I wonder if sometimes we as Christians are afraid of making the right kinds of judgments. Even just writing that phrase–“right kinds of judgments”–makes me feel nervous because I suspect that I might be misunderstood for saying that some judgment-making is “right.”
To help avoid misunderstanding, I ought to make a couple clarifications before proceeding further.
By "making judgments" I do not mean "pronouncing as wrong or morally culpable" (see definition of condemnation) but rather "exercising discernment."
I speak of a judgment not of those who are outside the church but of those who are within the church. ("For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges" (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NASB).)
There are at least a couple very familiar passages in the Bible discussing our judgment of others.
Matthew 7:1-5–“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (NASB)
In other words, we must honestly judge ourselves before we can properly judge others. In its discussion of this passage, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary clarifies, “We must not pass judgment on others’ motives. We should examine their actions and attitudes, but we cannot judge their motives–for only God can see their hearts.”
James 4:11-12–“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (NASB)
Again from The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, “James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Phil. 1:9-10), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives, and then try to help others (Matt. 7:1-5). We never know all the facts in a case, and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men’s hearts. To speak evil of a brother and to judge a brother on the basis of partial evidence and (probably) unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges; God is the only Judge.”
Based on these Scriptures and others, it’s clear that while Christians are not to act like the judge, we are to make certain judgments.
- We are to discern between good and evil.
- “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NASB)
- Solomon pleased the Lord when he asked Him to give him an understanding heart to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 3:9-10).
- We are to discern between Truth and untruth.
- “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, NASB)
- If we are to avoid being led astray by false doctrines, we must know the True Doctrine. (You Will Know the Truth)
I think all true Christians would be comfortable with both of the above types of judgments. It’s when the application of these judgments gets personal that we get uncomfortable. Put a name and a face on the evil or the untruth, and we seem to suddenly doubt the authority of the Word of God and our own responsibility to uphold it. We can talk theoretically about a practice being evil or a doctrine being false; but when someone in our church body gets wrapped up in said practice or doctrine, we get wishy-washy and claim no “right” to call it wrong.
Taken to an extreme, the mentality that we can’t or shouldn’t call something wrong leads (and has led) to an acceptance of subjective truth… which leads to more error.
As God’s people, we have a responsibility to uphold the Truth. And as loving members of the Body, we have a responsibility to our Brothers and Sisters to help them do the same. We are to stimulate and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25) “so that none of [us] will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NASB).
James 5:19-20 tells us, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (NASB). Isn’t that what we Christians want? To see souls saved and sins covered? And yet we find this hard because, in truth, it isn’t easy.
Excepting the requirements of an honest self-examination before God (Matthew 7:1-5) and a humble, gentle, and loving spirit, I don’t even know how to approach with encouragement the Sister who is slipping back into her former ways… or the one whose theology seems to be slipping into errancy.
I don’t know how to turn a Sister back, but God does… and He can. The Spirit has reminded me that I ought to be fervently praying for His work in these lives rather than trying to figure out “my” work in them. If I can be willing and able to make the right kinds of judgments, exercising discernment and operating in humility, God will handle the rest.