“Christians are so judgmental.” “You shouldn’t judge others.” “Who are you to judge?”
Make a moral statement that someone disagrees with and you’re almost certain to hear one of these cliché statements as a reply. If that doesn’t stop you dead in your tracks, the person will often quote Jesus on the matter, hoping that it will shame you into silence. After all, in Matthew 7:1, didn’t Jesus himself say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”? What are we to make of this - is it really wrong to make moral judgments?
Whenever the accusation is made that someone is being judgmental, it’s important to understand what they mean by “judgmental.” In most cases, they usually mean one of the following:
“You think you’re right and others are wrong. You think you have the truth.”
“You’re trying to tell others how to live and imposing your morality on others.”
“You think you’re morally superior to others. You’re being arrogant.”
The problem with all of these statements is that they are hypocritical. I’ll explain what I mean. For those who say “you think you’re right and others are wrong,” it would be appropriate to ask them if they think they are right and you are wrong. It’s impossible for them to condemn you for thinking you’re right without doing the very same thing themselves. The fact is, we all think that we’re right. There’s nothing inherently judgmental about thinking that your view is correct – it would be foolish to hold to a view that you knew was false, and most people have the sense to change their views if they find that they are wrong about something. Each one of us holds the views we do precisely because we think they are true.
What about those who claim that you’re judgmental because “you’re telling others how to live and imposing your morality on others”? Just as in the first example, the person who says this is doing the very thing that they’re telling you not to do. The moment that person tells others not to judge, he is being just as judgmental by telling them how to live and imposing his “don’t judge” morality on them. It’s also important to notice that those who make these accusations often consider themselves to be more virtuous (morally superior) than the “judgmental” person they’re condemning. This is hypocrisy, plain and simple.
What about the accusation of moral superiority and arrogance? This charge is often brought against Christians in particular, and many people in our culture think that Christianity is inherently judgmental. What they may not realize is that genuine Christianity requires exactly the opposite – acknowledging one’s own moral failure is a prerequisite to following Christ. You can’t be forgiven for messing up until you admit that you messed up in the first place. Now, it’s very true that there are people within the church who have an attitude of arrogance, self-righteousness, or superiority, and they would do well to remember that Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for religious leaders who thought they were better than others. He even listed “arrogance” among the sins of murder, theft, and sexual immorality, all of which come from within a person and make him “unclean.”
So, what exactly did Jesus mean in Matthew 7:1 when he said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”? The answer becomes apparent when we read the following verses to get more of the context. In verses 3-5, Jesus makes it clear that he was not condemning all judgments, only hypocritical ones. But, while Jesus condemns hypocritical judgments, he commands people to make right judgments. In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
When it comes to this whole matter of judgments and judging others, there are some other important considerations. We all make judgments because it’s necessary to do so. Making judgments is part of the decision making and evaluation process that we use in everyday life. We should also note that if no one was ever allowed to judge the actions and behaviors of others, it would be impossible to have a legal system. Every time we serve on a jury we are expected and required to pass judgment on a person based on the evidence that was presented. It is both necessary and wise to make right judgments.
Finally, when we make moral judgments, it is actually God, not us, who has done the judging anyway. We didn’t write the rules – we are simply pointing to the rules that he established as the moral standard for all people. While it may be easy for someone to brush us aside by saying, “Who are you to judge?” it is entirely different for that person to try and bring that charge against the Sovereign of the universe.
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Mark 7:21-23 (All scriptural references are from the New International Version)
Matthew 7:3-5 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."