Ahhh, Lady Justice. Lady Justice is perched at the Supreme Court where judgments are made. The judges (justices) do our nation a great service. Imagine our nation without judges. Imagine the lawlessness that would ensue. Without justice law is unenforcible and chaos reigns.
Lady justice typically has a blindfold– she is blind (unpartial). She has scales to weigh out a matter. She bears a sword to execute judgment.
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine asked me this question: “What gives us the right to judge others for wrongs they may have committed?” I thought that was a great question, and I decided to do my best to answer it—and to share my thoughts with you as well.
I’ll approach the question from a Christian/biblical perspective.
So, what gives us the right to judge others for wrongs they may have committed? I’m going to answer this throughout my blog, but let me begin with a few words about why we are hesitant to make judgments in the first place—and as I then begin to unpack my answer, I’ll show where it comes from in scripture. Then, AT THE END, I’ll summarize the major answers to your question. That way you get the technical answer and the simple answer.
THE TECHNICAL ANSWER
Start with an Open Mind
I should probably begin by saying that the answer will be best understood if we start with an “open mind.” As I sit here and write, I am aware that most people reading this blog have had their thinking about ‘judgment’ very powerfully (and usually “wrongly”) shaped by a misunderstanding of Matthew 7 in the New Testament.
Ah, you know the passage I’m talking about: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Now keep in mind that, in the past, researchers said that the most familiar Bible verse among Americans was John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life). Now we are told that the most-often quoted passage is that one—Matthew 7:1-2, the verses I just quoted above.
In short, let me say that God actually DOES want us to be discerning and to have conviction about right and wrong, and to morally deliberate and, yes, make judgments. I’ll get to more of this in a minute, but for now let me point out how people come to the false conclusion that we ‘shouldn’t judge.’
UNDERSTAND THESE MAJOR PRINCIPLES
There are at least three reasons people come to the false conclusion that Christian’s “aren’t supposed to judge.” They are:
1. A sizeable minority of people in American society have suppressed the truth about morality to appease their own unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), and they ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to be held accountable in any way for their actions and want YOU to mind your own business and to be silenced. Romans 1:18 talks about “the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” This is another way of saying that human nature is fallen and that we, as people, are broken. And this brokenness can either cause us to (a) recognize that problem and seek God’s mercy and grace to help us become the people He made us to be, so we can have abundant life now and eternal life too—OR our brokenness can (b) cause us to hide from the light of truth that shines on our guilty consciences and ‘suppress’ or push down and suffocate the truth about our lives, our behavior and who we are and what we need to do about it.
Because we tend to justify our behavior, many people deceive themselves about their own condition— and choose to live without boundaries and without appeal to conscience. As a result, there is in our time a collective and widespread delusion about our moral and spiritual condition. People have often chosen to do whatever they want and refuse to take responsibility for their decisions and ‘dare’ anyone to say anything about it.
This way of life (living as if God did not exist and living without hardly any regard for conscience and ignoring personal feelings of guilt and so on) has now become embedded in our culture and many people have convinced themselves that they are above the law—and they have force fed the rest of the decent people in society the lie of tolerance. And the lie of tolerance is that “we can do anything we want to do as long as we’re all consenting adults and nobody gets hurt.” That’s minimalistic ethics.
So, the major reason we even have to ask the question “What gives us the right to judge others (behavior/actions)” is because culture has sloughed off “REAL” morality, ethics, decency, reputation, and character for a FAUX MORALITY… and that Faux/Fake Morality is one that disregards and disposes of primary and fundamental moral issues and behaviors, and then replaces them with secondary ‘moral’ issues. The ‘new morality’ isn’t fighting abortion and poverty, fighting human trafficking, and ridding communities of wickedness and the like— it’s ‘clean/safe/impersonal issues that ignore personal moral behavior by focusing on “reducing carbon footprints” and “spaying your cat,” and putting “give peace a chance” bumper stickers on your car.
The point? The mainstream society believes they have the right to shout you down and to ask you to be tolerant of any and ALL behaviors, lifestyles, and actions—regardless of how outlandish or outrageous or detrimental they may be—and they want, expect, and intend to FORCE you to simply “shut up” and, preferably, crawl back in the hole you came from. I know that’s harsh, but the reason people feel uncertain about whether or not they can make moral deliberations or statements is because society will not tolerate any mention of anything that holds anyone accountable. Those people want to live with impunity and without accountability. And it is THIS ATTITUDE and collective ethos in our culture that has ‘literally’ brainwashed Christians into thinking they have no right to challenge (object about, remark on, push back on) anything, and anyone who does is then (ironically) considered intolerant, a bigot, unreasonable, self-righteous, pharisaical, arrogant, and holier-than-thou. (How convenient). That’s Problem #1.
2. When Matthew 7:1-2 is quoted like I did above, the REST OF THE PASSAGE is seldom quoted. This leads to an incorrect interpretation of what Jesus meant when he said it. That is another way of saying that those who quote the passage in hopes of “proving” we must never make judgments about anything or anyone have misunderstood the Bible, because they have taken that passage out of context.
(Taking something ‘out of context’ means that we have ‘lifted’ a part of a Bible passage out of the fuller scripture passage and, in doing so, have wittingly or unwittingly misinterpreted the intended meaning of the author). This frequently happens with people who have never studied the Bible seriously and who do not know the rules that guide and govern the proper interpretation of the Bible (something called “hermeneutics,” which is the art and science of Bible interpretation).
By the way, that doesn’t mean that “only professionals” can interpret the Bible—it just means that each individual person doesn’t have the right to impose his or her own personal and private interpretation onto the Bible. The Bible speaks for itself and its meaning becomes increasingly clearer over time, to those who take its study seriously. So, those who really care about understanding the Bible and who “study to show themselves approved unto God [by] rightly handling the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15)” will be more likely to accurately understand it than someone who is trying to ‘use’ the Bible to justify their own behavior and to fly below the radar of scrutiny.
Now, note that I mentioned that there was “more to that passage” that people didn’t quote. The whole passage in Matthew 7 is this:
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
As you read that, take note of this very important fact—this passage goes on to give us some very important truths.
Here’s what they are: First, the reason we’re warned about judging is because, when we make judgments, the same degree of scrutiny we GIVE is what we will come under (v.2). So we need to make sure, before we decide to take the moral high ground, that we have (v. 3) taken care of our problems (which are usually bigger than the ones we see in others) before we accuse or challenge others (v.4-5). He (Jesus) then reminds us that we have to be careful about giving valuable insights to “dogs” or “pigs” (unrepentant, unrighteous, stone-hearted and rebellious God-haters), because they will disregard and profane what is righteous and then seek to destroy you for challenging them.
Meaning what? Meaning—you BETTER realize what’s going to happen if you step up and refuse to shut up. You will be scrutinized more for your own behavior—and you will be assigned false motives—you will be misunderstood—you will be hated—you will be attacked—you will be disregarded and will become an enemy to evildoers… because of your stand for what is right and good… and because you had the audacity to challenge them and to point out the fact that what they were doing was wrong.
So, it wasn’t that Jesus was saying “don’t judge.” Rather, he was saying… don’t do it UNLESS you know what you’re getting into; and don’t do it UNLESS you can take the heat; and don’t do it UNLESS you have the backbone and the teeth for it; and don’t do it UNLESS you are living a life above reproach… because IF YOU DO, by standing up for the truth, you will become a mortal enemy of evildoers and they will seek to crush you. And so only people who have the moral authority and the CONVICTION and strength of will to fight the forces of wickedness in the public square should go that far.
The spiritual principle? I think the principle in this passage is that you need to make sure you don’t get in over your head and that you only make judgments about things and only challenge things that you have the moral authority to do so. To go beyond that is to discredit yourself. But if you aren’t speaking hypocritically and your life backs up your message, go for it. In fact, I believe if our lives back it up, not only are we ‘allowed’ to challenge evil in our society and communities—I think, in that case, we have the OBLIGATION to do so.
Judging things that are wrong and calling them out for them— Will it make people uncomfortable? Oh, yes! Will some people (EVEN CHRISTIANS) totally misunderstand you? Sure! Will people assign false motives to you? Heavens, yes. Will you become a target of weak Christians and evildoers? Absolutely. But will you also help keep your street, subdivision, neighborhood, community, county, state and nation more decent? Yes. And without people like that, God help us. God help our country. And God help our children because we were to weak to step up.
In addition to (1) suppressing the truth and being unwilling to be held accountable for their actions and (2) failing to understand the entire passage of scripture and “misinterpreting” what the Bible is saying about ‘judgment,’ people also:
3. Ignore or are ignorant of other passages of scripture that speak about the importance of making sound judgments about others’ behavior or decisions/actions. A good example is a Bible passage only a little deeper into the New Testament than the one from the Gospel of Matthew that I quoted. It’s 1 Corinthians 2:14-15:
1 Cor.2:14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
This verse basically teaches that a non-Christian (the natural man) is not completely capable of fully understanding all spiritual matters, as they relate to God and the Christian life—and that, in fact, lots of things Christians think/do/believe seem like foolishness to those who aren’t Christians. But that is to be expected, because they are “spiritually discerned,” meaning that the wisdom to understand the value and appropriateness and rightness of certain things cannot be fully appreciated by someone who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit inhabiting them… and, therefore, their minds are not illuminated by the importance and wisdom of those truths. (Meaning, though some things Christians do/think/believe seem like foolishness to non-Christians, it is only because unbelievers sometimes do not have as much clarity about right and wrong, and so on, because their minds and consciences are at least partially in the dark, and some of the truth of God is therefore hidden to them.
But go on and see in v.15, that the Apostle Paul says that he who is spiritual (the Believer/Christian) “JUDGES all things” but that “he himself (the believer) is judged by no one.” In other words, FAR FROM “Judge not that ye be not judged,” the believer is told to JUDGE ALL THINGS and that (due to the fact that maturing, obedient Christian believers have increasing amounts of discernment about right and wrong) they should not worry about answering to non-believers about their perspectives as believers, because they (we) have been given the “mind of Christ” as the next verse in that passage says. WATCH THIS: That’s another way of saying that “mature and growing Christians” are operating at a higher level of discernment than the average person, and they have (due to the high standards of morality they are living up to) the moral authority and rightful high ground to be able to speak out about such issues, because they are living above reproach.
The point? And this is really a lot of the answer to the original question, “What gives us the right to judge others?” The assumption of this passage of scripture is that the committed Christian is living a life of such moral excellence
So, that’s the long form answer of this very technical question.
THE SIMPLE ANSWER
OK, now let me summarize all of this above—without rehashing the technical biblical discussons I’ve already given. Then I’ll give brief guidelines about how I approach this issue.
Remember that our question was, “What gives us the right to judge others?”
In short, it’s this:
1. We don’t have to have moral perfection (meaning “we’re human”) but if we aren’t seeking to live a moral and upright life, then we DON’T have the right to judge others. In that case, judging others is hypocritical because we have no moral authority and we need to get the 2×4 log out of our own eye before we try to get the splinter out of the eye of our neighbor.
2. If we ARE seeking to live beyond reproach, then if we don’t show up, step up, stand up and refuse to shut up—we will be silenced, and then marginalized, and ultimately persecuted for speaking up and for being a moral voice who dared to speak up.
3. If we don’t challenge behaviors and point out evils and injustice in society, we become complicit in allowing evil to go on unchallenged. We must be daring and have the audacity to hold people accountable and to call them out.
4. Throughout scripture, far from suggesting upright and moral believers be silenced and be quiet about evil and injustice, believers CONSTANTLY challenged wickedness in society. Think about all the Bible figures who challenged and ‘judged’ evil. Not only do we have PROPHETS who did it, but there are a whole Bible book full of, well “JUDGES” in the BOOK of Judges (how ironic!). And Jesus Himself “judged” people (think of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the inhabitants of certain cities and areas, and so on). An amazingly abundant amount of evidence rests of the side of Christians stepping up and challenging evil and wickedness.
A FINAL WORD
All said, here’s a final couple of principles to guide this matter of ‘judging’ others.
· Judge behavior and deeds without being JUDGMENTAL (without having a self-righteous and holier-than-thou attitude). This can be done. And challenging something doesn’t immediately mean that a person “is” being self-righteous. We can judge without being judgmental.
· Be patient, merciful, and forgiving to well-intentioned people who simply make mistakes and who, in moments of weakness, make decisions that harm themselves and others. This doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes have consequences to their actions, but we don’t see Jesus expressing great rage and ‘judgment’ on these types of people—the average person needs mercy and encouragement.
· The people or groups that we strongly challenge and that we develop a prophetic voice toward are those people who are STEELED in their opposition to the truth. It is for those who flagrantly and uncaringly seek to oppose, crush, disregard, harm, wound, people and the truth. Jesus and other godly people in scripture strongly challenged self-righteous people, power-hungry people, arrogant people, and unrepentant and hard-hearted people. Those people were even opposed and, many times, called out BY NAME. That’s seen throughout the Bible. And not only do we call out PEOPLE at times—but more importantly, we call out BEHAVIORS, ACTIONS, and CONDITIONS.
I think this is a good overview for now. I’m no Bible scholar, for sure—but I think this is a good lay-level discussion of how to approach the issue, and I hope it’s been helpful. It was such an honest question, I thought I should deal with it thoroughly and delicately.