Judge Not or Judge Rightly

Some weeks I’m convicted to write articles that are so countercultural that they are scary, at least for me, to share. I fear the condemnation of others. And today is one of those days. I guarantee that this one will rub us wrong because we have been indoctrinated from birth by our society to think what I am sharing is wrong. But it’s our responsibility as Christians to allow Scripture to shape us, especially when it goes against our culture. You are faced with a choice today, like you are faced with every day. Will you follow the tough teachings of Scripture or the billowing winds of society?

In America, we exalt the ideals of individualism - “you can’t tell me what to do” - and self-expression - "just be yourself." We even hear, to corroborate these American ideals, a teaching of Jesus. 

Everyone throws it around. You would think they all follow Jesus by how much we hear “judge not lest you be judged.” Not that most know the context of the verse they utter because, in its context, it is actually teaching us how to judge. In contrast to the meaning of this statement when taken out of context, Jesus also taught, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” 

So in this article, we will take a worldwind tour through the issue of judgment. What was Jesus teaching us? If we are to judge, then who are we to judge? And what does this look like in practice? 

But before we begin, I want to define the word “judge.” The word translated “judge” from the Greek just means to make a decision on whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. It obviously has a judicial use, but it also can be used in private contexts. It means to separate the good from the bad. The grain from the chaff. Or, a modern-day equivalent, picking the all stars out from their regular teams. Or stealing the rye chips out of the gardettos - something I like to do. Or a coach critiquing a kid on what they are doing wrong so that they can do it better. 

When we hear "judge" used in a negative light, it means something else entirely. In an a message, Judging Others? Stop It!, a religious leader states, “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!”

Now, I am against all the negative things that the writer was against – hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm. But those are not elements of judging in the Biblical sense. They’re sin. Flat out sin. 

Jesus actually teaches us to judge, and he wouldn’t teach us to sin.

I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John 7:21-24 (ESV).

Judge with right judgment. In contrast to our culture's doctrines of tolerance and permissiveness, Jesus actually tells us to righteously judge things. We’re called to lift a brother or sister out of sin when we see them sinking in it. And we can’t do that without judging whether the behavior in our brother or sister is right or wrong. 

The other side of the coin is that we are also not supposed to get upset over the actions in others that do not matter. That is the balance to keep us in control from becoming Oscar the Grouch. In the context of this passage from John, Jesus healed on the Sabbath and people became upset, upset that He would make a man well because He did it on the wrong day. For a modern day example, let’s talk about church. Church is important, and I don’t think people should miss gathering together. But if you missed the gathering to help someone, I shouldn’t be upset. Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

So how do we judge rightly? Let me give you a practical example without giving too many details. A while back I approached someone who was participating in behavior that was destructive to them and to the local church community I am part of. This wasn’t to the level of church discipline. It was just me suggesting to them that the behavior that they were participating in would not lead to the best life for them. Their behavior was causing lots of problems in their life and in our church. 

And it didn’t go so well. Instead of changing their behavior, they attacked me and left the church. That’s pretty typical in modern-day America. Instead of changing into who God wants us to be, we just find a place that won’t encourage us to change.

The response I experienced is something we always need to be prepared for in confronting someone about something. But we must ask ourselves if we love the other person enough that we are willing to risk our relationship with them to improve their life. Because not helping someone through a problem that is destroying their life – something that people are oddly oblivious to at times – not helping them is not loving them. What is loving them is to actually talk to them gently and in a loving way about it. Experience shows that some times it helps and other times we are attacked or completely ignored.

So I want to ask what makes it work sometimes and not at others.

First, humility is necessary. In both people. In confronting someone, we could very well be wrong. So we always approach the person we perceive to be struggling with a sin with love and gentleness, but we must not ignore the issue if we notice that it is destroying God's intention for the situation. 

Second, a desire for improvement is necessary. If someone doesn’t want to be better, then nothing we say or do will matter. A "perfect" person needs no help. 

Third, it is important to confront others within the context of an already existing relationship. People will often start pulling away from relationships when there is something majorly sinful going on in their life. Sadly, people disconnect when they need the relationship most. But we need to work on having that relationship with people before we approach a tough subject with them.

When you do confront someone, just point out the issue that you think needs worked on. It’s not time to bring out a shopping list of problems. Just point out the specific problem, talk about solutions, and move on. Be quick to forgive. And don’t ever hold a grudge. 

People who join together in a local church body agree to be held accountable by other spiritual family members and are willing to hold them accountable if needed, all for the sake of encouragement and spiritual maturity. This accountability is important to being a Christian, but it’s difficult because our world teaches us to avoid accountability. To make this happen, we must realize that there is a difference between being judgmental and acknowledging sin in others with the intention to encourage them to change.

One guy wrote on a Youtube video regarding judging others a common sentiment: “I've got way too many planks
in my own eye to worry about anyone else's sin.” You probably also know the plank in the eye phrase. It comes from the most quoted section on judging in Scripture.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV).

I had a friend write me a few months back. He had a problem with going to strip clubs and was looking for help in stopping. Now, am I supposed to be non-judgmental and say, “Hey, that’s fine. Who am I to say that you shouldn’t go to strip clubs? Who am I to say that going is bad for you? And who are you, my friend, to say that you need to stop doing it? Doesn’t your view denigrate everyone else that goes to strip clubs? Go to strip clubs if you think that is good for you.” Or should I say, “Hey, here are some tips to get over that sin in your life.” And then proceed, out of love, to give him suggestions of things in his life that he needs to change to get at the core of the issue. Because the issue is not strip clubs. That's just the surface issue. The real issue is the distance between him and Jesus.

Using the argument made on Youtube, I shouldn’t tell him not to go because I have different sins in my life. Who am I to help another remove the speck from their eye? But that is not what Jesus was talking about. If I have a problem going to strip clubs, then I shouldn’t be the one trying to help my friend out. Who would I be to talk about the peril of strip clubs if I had the same struggle? But that’s not my struggle. Not that I don’t have other problems in my life. But in this case, I should help my friend out. We don’t have to be perfect to practice righteous judgment. If that were the case, we wouldn’t ever be qualified to help one another out because each one of us is a sinner in need of a savior. What we have to be is humble and loving. And if we have a problem with something, then we shouldn’t start pointing that out in others.

For everyone who loudly proclaims, “Don’t judge me.” There are others who through the righteous judgment of others, changed their lives from what it shouldn’t be to more of what it should be. This has been true in me many times. Others have seen areas in my life that needed to change. They followed that observation up by trying to convince me that I needed the changes they perceived I needed. They did this through example, and they did it through conversation. We need to likewise. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has grown as a result of the loving and righteous judgment of someone else. Being rightly judged and encouraged is a great thing.

Now, I hope this article will encourage us to help one another out, but I don’t want it to unleash an unhealthy firestorm of criticalness toward one another. 

We must realize that we can’t do this life alone. We need one another. And what I am talking about usually works best through existing relationships.

But I want to clarify one thing. We don’t ever judge those outside of the church. Let me reiterate that because it is an essential concept. We don’t ever judge those outside of the church.

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)

We see a few things in this passage. One, we don’t expect the world to not be the world. Two, we are to purge the evil person from among us. So the world will be the world, but the church is supposed to be a shining example of heaven here on earth, the kingdom of God among us.

This brings up the heavy topic of church discipline. When, if ever, would a situation of sin reach a point where an individual would have to be removed from the local church? Paul wrote that we are to “purge the evil person.” In the case of the Corinthian church, they had a situation where a son was sleeping with his step-mother and everyone, including Paul in another city, knew about it. This public sin was hurting the mission of Jesus.

We need to be full of grace toward one another, but there reaches a point when what someone is regularly participating in is so detrimental to the mission of the church that it needs to be dealt with in a disciplinary way. I hope that is something that is few and far between. People, like me, don’t become leaders in the church because we want authority over people and want to discipline them. We become leaders because we want to mobilize people to love God and love their community. It’s the mission of the church to be disciples and to help others be disciples. 

Discipline, as Paul is describing here, happens only when the sin – because we are all sinners – is so drastic that it is destroying the church. This is the point at which a particular sin is so detrimental to the church that it is crippling other people's ability to love God and love the community they are called to love.

So if you struggle with porn and the church hears about it, they shouldn't threaten to kick you out of the church. Instead they should help you. But if you start up a swingers club, the church should ask you to leave until you’re willing to turn back to God. If you struggle with gossip, the church shouldn't kick you out, but they should help hold you accountable. But if you get on Facebook every day, making your sin of gossip public and destroy the reputation of yourself and the church you attend, the church should deal with it. If you struggle with alcoholism, the church shouldn't threaten you with expulsion. Instead, the church should help you overcome your addiction. But if you get a reputation as the town drunk, that is something the church will have to deal with.

A good test to use is to ask if the particular behavior is extremely detrimental to the mission of the church? Remember, the church is just our relationships with one another under Jesus.

Now, we must recognize that this concept of church discipline does not apply to visitors or people outside of the church. It only applies to people in the church family.

I understand that this teaching of discipline goes against some of our society’s deeply held convictions, but we exist to be disciples and help others be disciples. And if the behavior of someone in a church reaches a level that it begins to destroy the mission of the church, it is something the church will have to deal with. 

If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. John 12:47 (ESV)

Let me reiterate. We are to never judge those outside the church. Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it. The same should be true with us. We are not here to judge the world, but to be involved in saving it. Christians have a bad reputation because we get it all backward. Unfortunately, the church has been bumbling and fumbling it’s way to discerning how we are to behave in a democracy. The Bible doesn’t give clear instructions on how being a Christian in a democracy works. We have principles to apply, but the way it looks has been something we have been wrestling with since the founding of this nation. Unfortunately, on our way from being a persecuted group at the founding of the church to being a group that has some legislative power in this day and age, we have gained a reputation for judging those outside of the church. We have become known as haters and ridiculers of those outside of the church. 

Instead, we should be known as lovers of the people in the world.

So we have to clean up our own act as the church. We have to be concerned with one another in the body. That is one of the reasons we have local church families and aren't Lone Ranger Christian. Through a local body, we know who wants to be held accountable. When you’re not in the family, the family should not hold you accountable. That’s not the church's job. But being part of the family lets us know who wants to be held accountable by one another. 

There is a difference between judging whether someone is sinning combined with encouraging/rebuking/helping them strive to be who God has destined them to be, especially when you are in a church family together, contrasted with judging one’s eternal salvation. The latter we are to never do. The former is a part of what church is all about. Whether it is in helping people in their first step in the Lord, the next step in their lifelong journey, or steering them back toward God when they have gone wayward, we each need others to help us grow in the Lord.

The Bible teaches that every person has worth as a creation of God, but each have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Everyone is a sinner, and Jesus established the church to provide a place for us to help one another grow. We are all about being different tomorrow from who we are today. We are not where God wants us to be – nobody reading this is, yet we are on a journey to become more and more of who we were made to be. Together and as individuals. Despite all of its flaws, I still love the church. We are far, far from perfect, but it is beautiful when we are heading in the right direction and being used by God to transform lives.

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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)

Recently a young couple had moved into a rural neighborhood. Living next door to this new couple was Bill and Mary. One morning while eating breakfast, Mary looked out the window and saw her new neighbor hanging her wash. “That laundry isn’t very clean!” Mary told bill. “Our young neighbor doesn’t know how to get her clothes clean!” Bill read the paper and didn’t say a word. Every time the new neighbor hung the laundry out to dry, Mary would make the same comments. Bill continued to say nothing.

A few weeks later, Mary was surprised to look out her window and see a nice, fresh and clean row of wash hung out to dry. In surprise, she said to her husband, “Look Bill, she finally knows how to clean her laundry.” “I wonder what she learned?” Mary asked. Bill replied, “Honey, I might have an answer for you.” “Really?” Mary Said. “Yes, I do.” Bill said. “I got up early this morning and washed our windows. I guess we finally learned to wash the windows.” (From a video at

Jackpot! Now that is the story our culture wants us to believe. If someone else has a problem, then that problem is really just our problem because we're judgmental. It's definitely not the other person's problem. 

I concede that frequently the problem is our problem. We can’t just run around trying to correct everyone. Jesus instructed us to judge rightly. We need to make sure that we are seeing the whole issue before coming to a judgment. All sides of the issue. We have to make sure that the problem isn’t just us, our wrong attitude or our incomplete perspective.

But at other times, people actually have problems, and we are called to help them. People might not know how to do their laundry. What would it benefit them if we didn’t go over there and show them how to do it? We could do this in a creative and loving way. We could invite them to do laundry with us. But the goal would be helping and not just criticizing them from the comfort of our dining room table.

People might not know right from wrong. They might not have been taught it since birth. We all have a somewhat skewed upbringing. Our society instructs us from birth that we are to let people be who they are, but some times people need to be loved out of being who they are. They need someone to show that they can be better than who they are, that they are not limited to being who they presently are. Nobody is confined to just be who they are. Each one of us needs to work toward being who God planned for us to be. Most people have been taught by their parents how to do their laundry, but for those who haven't, they do need someone to teach them.

So come as you are church. Wear the clothes you’re comfortable wearing. Be your own unique self. The church should be a safe place free from hate, gossip, ridicule, and grudges. Those sins have no place in the church. But if you’re a member of a church family and you’re hurting others, expect someone to confront you. If you need help, anticipate someone helping you. We need to judge and help one another on the things that matter. That's love. Tough love, but the kind of love that transforms us from our sinful nature into more of that person that God created us to be. Loving one another is what we’re called to do. And one way we do that is through practicing righteous judgment.

If you're part of a church, you have joined together in a family to be held accountable by other family members. And you have committed to have others hold you accountable if needed, all for the sake of encouragement and spiritual maturity. Let us learn to love, even when it is difficult, so that the mission of Jesus – for us to be disciples and help others be disciples – is realized in our midst.