You Lookin' at ME!??
(To judge or not to judge?)

In the inner-city the exclamation/question, "You lookin' at Me!??", sums up a favorite Bible phrase that Christians and non-Christians alike all seem to know. In good King James English it's "Judge not, lest ye be judged!" The mere accusation, let alone admitting that you'd even consider judging someone, is grounds for shunning in many circles. So in an effort to set your mind at rest and to answer your silent question: Am I judging you? With clarity and conviction, the answer is a resounding "depends." This too should be your answer when you consider the idea of judging, as you will see in this Biblical examination of the subject.

The panacea of living in a judge free world, where no one judges anyone or anything, is a work of fiction. Making judgments is an inevitable and necessary part of everyone's life. Everyone does it every day. In fact, those who have written to tell me that I shouldn't be judging anyone are breaking their own rule. In effect they are making a judgment concerning me; perhaps my abilities, or the accuracy of the content, or some other factor. One of the most interesting of these letters came from an elder of a church, who claimed that no one should ever question the acts or motives of anyone who professes to be a Christian! We'll look further at this issue later, but first I'll prove the statement I made that we all judge people, circumstances, or things, countless times a day. Consider for a moment the judgment-calls one makes concerning what to do each day, who to hang out with, what to wear, what to eat or not eat (especially staying away from those things marked with the skull and crossbones). At other times we are called on to judge who should represent us in government, or to sit in a jury and determine acts of murderers, rapists and terrorists (for example) to be reprehensible. Or what about your judgment concerning buying that magazine or picking up that R rated video while at the local Blockbuster? The list could go on but the fact is clear, we all spend a lot of time judging.

So what makes some judging wrong to so many people? It appears to be related to a person's views concerning right and wrong. If they happen to agree with your judgment standard, then judging is perfectly fine. For this very reason, many of those in the "judge not" camp will join together in judging those in the "judge" camp, ruling their actions out of line. Many of those same people would judge a convicted serial rapist as deserving of punishment because the crime offends their sense of right and wrong, while condemning others as being judgmental concerning their stands on other forms of sexual immorality; including pre-martial and extra-marital relationships. Again, the standard centers on their morality or standard for judging. The looser the standard, the more likely they are to look down on those with a more rigid set of values.

Nowhere in scriptures is the issue to stop all judging. Rather the key to understanding this subject is the standard. The Bible, over and over, asks "what standard are you judging by?" Consider, in context, the very verse that people so often run to at any hint of moral evaluation that could affect one of their personal "sacred cows."

Matthew 7:1-6 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For 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? 4 How 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? 5 You 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.

The context is very telling and necessary to understanding the true meaning of what was being said. Randomly pulling a sentence from a paragraph of any document can be used to put words in the speakers' mouth that were not intended. The phrase, "Any text without a context is a pretext", is valid of Scriptures. It is a fundamental principle of Scriptural interpretation to understand the context of any verse. While Matthew 7:1 in isolation appears to condemn all judging, verses two to five clearly explain that judging has to be done by a common standard and never an arbitrary or capricious one. Verse six then goes so far as to require the reader to judge whether a person is a "dog" or "pig", spiritually speaking. Jesus is clearly telling people to make right judgment based on His standard, the unchangeable word of God.

So if the standard is God's word, what are we called on to judge by that standard? [Take the time to check out the context of all the verses I use!]

Judge yourself.

2 Corinthians 13:5a Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.

Christians are commanded to be judging themselves. In fact, if we judge ourselves first by the standard of God's word, we have no reason to fear those who would (or should) judge us by the same standard.

Judge your neighbor.

Leviticus 19:15 "'Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

In regards to providing help or righting wrongs with your neighbors, the Bible is clear that Christians are to judge fairly and not be swayed by prestige or financial standing. Again, the overall standard is truth, fairness, and love as defined by God.

Judge prophets (those speaking in God's name).

Matthew 7:15-20 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

While there are many other passages which deal with how to judge those speaking in Jesus' name, this passage specifically commands Christians to judge them by their works.

Judge other professed believers

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

These passages set a higher standard for a specific group of people, namely those who profess to be believers. The church is not called to judge non-believers for their unregenerate behavior. In fact, believers should expect unregenerate behavior from unregenerate people. These are the people we associate with day-by-day, separate from them yet interacting with them as a witness and testimony to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. In contrast, the church is specifically called to judge when the person professes to be a believer but their actions do not follow through. Today, it has become fashionable for the church to condemn those outside it, for not wanting to pray or for not having Biblical values including living an immoral lifestyle, while at the same time tolerating overt sin and corruption within the church (i.e. specific professed believers). The justification is usually the words, "Who am I to judge? We all sin." The Biblical answer to that needs to be, "We are believers struggling to not sin and for the purity of the church - and because God commanded it - we must judge."

Judge professed teachers and leaders of the church [more on this subject is here]

Revelation 2:2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

2 Corinthians 11:4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

While similar to the exhortation to judge prophets, it's especially imperative to know that this requirement expands to all who would profess to be a leader in the church - or a teacher of Jesus. The passage in Revelation stands in stark contrast to the one in 2 Corinthians. In Revelation, Jesus is commending a church for testing (or judging) its professed leaders. The result was keeping the wolves away from the flock through preventing false apostles from having a venue in the church. Remember, false teachers don't belong in the church. In 2 Corinthians Paul was admonishing (even, dare I say it, judging) the church at Corinth for putting up with false teachers and false gospels. Failure to judge in these areas has contributed to the widespread perversion of the name "Christian" in today's church. People and religious organizations - ranging from cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons to so-called liberal denominations - are often accepted as being "Christians" merely because they say so. It's time for the church to start judging.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Judging spiritual things should be part of every Christians' everyday life. As such a foundational part of being a child of God, this could be assumed to be part of God's training process by which He prepares us for our ultimate destiny:

1 Corinthians 6:2-3 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

The apostle Paul wrote this while reminding the Corinthian church that they had no business asking non-believers to judge their disputes. The church, which should be working to not have disputes and disagreements, is well qualified to judge such matters - even when they pertain to lesser issues of a non-spiritual nature.

The Bible in no way condones all forms of judging - there's no blank check given to a Christian. The overall confine of our judging is the Biblical admonition that we judge "with righteous judgment." (See John 7:24) While some of the passages we've examined command us to judge by actions, the one just referenced makes it clear that it cannot be according to superficial appearances. Class standing or appearances generated by wealth and poverty are other specific examples that Scriptures warns us to not be swayed by (see James 2:1-4).

Proverbs 31:8-9 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Some things we cannot and should not judge. Issues of conscience arising from varying degrees of faith are one such area.

Romans 14:1-4 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

It's amazing how easy it is for some Christians, who practice little right judgment in other areas, to judge other believers by their own personal standard. How quickly we forget that God works differently, and in His timing, in each believer. Wrong judging is requiring a believer to be at the same level spiritually as you are (or think you are). One of the best examples of this today pertains to an edible substance, as did Paul's example to the Romans. While one believer in their maturity of faith is persuaded that drinking wine is good, still another condemns them based on their own faith (or lack thereof). Again, right judging cannot rest on personal standards; rather it must rest on absolute standards. Two believers can act rightly in opposite ways to the same thing, as God as led or matured them. Rules that one person establishes for himself may not be applicable to someone else, who may not be tempted in the same way. For example, if a person's weakness is gluttony, frequenting the local smorgasbord is not a good thing, while for another it creates no temptation.

Romans 14:23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

The place righteous judging allows no compromise is in regards to sin. God never leads differently in regards to defined sin. God has filled His word with examples of specific sin, sometimes seemly in repetition and example to the point of absurdity. I believe He did so because we are so prone to creating artificial and hypocritical standards of judgment that He knows we need the repeated emphasis.

If we train ourselves daily to judge between right and wrong - by God's standard alone - we will be able to uphold God's clear command:

Ephesians 5:11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Can you judge what the deeds of darkness are? Do you judge what they are? The mere act of exposing them (including verbally or through personally refraining from them) will have you accused of judging - and you are! As long as it is God's standard you are apply, there's nothing wrong with that.

So... You lookin' at ME? If you are a believer, judging by God's standard, I can only hope so!


Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2004.
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.