Wrong and sinful judging of one another can cause serious harm, not only to the individual Christian, but also the Body of Christ. The Pharisee of Jesus’ day is an example of how not to judge. He had a very high regard for himself and utter contempt for those who did not belong to his sect. He took it upon himself to pass censorious and unjust judgment upon the motes of others, while blind to his own glaring faults (Matt. 7:1-5).
Right and loving judging of one another can accomplish an immense amount of good in the Church. In contrast to the Pharisee, the disciple of Christ is to conduct himself in such a way that he frequently judges himself, while refusing to invade the office of God where others are concerned.
I. We may judge.
A. Man makes judgments by the very fact that he is created a moral being. The capacity of judging, that is, of forming an estimate and opinion, is one of the faculties God created in man.
B. Further, as Christians, we are commanded to judge. “Judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24; also look up I Cor. 10:15; 11:13). The command to believe the truth and to do the right implies the making of judgments. If we do not judge between what is true and false and between what is right and wrong, how can we hold to the one and reject the other? We are told to have our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We are to judge what are the “unfruitful works of darkness” so that we do not have fellowship with them (Ephesians 5:11).
C. There are certain kinds of judging which are required in God’s Word.
1. First, there is “ecclesiastical judgment,” which belongs to the elders and ministers of the local church of Christ (John 20:23). They are called to judge when they admonish individual believers for their sins. Also, they judge when they determine the credibility of the profession of one making confession of their faith.
2. Also there is “civil judgment” which is performed by the government when it is called to punish those who do evil and reward those who do well (I Peter 2:14).
3. And God’s Word requires (and therefore makes legitimate) judgments by the individual Christian. We, in a godly manner and out of Christian love, are called to show a fellow-saint their sins if they walk without sorrow and repentance (Matthew 18:15).
II. There are many ways in which judging is unlawful and improper.
A. The judging which God gives to the church office bearers and to the civil government is outside the prerogative of the individual. It is assuming an authority over others, which we would not allow them to have over us. Rather than judging one another in a critical manner, we are admonished that “each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3) and to be “subject one to another and be clothed with humility” (I Peter 5:5). Thus the Bible tells us that there are spheres of life which are not set before us for judgment, and then we are told “to do your own business” (I Thess. 4:11).
B. We may never judge presumptuously, that is, acting upon mere suspicions and unconfirmed rumors. Presumptuous judging is also judging the motives of another, for they are known only to the Omniscient One. Besides, each saint is a servant of the Master, so each may be rightly asked, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom. 14:4).
C. We also may not judge hypocritically. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus speaks about the beam and mote. Often we are quick to detect the minor faults of others while blind to or (worse) unconcerned about our own more serious faults. To judge another in such a manner is to condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).
D. And we may not judge rashly or in haste. The sting of the proverb often pricks us: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13). Often, if we are able to hold our tongue for a while, the passing of some time brings to light surrounding circumstances which give reason to approve or to pity rather than to condemn.
E. It is also wrong for us to judge a brother about things concerning which the Scriptures say nothing. These matters are called “things indifferent.” If we condemn anyone on matters such as “meat and drink,” then we sinfully put them and ourselves in bondage (Romans 14; Colossians 2:20, 23).
III. How ought we to judge one another? Always with love.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). If you cannot speak the truth in love, then keep your murderous mouth shut!
We can learn how to judge one another from I Corinthians 13. Love means that we suffer long (vs. 4a) with their faults and injuries, without being quick to retaliate with our tongues. Love is not discourteous, that is, behaving itself unseemly, treating a fellow-saint carelessly (vs. 5a). Very importantly, love thinketh no evil (vs. 5b). This means that we are not suspicious about our fellow-saints motives and actions. And it means that even when evil has been done against us, we do not hold it against them but forgive them readily. Further, love does not rejoice in iniquity (vs. 6a). Love is not blind to sin, for it grieves in a brother’s sin (Matthew 18). Love does not allow us to judge to be a good Christian someone who holds fundamental error or who is thoroughly worldly in their walk. We may not call evil good. However, love does not allow us to take secret delight in another’s sin, but calls us to cover it up as much as we can (I Peter 4:8). And love believes the best of everyone as much as it possibly can (vs. 7).
Often we need not judge one another as often as we think we do. The principle of Romans 14 frees us from judging the weaker brother, for he is “another man’s servant” and it is “to his own master” that “he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” (verse 4)
Never are we permitted to judge others without sympathetic understanding, lest we fall into the common trap of making a mountain out of a molehill.
Why does love require us to judge one another in this way? Because this is the nature of God’s love for me. In God love always behaves this way.
May God graciously deliver us from unlawful judging. And may He give us the wisdom to know when we have the right to judge, and then the love to judge rightly.