“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
It is a common idea especially in our churches today that we must never judge anything or anyone. That is contrary to what scripture teaches. As John says, we must make “right judgments.”
The definition of “judgments” is “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.” (Google dictionary)
A “considered decision” is “a decision that someone has reached after a lot of thought.” (Cambridge dictionary online)
Truly, we can’t live the life we are called to, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), if we don’t continually seek to make considered decisions, which, according to the above scripture is the right kind of judgment –the kind we should be making.
I encourage you to go read the entire passage (John 7:1-24) for the context. Grab a dictionary if you are uncertain of the meanings of words (Even if you are certain. I have often found that the word has a different literal definition then the way it is use in spoken language). At the time the Jews were making judgments about Christ, disagreeing about whether He was a good man or not.
Jesus didn’t say it was evil to ever judge anything or anyone. Instead, He told His Jewish brothers to make considered decisions about Him, not just judging his outward appearance. We know from Isaiah that He was plain in appearance, that He had “nothing in His appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). He was encouraging them to see past His poor and plain exterior. Jesus wanted them to make considered decisions about His teachings (at the time of this passage He was teaching).
We know that there are certain things that only God can judge including the heart and motives (1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Corinthians 4:5). There are other topic which we are called to make “right judgments” or “considered decisions” about.
The scripture passages that teach “do not to judge” are not in conflict with this passage in John. The passage in John merely clarifies the topic so we know which judgments we should make. One rule of BIble interpretation is that we use verses with clearer mean to help us understand verses that are more vague.
This is why it is so important that we study the Word. There are so many unbiblical ideas prevalent in our churches today. Let us be like the Bereans, searching the scriptures to find the truth. Let us not take anyone’s word for it… except God’s.
Given the actual definition of “judging,” I believe the the American church has redefined the word to mean something it doesn’t mean. We can’t simply redefine words to suit our purposes. That’s not an honest study of the scripture. Many people I know use “Do not judge” to mean “Don’t ever think anyone is doing anything wrong.” But we are commanded to consider if our Christian brothers are sinning and even correct and rebuke them if they are wrong (2 Timothy 4:2). The literal definition of “judge” is to form an opinion about something. I do know people who think you must never form an opinion about anything or anyone. But that is also not true based on scripture. How can we correct and rebuke if we never form an opinion about what is right and wrong? How can we teach the truth if we never form an opinion about anything? We can’t. That is why we must make the right kind of judgements.
1 Corinthians 5:11-12 further clarifies who we should and shouldn’t judge. Paul tells us that we are supposed to make judgements (based on scripture) about other believers, but we aren’t supposed to make judgements about those who are not believers: “12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
So let’s clarify who we are supposed to judge and who we aren’t supposed to judge. By judge, I mean “make decisions about,” not “treat harshly.“ We are never supposed to treat other harshly, whether they are saved or not.
We are allowed to judge (make decisions about) other Christians only in areas that are sin issues. These decisions (judgements) are only made with the intent of restoring a believer or removing an unbeliever or heretic from the church (Yes, scripture teaches that only believers are supposed to be in the church. The church isn’t a building. It is people. We believers ARE the church. As I understand scripture, outreach should be done separately from fellowship time. Fellowship time –what we would call “church”– is for believers.)
We are not allowed to judge another man’s stewardship (Romans 14:4) which is anything that is not clearly and specifically stated as sin in scripture. Quite honestly, this is where most judging happens, and it strictly forbidden in scripture.
We are not allowed to judge unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:11-12). It doesn’t make sense for the living to be angry at the dead for being dead. Sinners are dead in their sin. They can’t behave like believers because they are sinners.
Here’s an illustration to help you understand what I mean: If we were butterflies that had been changed from caterpillars, how silly would it be for us to judge those who were still caterpillars? They are caterpillars. They don’t have wings. They can’t be anything but caterpillars until the metamorphosis comes. Now, if another butterfly is still inching along acting like a caterpillar, then we can remind them that they are no longer a caterpillar and should behave like a butterfly.
It is the same with being a Christian. Until the change comes through Jesus Christ, unbelievers will act like exactly what they are: unbelievers. We should expect this. It should not make us angry or harsh. It should make us pray for those who don’t yet know the Lord.
In my experience, this issue of judging is so incredibly misunderstood, and yet scripture actually has a lot to say about it. Most of what the Bible says is contrary to the “you can’t judge me” mentality in our churches today. As with everything in our lives, we need to look and see what the scripture says, not relying on our Christian culture to teach us. Even Christian culture gets it wrong. We live in a day when people (even Christians) want their ears tickled more than they want the truth of the Bible. So, let us not rely on what our ear-tickling Christian culture says. Let us fervently pursue an understanding of scripture.
I’m always surprised when someone says “Only God can judge me.” Scripture says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God (Hebrews 10:31). He can judge you, and He will. That should scare you. It should cause you to consider your actions if you’re saved and consider your salvation if you’re not saved.
Originally posted on FB in 2015