Righteous Judgment: Discernment not Condemnation
Judging is prominent in our culture today. Shows like American Idol and the Voice have opened the door to everyone being a judge of performance or style. We see commentators on news media judging events, people, speeches, press conferences and the weather. We even watch as people’s moral behavior is judged often against a standard that is unfair or even unbiblical.
Jesus, within the Sermon on the Mount, says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Matthew 7:1–2).”
What does He mean? Are we, as Christ followers, forbidden to judge?
Before we look at that question we have to understand some Greek. Within these verses, Jesus uses two words that are translated “judge” in English. One word carries with it a connotation of “discernment.” The other means “condemnation.” As Christians we are called to discern—we are called to have wisdom based on the Word, will and ways of God. We are not called to judge someone or something in a condemning or mean spirited way. When we do, according to what Jesus said, we’ll be judged in the same manner.
So, you may be asking, what does it mean to “judge not”?
We need to understand that Jesus’ concern in these verses was condemning, not discerning. Remember the Pharisee who said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess (Luke 18:11–12).” He was judging and condemning people. He formed a self-righteous, unkind and judgmental opinion of people, not based on fact, but his own ego. That’s when we get into trouble. That’s when we blow it.
A condemning spirit is a self-righteous spirit. It’s not rooted in God’s Word, or His will or His character. It’s rooted in our own pride.
God does call us to have a discerning spirit. In an age where people want their ears itched and there’s a growing trend to the ease of compromise (peace at any price), we need to constantly seek God’s wisdom for discernment.
Daniel gives us a tremendous example. Daniel 2:14 says, “Daniel spoke to him [Arioch] with wisdom and tact.” Those two words mean discretion and discernment. One commentator says he spoke with wisdom and in good taste. He didn’t have a self-righteous attitude; he stood boldly on his faith. Later in chapter two we read about how he praised God for giving wisdom, knowledge and discernment.
In John 7:24 Jesus says, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” D. A. Carson wrote, “We will eschew cheap judmentalism, remembering that we ourselves are at best poor sinners saved by grace. We will constantly ask God for the grace and wisdom to avoid decisions based on flattery, personal prejudice or pique, faulty understanding of Scripture, carelessness, or other impure or lazy motives. Instead we want to be fair and just, to test everything by Scripture maturely understood, to judge evenhandedly and on the basis of the immutables of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its practical entailments.”
In summary, Carson is writing about righteous judgment. It’s not a self-righteous attitude on condemnation, but rather discernment based completely on God’s Word. We need to seriously look at our culture and the perilous times in which we live with discernment. We need to extend the love of Jesus Christ to everyone and never stop serving them in His name—we may be the only Jesus they ever see.
At the same time, we also need to be wise and let our filter of what the world does and says be the Bible, God’s will and His character. We need to “take heed” as Jesus said and be sure our hearts are open and we’re also listening to the Holy Spirit for discernment rather then condemnation.