Who are you to judge? The most abused verse in the Bible may be “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 ESV). Even people who know next to nothing of Scripture spew this verse as a quip aimed to terminate discussion. We rarely hear this verse taught in context. What usually happens is instead a person is failing to make a cogent and/or coherent argument for his position. He does not want to offend or seem hateful. He wants to be tolerant of even the most inane people or ideas. He wants to be loving and respectful. And this one verse surfaces like a reflex. It is viewed as a way of assuaging one’s own conscience and mollifying those with whom you disagree. It is used as a kinder and gentler way of saying, “Well, I wouldn’t live my life that way, but it’s not really for me to say the other person is wrong.”
This one verse, decontextualized, is a specious quote cloaking flawed logic in the guise of love. After it’s quoted, the unspoken assumption is that everyone is supposed to sit back, shake his head, and agree to disagree. The desired result of many who rip this verse from its larger context is a sentimental, “I’m okay; you’re okay.”
May I suggest two things? One, Jesus did not condemn judging. He condemned sanctimoniousness. He condemned us when we neglect judging ourselves with right judgment. In the same discourse, Jesus commands us to judge: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:13-15 ESV). Second, if you or I cease to judge, we cease to think. Solipsism and insanity result.
Narrow versus broad? Yes. False prophets? Yes. Ravenous wolves? Yes. How do we know? By judging with right judgment. Jesus also taught, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24 ESV). When’s the last time you heard that verse? Judging is commanded and commended.
Judging is unavoidable for rational creatures. You judge whom to befriend; you judge whom to marry; you judge your children’s character and behavior (character’s extension); you judge in politics. “Open your mouth, judge righteously” (Proverbs 31:9a ESV). Failing to judge is the end of rationality. Judge rightly.