, waiting to pay for items in your cart. The line had been moving very slowly because it was a busy shopping day and the store was crowded. When your turn came to place your groceries on the conveyor belt, some stranger forced her way in ahead of you and, without saying a word, stole your place in line ahead of you. Could you judge correctly in this scenario that this woman was rude and discourteous? If you said yes, then you judged correctly. However, in the same scenario, if you had previously forced your way to the front of the line ahead of others when the strange woman took cuts—and then complained loudly and berated her—would you have the right to judge her? No.
In his illustration, Jesus never said that the man with the plank in his eye could not help his friend. The stipulation was that the man obviously had to remove the plank from himself before he could consider helping his friend get to that speck. Jesus’ teaching implies there is an order to be followed before judging someone else. First, look to your own culpability before God, then consider the sins of others once your sins have been properly addressed. But secondly, Jesus’ story alludes to a relationship between the two men involved. Notice that Jesus refers to the man with the speck as “your brother.” The men in this story are not strangers, and whatever their relationship may be, it appears the first man had, through a close relationship, permission to inspect his friend’s personal baggage. In that instance, the man with the speck was equally allowed to point out the plank in his brother’s eye. Yet both had vision issues to clear up before calling one another into account.
Clearly there is a wrong way to judge others. Taking vengeance and the law into one’s own hands in judgment is sinful. Jesus encountered it in the gospel of John, Chapter 8, Verses 1-11, when a group of teachers of the law and Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery before him. Without a trial, or the male counterpart of the crime in tow, the men were ready to stone that woman to death. They wanted to exact judgment upon her. They asked Jesus where he stood on the matter. Jesus searched their hearts and gave them permission to stone the woman provided none of them had sinned. All of those men were convicted in their hearts and walked away from the accused.
The point Jesus made should not be missed. Get right with God before you go about condemning others for their sins. In getting right with God, you see others much differently—through His perspective—and you recognize what is at stake in judging others. With God’s guidance, you learn that judging others is more about helping them find their way to God rather than condemning them to Hell.
God ultimately judges everything we think, say, and do. God gives each the account and accountability to make proper judgments, provided we hold ourselves accountable first.
God allows you be the judge if you are willing to accept the same measure of judgment. Therefore, judge prudently and wisely.
(copyright 2014, Gregory Allen Doyle)