In his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, Richard J. Mouw, relates this account among a gathering of seminary professors.
One professor reported that at his school the most damaging charge one student can lodge against another is that the person is being “judgmental.” He found this pattern very upsetting. “You can’t get a good argument going in class anymore,” he said. “As soon as somebody takes a stand on any important issue, someone else says that the person is being judgmental. And that’s it. End of discussion. Everyone is intimidated!”
Apparently, the other professors had encountered this same problem as they nodded knowingly. There was a consensus that the fear of being judgmental has taken on epidemic proportions.
Mouw makes the point that civility doesn’t require us to accept a relativistic approach to every issue. It doesn’t mean that we can’t criticize corruption in culture. Nor does it require us to approve of every idea of being equally valid. Civility doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to make judgments.
“You’re judging!” is a charge often hurled at Christians for their disapproval, or condemnation of someone’s belief or practice. Then it is followed up with, “You know what the Bible says, ‘Judge not that you be not judged.”
In that passage, Matthew 7:1, Jesus is condemning harsh, censorious judgment that is hypercritical and hypocritical. It is the judgment of one who finds a blemish in the life of another when he himself has more serious faults that need correcting.
In John 7:24 Jesus says that judgment is appropriate and offers the basis of making judgments. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”
In this context, the Pharisees were making judgments about Jesus that were unfounded, shallow and based on their tradition instead of Truth. Their conclusions about Jesus were superficial. In fact, their prejudice against Him caused them to be dishonest in their judgment.
The word “judge” as used here, means “to separate, to select, to choose, hence to determine,” according to W. E. In his Expository of New Testament Words. Thayer further says that it means “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong.”
Judging may be not only appropriate in many cases but something that Jesus commands us to do. The basis of our judgment, however, is to be founded on “righteousness.” The “righteousness of God” is revealed in “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1;16-17). In the Bible, we can determine what are the “works of righteousness,” observe “the fruits of righteousness,” and become skilled in “the word of righteousness.”
Righteous judgment requires that we distinguish Truth from error.
Jesus warned of false prophets who would disguise their true identity. They would appear holy and harmless. But really were a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15-19). Jesus said that you could determine who they really were and the validity of their teaching by the fruit they produced. That calls for judging not only what is right, but also what is wrong, as well as judging the fruit that each one bears.
Righteous judgment demands moral distinctions.
In the Corinthian church, there was a man engaged in sexual immorality. The church had allowed this sin to fester. Paul wrote to rebuke them and said that he “already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing” (1 Cor. 5:4). Paul’s judgment was based on truth. It was founded in God’s prohibition against fornication and adultery.
It is not wrong to condemn sins of immorality in our hedonistic culture. We are not guilty of improperly judging those who participate in wife swapping, engage in premarital sex, live in an adulterous relationship, or commit homosexual sins, even if they are recognized as legally married. All such is condemned in the Bible (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Matt. 19:9).
Righteous judgments help us settle disputes among brethren.
The Corinthians also had a problem with legal issues among brethren. Like our society today, the Greek culture had become known for its litigious activities. Paul said the brethrens’ involvement in the court system against one another was a poor witness to the world. As an alternative, the apostle, by inspiration said they should pick a person with wisdom to make a judgment in such disputes. (1 Cor. 6:1-8)
Preachers, pastors, and other spiritually mature Christians may serve as a “judge’ among brethren who find themselves in conflict with each other.
Not all judging is wrong. However, let none of us be guilty of judging people superficially based on outward appearances of race, ethnic origin, education, social status, material prosperity, or physical attributes.
“Judge with righteous judgment.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman