To say that judgment carries a negative connotation in our culture is a severe understatement. A scroll through any social media platform reveals countless threads of people hurling insults and accusations at strangers and loved ones. Judged for wearing a mask and for not; judged for posting a black square on social media or not; judged for supporting Biden or Trump, the list goes on and on.
Judgment is synonymous with demeaning, belittling and hypocrisy. And while people, including those of faith, have done all these and many more evil things in the name of judgment, when conducted within the biblical context, judgment is actually necessary and something Christians are commanded to do.
To understand this Scriptural framework for judgment, we must first understand what judgment constitutes. Merriam Webster defines judgment this way: “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.”
This is the very role of courtroom judges. They hear both sides of a case, evaluate the presented facts and use their discernment based on what they have heard and their prior experience to make a judgment about who is right and who is wrong.
All of us make judgments every day for ourselves. What should I eat for breakfast? Do I want to go out or stay in tonight? What would be the most appropriate outfit for this event?
Judging for ourselves is easy, most of the time. The problems tend to arise when we judge others. But we know that judging others is not inherently wrong. In fact, in the right context, judgment is one of the most loving and freeing things we can give or receive. We know this to be true because God gave the authority to judge to His Son Jesus (John 5:22), and Jesus judged constantly the right way.
The key is that Jesus judged not to shame but to love. Not to lift up Himself but to lift up the one in need of judgment. Unlike the Pharisees who arbitrarily judged others against their own self-imposed standards of living, Jesus judged others against God’s Word, the only standard by which Christians are called to live and hold one another accountable.
We have no right to call out someone else’s behavior or choices simply because they are not the ones we would make. All too often, believers haughtily shame someone for doing things differently than they would in the name of judgment. You shouldn’t wear that. You shouldn’t eat that. You shouldn’t buy that. You shouldn’t post that.
It’s when someone’s behavior contradicts with Scripture that we have not only the right but the responsibility to confront our brother or sister in Christ: “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents; forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
The famous, and often misapplied verse, “Judge not lest you also be judged” (Matthew 7:1) is a warning for us from Jesus that if we impose our standards upon others, we must be ready for the same to be done to us. This is why the Word of God is the only place from which we should source judgment and the only standard to which we must try to live our lives. Jesus is the good Judge, and things get slippery when we try to judge outside of His command or wield judgment as an expression of punishment rather than love.
The truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). Judging others as Jesus did lines up with our calling to speak the truth in love. Imagine what a difference it would make if all Christians loved one another enough to lovingly judge when necessary!
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Jay Lowder is a full-time evangelist and founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries. Follow him on Twitter at @jaylowder.