Is It Always Wrong to Judge?

by Bob Myhan

There are those who seem to think that it is always wrong to judge because Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). We can know with certainty, however, that this was definitely not what Jesus meant. We know this because He also said, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Therefore we are not only permitted but commanded to judge. But our judgments must be righteous not unrighteous.

According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the word translation “judge,” in Matthew 7:1, "primarily denotes to separate, select, choose; hence, to determine, and so to judge, pronounce judgment;" "sometimes denotes to condemn."

Jesus is not saying that you are not to tell your brother that he has a "speck" in his eye. He is saying that you should first examine your own eye to make sure it does not contain a "plank." If you find a "plank" in your own eye, you ought to remove it first then help your brother with the "speck" in his eye. He may not like hearing that he has a "speck" in his eye but he will be more receptive if he sees that you have removed the "plank" that was in your eye. Of course, "speck" and "plank" are figurative for some moral or spiritual problem that needs to be corrected. Your problem is a "plank," while your brother's is only a "speck" because you are acting as though you do not have a problem.

Therefore, Jesus is simply saying that you are in no position to judge your brother if you have things in your life that need correction. You should correct those things then help your brother. This necessarily involves judging but not the sort that Jesus condemns. It demands "righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

There Greek word translated “judge” (Matthew 7:1) is translated as “sue” (Matthew 5:40), “determined” (Acts 3:13; “ordained” (Acts 16:4), “sentence” (Acts 15:19), “concluded” (Acts 21:25), “called in question” (Acts 23:6), “be thought” (Acts 26:8), and “esteems” (Romans 14:5, NKJ). The common idea in these passages is deciding or [as in the case of Matthew 5:40] appealing to others for a decision. Of course, it is not deciding in general that is objected to by those who say it is always wrong to judge but deciding the spiritual condition of others. However, many passages of scripture demand that we make such decisions.

To the church at Corinth Paul wrote, I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, ESV) From the first few verses of this chapter, we see that the members of the church at Corinth were treating a brother who was guilty of fornication as though he were not guilty of anything. Perhaps they thought they were not to be judging people. But they should have judged this individual as being, not only in danger, but a danger to them as well. Because of this danger, they were not to socialize with any brother who was guilty of sin and would not repent. This does not mean they should not allow him to come to the place of worship, however, because he may be coming there for the purpose of repenting. We, also, would be in spiritual danger, if we were to associate freely with those who are intent on living in sin. Therefore, we must be conscious of the spiritual condition of those with whom we regularly worship. This necessarily involves judging. Of course, withdrawing is not the first thing we are to do with regard to brethren who are guilty of sin. Paul is dealing with a case of obvious impenitence (the refusal to repent).

To the apostles Jesus said, " ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.’ ” (Matthew 18:15-17, ESV) Jesus gives three steps that must precede our withdrawing from those who have sinned against us. (1) Go to the individual privately, (2) take with you one or two others, and (3) tell the church. At whatever step the person repents, "you have gained your brother," and the matter need go no farther. If he will not repent, however, you are to "let him be to you like a Gentile and a tax collector;" that is, you are not to associate with him. Perhaps no two classes of people were held in lower esteem, or more steadfastly avoided by the self-righteous Jew than "a Gentile and a tax collector." The former was one who did not worship the only true God, while the latter was a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government. Thus, we see how the Lord views [and how we should view] those who will not repent.

To the churches of Galatia Paul wrote, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, ESV) Here, we see, again, that those who are concerned about spiritual things have a responsibility toward those who have been "overtaken in a fault." The responsibility is to "restore him." The manner in which the responsibility is to be carried out is "in a spirit of gentleness." The attitude with which the duty is to be carried out is keeping “watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." Yes, we are judging when we see the need to "restore him" who has been "caught in any transgression." But this is not the type of judging that Jesus condemns at Matthew 7:1 because "a spirit of gentleness" will cause us to make sure there is not a "beam" or “plank” in our own eye. This is judging “righteous judgment,” the type of judging Jesus commands at John 7:24.

To the church at Ephesus Paul wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11, ESV) How can we avoid taking "part in the unfruitful works of darkness" without judging which works are “fruitful” and which are “unfruitful” or without judging which are "of darkness" and which are "of light"? How can we "reprove them" if we do not recognize them? How can we recognize them without judging? To recognize them as "unfruitful works of darkness" is to judge them as such. But this is not the judging Jesus condemns; this is the judging Jesus commands.