Judging is a very sensitive and relevant issue today and especially in the church. Truth and grace are often placed head to head against each other and two divided camps form. Because of the sharp tension, we tend to overlook the beauty of the unifying and upbuilding principle that the Bible lays out.

First we need to establish the meaning of the word ‘judging’. According to the Oxford dictionary the word ‘judging’ simply means “to form an opinion or conclusion about”. That does not sound that bad does it? We judge all the time, and that is perfectly acceptable. The problem is therefore not in the word or act of judging in itself, the conflict really is about who or what is the object of these judgements. The question then should not be, “should we judge?”, but “how do we rightly judge?” (John 7:24, Leviticus 19:15).

A teenager and a car

Allow me to give an illustration to set the tone. You see a teenager walking down the street and about to cross a road. A car comes from the right with quite a high speed, but you see that the teenager is busy on his phone, listening to music and not paying attention to the red pedestrian light. What do you do? Of course you run to him and do what you can to have him stop in his tracks. Right? Why? Because love prompts us to protect and save lives. It could be a stranger, or your best friend. You try to do what you can to prevent others from potential pain and suffering ahead.

Did you know that in order for you to save this teenager’s life, you needed to judge? He walks through a red light which he shouldn’t do, so other traffic does not expect someone to walk there when they have green light. He listens to music and does not watch out, so he does not hear or see the danger approaching. Those are judgements that would be made in your head, so that you could conclude that he was in trouble. And when you see someone in trouble, love does not prompt you to rub the wrongs in the person’s face, but love prompts you to help. This is what Biblical judging should lead to. It does not judge the person, but saves and protects. Before we look more at the right way of judging, we want to draw our attention to the pitfalls.

Missing the point

Judging with the wrong motive

When you see the teenager heading towards trouble, love prompts you to help. However, if your judgements are not motivated by love, then judging becomes destructive rather than upbuilding. It becomes destructive when we judge with  pride (Romans 14:10, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Ephesians 2:8, John 8:3-11), hypocrisy (Matthew 7:5, Luke 6:37, Romans 2:1-2, Romans 2:21-22) or hostility towards the person (2 Thessalonians 3:15, Titus 3:2, Ephesians 4:29). Our motives should be pure and set on love for the person.

Judging the wrong thing

In some places the Bible tells us to judge, while in other places tells us to not judge. The context often reveals a difference between what is being judged. Let’s think again about what judging means, “to form an opinion or conclusion about”. In order to do then judge, you need information. Since we cannot see someone’s heart, motives, background, thoughts, we do not have the information needed to judge it (2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Peter 4:17, Romans 14:12, John 7:24, Leviticus 19:15). Therefore we should not judge what we cannot, but only what we can.

Judging by the wrong measuring stick

It is very easy for us to try to reflect our own preconceived notions, traditions or opinions on other people. And when others do not align according to our picture, we think they need to be corrected. However, we are not to judge by these personal parameters (Proverbs 3:5-7), but only by the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 5:30).

Judging the wrong people

We are not to judge those outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16). However, we do not need to hide what we stand for as we are called to be a light (Matthew 5:14). We are to judge and correct our brothers and sisters in love, to protect them and to prevent the sin from spreading in His body (Galatians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:5, Ezekiel 3:18-19). The people outside the church first need a revelation of the love of Jesus. With a heart of flesh and worldly spirit they are unable to receive the correction. Spiritual things are only spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Blessings in disguise

As Christians, we believe that Jesus died because of your and my sins. Not merely to change our ‘legal standing’ to obtain salvation, but to free us from its power even today. Sin is a deadly disease that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2) and disables us to walk in the perfect ways of love (Romans 8:7). That is why Jesus said if we love Him that we do not continue to sin (John 14:15, 1 John 3:4). Knowing what sin does to us, and what it has done to our Savior and Creator, we want to stay away from sin as far as possible. And we can actually help each other to do so.

Whether through ignorance or choice, when a brother or sister is heading towards trouble, we step in. We do our best to make them see the trouble ahead and change their direction (James 5:20, Galatians 6:1-2). The Bible instructs us to judge the fruits (Matthew 7:20, Ephesians 5:11, Matthew 7:16, Hebrews 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 John 1:10). We are to discern between what is right and what is wrong. Why? So that we can help each other and ourselves to stay on the narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).

There is much to gain for us when we receive an honest rebuke in love from a brother or sister, though no doubt it may be hard to hear in the moment (Proverbs 27:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Hebrews 12:11). Can you with certainty say that you do not have blind spots and are never wrong? We need each other where we cannot see clearly or cannot see at all, for whatever reason that may be (Ecclesiastes 4:12). When we are humble enough to accept that others might find our blind spots or see our wrong choices, we can be excited for the opportunities that lay ahead when someone shines a light on it for us (Psalm 141:5, Proverbs 9:8, 1 Corinthians 14:25). It opens a way for us to develop our relationship with God, to love Him better and more intimately and live the abundant life (Psalm 119:17, John 10:10). Love therefore builds each other up in truth with grace (Ephesians 4:15, John 8:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Colossians 3:16).

The call to respond

We would be such a godly body of believers if we learn to correct our brothers and sisters with a pure heart and learn to receive corrections with a humble heart. Let’s not make the same mistake the Israelites kept making by rebelling against the messenger of God who called His people to repentance (Matthew 23:31). Neither let us not silently stand by as we see our beloved head towards trouble, but in and through love correct them. Let us ourselves value the help from our brothers and sisters, even if it is hard to hear in the moment, so that we can all walk closer and closer to Jesus.