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Judging Others
Judging Others

by | May 2, 2024 | Pastor

         Jesus forbids judging others.  His teaching Do not judge, or you too will be judged  (Matthew 7:1) rings loudly in our ears.  So does this teaching: 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?   And do you remember the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)?  Even though it doesn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel, the phrase Let him who is without sin cast the first stone is such a zinger that it too reverberates in our ears.

         OK, got it.  Judging others is not our job.

         But wait: Jesus also says Stop judging by appearances and make a right judgment (John 7:24).   And in Mt. 16:19 he confers to church leaders what is called “The Office of the Keys”: I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  This office, according to Martin Luther and others, lends authority to forgive the sins of the penitent person or to retain judgment for the unrepentant person.

         So…. we should judge?  Isn’t that a contradiction?

         Unfortunately, there are not separate Greek words for judging righteously and judging unrighteously.  The Greek word krino is used in both cases.  So let’s go back to Matthew 7 where Jesus is talking about the speck in your brother’s eye.  He says 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.

         So: it’s possible to constructively judge others if first we examine ourselves.

         I suggest three questions to ask ourselves before we enter into judgment:

    • “Am I trying to punish, or do I truly want to help?”
    • “Am I moving us toward reconciliation or toward separation?”
    • “Am I angry, or at peace?”

         Before you respond to the situation, step back.  Push pause.  Breathe.  When you’re hurt we need a little time to work through it before the Spirit gives us a green light to speak.  So step back, push pause, breathe.  If you find you can’t shake the angry feelings, you can still have that conversation; but avoid making judgements because you’re not ready to.

         Now let’s put this dilemma of judging others in the context of a secular society that typically rejects traditional morality.

         Christians are often judged by secularists for being judgmental.  (Did you catch that irony, by the way?)  Their judgment puts a pressure on us that can lead us to make one of two opposing mistakes.  On one hand we may become reactive and truly judgmental.  We’re hurt and offended, and we might lose our cool.  On the other hand we can be cowed by their judgment.  We back down and say, “Gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”  This failure of nerve brings neither glory to God nor benefit to our opponents.

In the context of a pluralistic or immoral society we must calmly stand on the truth of scripture and be prepared to take the hits.  We must anticipate being judged as narrow-minded, puritanical, stupid, regressive, and Neanderthal.  The mature Christian accepts that in a fallen world, hostility to God and his truth is normal.  Proverbs 29:27 puts it neatly: The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright. 

         The Church has the responsibility of promoting moral health in a society.  We must judge sin as sin for the sake of both the sinner and the society.  If we fail to, Proverbs 28:12 predicts the result: When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.  But we are called to carry a cross, not go into hiding

         It was John Adams who said “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  With equal measure of humility and courage let us therefore work to become a moral and religious people.


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