Judging has become a bad word in the modern world. Christians chose their words so carefully so as not to be labeled as judgmental. Churches refuse to rebuke those living in open sin because they do not want to be labeled as a judgmental church. The term often implies that the individual or group is unloving and hateful. The world argues that love requires one to completely accept people of all ideas and lifestyles, and those who judge another person’s life choses are hypocritical, ignorant, Bible-thumping, figure wagging, closeminded bigots. The fear of being labeled has caused many believers to adopt a new image of Christ.
Popular Christianity often depicts Christ as stating, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:1,2). The quote of Christ during His Sermon on the Mount is one used commonly against people who would make accusations against another person. Those who see judging others as their Christian duty will confront people who are overtaken in some fault or sin and rebuke their actions. Would Christ have condoned such behaviour? Would Jesus have stood in up for the person being accused or the person making the accusations of sin? The Christian world remains largely divided on the matter. Which image of Christ is biblical? The image that Christ would never judge another person and encourages others not to judge, or is the image of Christ condemning people for their sins more accurate?
Firstly, examine Matthew 7 in context. Jesus proclaims, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5). Jesus teaches that judging others while being guilty of refusing to repent or seeing personal sins is hypocritical and provides no help to the brethren. The purpose of rebuking others is “that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). How can a person reprove and instruct on matters of righteousness while being estranged from God? Paul asked, “Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” (Rom. 2:21b,22). Christ and His followers taught the first-century church that judging others while refusing to examine oneself is hypocritical and counterproductive.
The woman caught in adultery to whom Christ addressed her accusers with the words, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7) often comes up in times of judging others. People use the words with the implication that because the one doing the judging has sinned in his/her past, the individual has no right to accuse another person. They see Jesus as having the only right to judge because He never sinned. Such individuals want to see Jesus as saying with these words that if you have sinned, you have no right to judge another person. However, consider the text again. Christ having knowledge of the law of the Jews knew the Pharisees were breaking with command in order to bring her to Him. He knows they only meant to find some reason to accuse him of malpractice of the law (Deut. 22:22-24). Jesus likewise knows that the woman’s accusers were guilty of the very thing for which they were willing to condemn her. (It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the man with whom the woman had committed adultery was in league with the accusing crowd.). Not only could there be no witnesses to cast the first stone, but the baying crowd was intimidated into silence and dispersion by their realization that Jesus was privy to their own indiscretions.
Ultimately, Christ does call the woman’s actions sinful; He does not excuse her sin just because her accusers were sinful. After the crowd disperses, John records, “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10,11). Jesus declares the fact that the woman managed to slip out from under judicial condemnation on the basis of one or more legal technicalities. Nevertheless, He said (to use modern-day vernacular), “You had better stop it! You were fortunate this time, but you must cease your sinful behavior!” Jesus does not condemn the woman legally–He had no grounds to do so. However, He most certainly condemns her morally and spiritually! Christ’s words pertaining to casting stones dealt with people who had to break the law of God in order to cast the stone at the woman; these words do not apply to those who judge and rebuke within the authority of the Law of Christ (Gal. 2:11; 1 Cor. 5:5-7; Acts 8:20-22). Christians cannot follow God’s commandments if they cannot judge between right and wrong of others and themselves.
The image of Christ on the matter of judging others may not be as one-sided as the majority of people would like to imagine; the gospel accounts depict Christ condemning others for their sins, while warning against blind and hypocritical judgment of others (Matt. 7:1-5). There is a balance to Christ’s teaching on judgment. Jesus states in a parallel passage to Matthew 7:1, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Christ doesn’t condemn all judgment, only the shallow hypocritical judgment that serves no purpose. Christ encourages His followers to use “righteous judgment”, those actions that God has already passed judgment on that can condemn a person (John 8:24; Mark 16:16). Christ likewise states, “Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” The Saviour expects His followers to be able to judge if certain actions are wrong or right. Christ obviously has no problem telling someone when their actions are right or wrong. He rebukes the Pharisees for hypocrisy (Matt. 23:13-29), He says they would “in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), and He calls them “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). Christ is blunt with the sinful but is not unfair in His judgment and neither should His followers be in their judgment of others (Gal. 6:1; 1 Cor. 6:2, 5).