It happened when I posted something to social media lamenting author Jen Hatmaker's disastrous decision to affirm gay unions. It happened again when I criticized a Saturday Night Live writer for attacking Barron Trump, the 10-year-old son of the president. Truth is, it happens anytime I make a judgment about anything or anyone.
"Christians are not to pass judgments, only state the truths," one person commented.
"Christ taught us to LOVE EVERYONE. Judgments are for our father in heaven, not us," said another.
And ironically, someone even stated, "You obviously are not a Christian because Jesus told us not to judge."
In some ways, these statements reflect the ethic of our culture. Judging is wrong — except when it's not. (Apparently, it's wrong to judge someone's sexual behavior, for example, but perfectly legitimate to judge someone for wearing fur or emitting too much carbon.) Yet, we judge all the time. (How could anyone hire a babysitter without judging?)
As David S. Oderberg, professor of philosophy at University of Reading, wrote, "We in the liberal, democratic West live in a society with a split personality, deriving from our own individual dissociative traits. . . . We do not want to appear (or even to be) judgmental, but we also know that we do judge our fellows continuously, and believe this is often justified."
As Christians, we take our cues from Scripture, not culture. But even Scripture appears to give conflicting messages about judging. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, "Do not judge," but in 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, the apostle Paul says, "(T)he Lord's people will judge the world . . . How much more the things of this life!"
So what gives? Are Christians supposed to judge or not judge? And just what is the Christian standard?
As someone who regularly writes and speaks publicly, this is something I have sought to understand. And it's really not all that complicated when one studies the Scriptures in context, and considers the whole counsel of Scripture, not just a few select verses. So in the interest of clarity, I offer the following biblically-based principles concerning judging.
1. Christians Must Judge
Scripture specifically instructs Christians to judge other Christians. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the church "not to associate with sexually immoral people," which to obey, requires making a judgment. He further writes, "Are you not to judge those inside (the church)? . . . 'Expel the wicked person from among you.'"
So not only should Christians judge other believers, they should also discipline them based on those judgments.
Similarly, Jesus says in John 7:24, "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."
Clearly, Jesus expects us to judge, but simply wants us to judge correctly, using proper standards.
2. Don't Apply a Double-Standard
Those who quote Matthew 7:1 as evidence that Christians should never judge need to read the context of that verse. Yes, Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged," but he goes on to say, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 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?"
In other words, don't apply a double-standard and judge someone for a sin you're equally, or even more guilty, of committing. Instead, Jesus says, "first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." So the solution isn't to refrain from judging; it's to fix yourself so you can help fix others.
3. Judge Actions, not Motives
Christians get themselves in a heap of trouble when they try to judge other peoples' motives. First Kings 8:39 says God alone knows what's in every human heart. And Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:5 says we should refrain from judging someone else's heart, but allow God to do that at the appointed time: "He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God."
Christians need to confine their judgments to what they can objectively discern — peoples' actions. We may think we know what another person is thinking, but we need to temper these opinions with the truth of God's Word. He is omniscient; we are not.
4. Confine Judgements to Matters That Aren't Disputable
Though God has given us clear moral boundaries, He also has given us freedom within those boundaries. For example, Scripture clearly says that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but it doesn't say whether dating couples can kiss. I have good Christian friends who strongly advise against kissing before marriage. I have other Christian friends who think refraining from kissing is unnecessarily restrictive.
Regarding these so-called "disputable matters," Scripture says we should not judge each other, or treat each other contemptuously.
Paul writes in Romans 14, "One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them."
Extending grace in these circumstances is tough to do because we often feel very strongly about our personal convictions. But this is critical if we're to honor God and our brothers and sisters in Christian community.
5. Seek to Restore
The point of judging others is not to condemn them, but to restore them. Paul said we should discipline an immoral Christian "so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord."
Similarly, in Galatians 6:1, Paul writes, "(I)f someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently."
But Paul warns against pride or comparison. "(W)atch yourselves, or you may also be tempted," he says and adds, "If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves."
So when we make judgments, we must do so humbly. And we must do so with the intent of helping our brother or sister escape sin and the destruction it wreaks, not to elevate ourselves. Otherwise, we become like the Pharisees who tied up "heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders," but were not "willing to lift a finger to move them." In everything, we must be motivated by love.