It happened when I posted something to social media expressing an opinion about a current polarizing topic. It happened again when I just offered another point of view on someone else post. “Christians are not to pass judgments, only state the truths,” one person commented.
“Christ taught us to LOVE EVERYONE. We should be slow to judge. Judgments are for our father in heaven, not us,” said another.
Judging others has good and bad sides. When you make choices based on observing and evaluating other people, you are using a critical skill. When you judge people from a negative perspective, you are doing it to make yourself feel better, and as a result, the judgment is likely to be harmful to both of you.
What We Must Not Judge
We must not judge “the hidden . . . purposes of the heart” of other Christians based on their decisions, actions, perspectives, words, or personalities that concern us if those things themselves are not explicitly sinful (I Cor. 4:5). We must not assume sin just because we suspect it. We need to realize that we don’t have all the facts; only God is all-knowing.
When Paul wrote, “do not pronounce judgment before the time,” he was referring to a debate among Corinthian Christians over whether Paul, Apollos, or Peter (C
ephas) was the most authoritative apostle (I Cor. 1:11-12; 3:3-4). Why were they quarreling over such a thing? We don’t know. All we know is:
- the Corinthians had personal knowledge of and experience with these apostles
- how we tend to judge leaders based on our observations and experiences
Like different leaders we know, Paul, Apollos, and Peter had different personalities. They likely had different linguistic and instructional styles, theological emphases and may have exercised or emphasized other spiritual gifts.
What We Must Judge
Christians must judge the explicitly sinful behavior of a professing Christian.
Jesus said a “tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33). When do the hidden sinful purposes of the heart reveal themselves? In a person’s explicitly immoral behavior. That’s why Paul didn’t even have to be present to pass judgment on a man who engaged in sexual immorality (I Cor. 5:3). And he explicitly instructed the Corinthian Christians to pass judgment on him too (I Cor. 5:12-13).
When we sin, our Christian brothers and sisters have an obligation to judge us. They must not condemn us, but they must, out of love, call us to repent. Such judgment is a grace, an expression of God’s kindness (Romans 2:4). We only compound our sin if we take offense. If our sin is severe and our church determines that, we must be disciplined (Matt. 18:15-17), we must keep in mind that the purpose is to pursue our redemption, not damnation (I Cor. 5:4-5).
Be Slow to Judge
When blatant sin is confirmed, Christians must lovingly judge Christians. But in most situations, we must be very slow to judge, exercising great care and restraint. Our sinful flesh has a hair-trigger to judge others. We must have a healthy suspicion of our own pride and keep Jesus’s words ringing in our ears: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
This is especially important because many situations we face are not as clear-cut as the 2nd Corinthian examples above. Often the line between judging hidden heart purposes and calling out sin looks ambiguous, and when it is, it is best to be slow to criticize.