Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

We Still Get the Bible Wrong When It Comes to Judgment

Simplistic and lazy interpretation is damaging our prophetic witness in today’s culture

Recently, I’ve been attacked yet again by other Christians on social media for making firm stands about issues in today’s culture. For instance, whenever I post on current issues, I’ll get some followers who tell me I shouldn’t be speaking up, or that Jesus loves everybody and criticism isn’t Christ-like. In fact, a few are more than happy to point out that I couldn’t possibly say those things and be a Christian.

The mistaken attitude that we have no business judging is so pervasive, that I think it’s time to re-consider what it really means. The scripture from Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge” has been so misunderstood, I think we need to re-examine it. Did Jesus really mean that we should never judge?

It’s interesting that when you examine the scriptures related to judgment, it’s not just the act of judging that Jesus is talking about as much as our attitude and motivation for doing it. After all, common sense tells us that making judgments is an important part of life and we’re required to do it on a daily basis. Who we let our children play with, what church to attend, where we work, who we associate with, how we spend our time and money, and how we vote, are all judgments, and if we didn’t make them, the quality of our lives would be poor indeed.

In a fallen and sinful world, people must be held accountable. Today the culture tries to convince us that tolerance is the highest virtue. Who are you to judge? is the rallying cry of deviant behavior, heretical teaching, and immoral living. There’s nothing the enemy would love more than if we as believers gave up calling sinners to repentance, and what would our society become if we stopped evaluating student performance, calling failed leaders into account, or arresting criminals? Without proper criticism and judgment, living in a real community would become impossible.

Not only do we have to judge, but we are called to judge, and in today’s society, we need to be more vigilant about judgment than ever. The question becomes, how do we judge as Jesus would, and how can we be sure that love, repentance, and restoration are the principles that we use in making our decisions?

First, anyone can have an opinion, but true judgment happens after serious examination, reflection, and consultation with the scripture. We can’t be frivolous, especially when dealing with an alleged sin of a pastor or Christian leader, but if we follow scripture and investigate properly, we can arrive at a proper decision. Paul’s writings to Timothy and to the church in Corinth are virtual manuals about judgment and correction within the context of the Church.

Second, lose the beam. When Jesus taught in Matthew 7:3-5, he was speaking in the context of a hypocritical religious system that said one thing and did another. The Pharisees couldn’t see clearly because of their own sin and yet felt perfectly free to judge and condemn others. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to be absolutely perfect in word and deed before we can practice discernment, but if we point the finger at someone else, as much as possible, we need to be living right before God and have a clean conscience.

Third, judging actions and judging people are dramatically different issues. There’s never a place for gossip or personal attacks in the Church, but serious discernment on issues of doctrine, performance, quality, professionalism, stewardship, moral choices, and skill are absolutely necessary. We can love a pastor or ministry leader, but when their lifestyle becomes abusive or their teaching aberrant, it’s critical for the life of the Church that they be held accountable. Likewise, when Christian employees do a poor job at work, they need to be disciplined. It’s not about them personally, it’s about their performance and the impact it’s having on others.

If we can’t have adult conversations about today’s issues such as the LGBTQ movement, the push to mutilate minors in the name of “gender-affirming care,” abortion, the public school system, politics, or other issues, then our future will be a long slide into oblivion.

It never hurts to keep in mind that our ability to judge is always limited, and one day, we’ll all stand on level ground before the ultimate Judge. But until that time, I hope we will stop being afraid, and continue graciously calling each other to task for our many failures and shortcomings, so that we can, as Paul said, “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

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  1. Fantastic article Phil. Might I add one more thing? The Bible speaks of discernment. What is discernment good for if we can’t speak up and “make judgments”? I tire of those who speak of tolerance but refuse to grant it. They want us to tolerate their lives and lifestyle but become very judgemental should anyone go against them. Thank you for your willingness to take a stand.

    1. Well said Bill. Discernment comes as we mature in Christ, and I’m afraid there are not enough people moving along that track…

  2. Thank you for this educational article! I have not see anyone tackle this topic and made it this clear. This is along the lines of a conversation I had with God many years ago because I was unclear on the subject. He said, “If you are in agreement with Me, then it is not judging.” That made so much sense! That is why we MUST read and know the Bible!

  3. I would only change one thing you said. I believe if we don’t make these judgements it will be a very “short” slide into oblivion.

  4. One thing that comes to mind is the effect of the Johnson amendment. This was designed to stifle the voice of the church by limiting what pastors could teach from the pulpit (via punishment from the IRS and a church’s right to exist). By curtailing our speech with restrictions, the enemy was able to skew our thoughts towards speaking out about anything. Combined with the social stigma of engaging people with questions of politics and religion, we’ve allowed the shackling of ourselves into timidity and passivity to our detriment.

    The solution is outspoken biblical sound doctrine in regard to the Kingdom of God, our responsibilities as ambassadors, citizens and co-heirs in Christ which requires us to rightly divide the Word of God.

    1. That’s a great point, Kurt. And I really think that in the future, we’ll need to be willing to give up that tax exemption in order to speak out.

  5. Isn’t it ironic that the very people who say we shouldn’t judge are the first ones to judge others for being judgmental?

    This issue is not that complicated. Like you said, “Judging actions and judging people are dramatically different issues” Judging people (their soul, whether they are a Christian or not) is God’s job. Judging behavior (whether it aligns with scripture) is our job.

    1. Well said Paul – especially the part about people who say we shouldn’t judge are the ones calling us out… 🙂

  6. Great article as always Phil. The other word I hear a lot these days too is tolerance. One word that certainly didn’t apply to Jesus. He called it for what it was. He spoke the truth about people. To often we seem to focus on one characteristic, that of His love. But it’s the same Jesus who whipped the money changers. If you ever do a study of Jesus’s anger it could be fierce.

  7. I’m pretty sure the enemy doesn’t want any inspiration from pastors like Jonas Clark, pastor of the Church in Lexington, without whom there may have been no “shot heard round the world!”

  8. “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” (Ezekiel 33:6)

  9. Yes, we need to stand for truth, but in doing to we must avoid spewing out hate, name calling, and such.

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