What Does the Bible Say about Judging Others?
- 2019 19 Sep
Walking through the doors, I felt their eyes turn towards me. Anxiety grew as I looked around the room full of strangers for a place to sit. With every step I took, the judgement seemed to grow. Walking in late never did anybody good, but today I couldn’t have helped it. With my heart beating slightly faster than usual, I slipped into a seat in the back, hoping people would believe the best in me.
Ever been there? Feeling the eyes of judgement makes most people squirm. And yet, in our sinful minds it’s so easy to jump to conclusions about people and sling words of judgement without a second thought. But what does the Bible really have to say about judgement? Is God’s word clear on who and when we are to judge?
To judge is to form an opinion or come to a conclusion about someone, and according to Scripture, Jesus had a great deal to say about judgement. There is a heavy weight in judging the heart, and it is not something that Christians should take lightly.
God Is the Judge of All Created Things
Before we jump into what judging others looks like, we must have a right view of God as judge.
Psalm 50:4 says: “He summons the heavens above, and the earth to judge His people.”
God is the judge of all things and all people. And He is not a judge of outward appearances but judges the heart.
1 Chronicles 28:9 says: "As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.”
God, in His infinite wisdom searches the hearts of men, understands our intentions, and calls us to follow Him. He is not an angry, harsh judge, but rather a judge who looks at the sin within the human heart and calls us to repentance and salvation in Jesus (John 3:16-17).
We must see God as a just, merciful judge (Psalm 145:8-9) whose intentions and commands are for our good and the good of others (Romans 8:28). And we must acknowledge that our sinful hearts are prone to judge and in a need of a gracious Savior.
Why Do We Judge and What Does Judging Look Like?
The sin of judgment is often rooted in insecurity and pride. It is easier in our awkwardness to make a comment to the person beside us, than it is to hold the judgement that is on our tongue. And our pride often tells us that judgement is okay because we are and know better than the other person. In essence, our insecurity and pride reveal the judgement of souls through our criticism, gossip, and assumptions of others. But God is not fazed by our judgmental hearts. In fact, He even called out the priest Samuel for judging by appearance in 1 Samuel 16:7:
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”
And in John 7:24 Jesus says: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
As Christians we are not called to judge the appearance or outward perception of someone. Rather, we are called to exhort and build up the church, humbly confront sin, and always seek reconciliation.
How Do We Know When it Is Okay to Judge Someone?
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is very clear as he writes to the church about who we are and are not supposed to judge.
“For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders (non-believers)? Do you not judge those who are within the church [to protect the church as the situation requires]? God alone sits in judgment on those who are outside [the faith].” (1 Corinthians 5:12, AMP)
We are not called to judge people who are not self-proclaiming Christians. God is the judge of all and will judge those outside the church. However, we are called to judge the sin of believers inside the church. Just a chapter prior, Paul lays out a clear mandate for what is acceptable to judge in a fellow brother or sister.
“We must not judge ‘the hidden . . . purposes of the heart’ of other Christians based on their decisions, actions, perspectives, words, or personality that concern us if those things themselves are not explicitly sinful (1 Corinthians 4:5). We must not assume sin if we suspect sin, given how biased our suspicions can be.”
What's the Difference between Holding Someone Accountable and Being Judgmental?
Accountability is holding someone to the standard of Scripture that you know without a reasonable doubt they have broken, and it often comes with permission. Being judgmental is pinpointing, talking about, criticizing, and making assumptions about what is hidden in the heart of a person and their intentions.
Although we are called to right judgment of explicit sin, we must not confuse it with being judgmental. A judgmental spirit is a critical spirit which is in direct contradiction to what the Bible teaches about building up the church. Wrongful judgment can turn into slander, tearing down others, or unnecessary arguments.
We should take careful watch over our mouths and minds as Ephesians 4:29 heeds:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Accountability comes in with the intention of grace, restoration, and repentance. Accountability follows the commands of “being slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). The goal of accountability and right judgement is to confess sin (James 5:16), encourage, build up, and point back to the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
What Does Right Judgement Look Like?
Right judgment looks like confronting explicit sin in another believer out of love and for the purpose of repentance and reconciliation. If we know we are not supposed to judge those outside the church, and we aren’t supposed to judge the outward appearance (Leviticus 19:15, Romans 12:16-18), intentions, or hidden purposes of the heart, then what and how are we supposed to judge?
Right judgement looks like restoring the person who is caught in sin (Galatians 6:1-6).
Matthew 7:1-5, is one of the most widely quoted phrases, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Jesus is not commanding us to never judge, but rather, He is challenging our heart as we walk through judgement. Before we seek to call out another sister or brother’s sin, we must check the motives and intentions of our heart. Jesus’ sharp heed here is to keep us from putting our own foot in our mouth. If we are not repentant and humble as we walk through holding someone else accountable, the judgement will fall back on our own heads.
As we seek to judge rightly, we should do so slowly, and with “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8-12).
How Should Christians Respond When Someone Is Offended by What They Perceive to Be Judgment?
A good rule of thumb is to believe that a person’s intentions are good, until proven otherwise. Colossians 3:12-13 encourages that as we are one body in Christ, we are to lovingly seek reconciliation with one another:
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
And Jesus warns in Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Romans 12:17-21 commands us to never repay evil for evil. Instead, we are to be a people that are quick to seek reconciliation, quick to listen, and quick to forgive (Luke 17:3-4), remembering just how much Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Jesus Is the Good Judge Who Redeems
Above all else, we must remember who God is and what He has done for us. Jesus sat in the judgement seat (Romans 8:34). He saw all of our insecurity, pride, arrogance, our idolatry of man’s approval, the judgmental sneers, and critical spirit. And rather than condemning us, He took condemnation upon Himself.
He lived the life we were supposed to live (2 Corinthians 5:21) and died the death we were supposed die (Romans 6:23), taking the full wrath of God upon Himself so we could be free from judgement. He rose from the grave so we could be free from condemnation (Romans 5:8-9); free from the sin of pride, fear of man, judgmental attitudes and wayward speech. He took the verdict, cleared our record, and let us walk free as transformed men and women (Romans 8:1-4).
When we remember that, when we think it through, that the God of the universe would die for our condemned sin (Galatians 5:1), we can walk out the love, unity, peace (Romans 5:1), reconciliation, repentance, forgiveness, and joy of bearing one another's burdens that we are called to in Christ (Galatians 5:16-26).
Stephanie Englehart is a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/kieferpix