There are many Biblical cautions about judging others. At this time of doctrinal difficulty, encouragement is needed more than condemnation.
The title is taken from Matthew 7:2. The previous verse flatly states: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Yet we find other scriptural commands to make judgments:
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:2)
“...Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1Cor 6:5.)
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” (1Cor 15:29).
“...You have tested [tried] those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Rev 2:2).
Are the scriptures in conflict on the issue of judgment? No! There are times when we are to judge, and times when we are to withhold judgment. There are two apparent cases when His saints are called upon to make judgments: 1) when they are asked to judge an issue by another and 2) to determine if others are teaching truth. This last category of judgment is usually a personal issue; we are to decide for ourselves who is teaching truth. We are not to take it upon ourselves to examine the sins of others, to pronounce a judgment or condemnation, or to proclaim their sins to the public. In this article, we will look at each of these concepts in a little more detail.
It hurts when we see others make mistakes. Sin hurts the sinner as well as the victim(s). Righteous indignation is a natural thing; “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11). There is a tendency to condemn others for their sin and a desire to expose it. There is also the less noble motivation of feeling we are better because others have sins that we do not have. Nevertheless, the scriptures are clear, we are not to judge and condemn people when we are not asked to give a judgment.
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38).
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (Jms 4:11-12.)
Although it may seem like an obvious point, it seems to be one of the most ignored. We should avoid making any kind of judgment in our own minds unless we have heard both sides of the story. “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). “Does our law judge any man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:51.)
But what should we do when we see a brother involved in a doctrinal error? If it is a leader trying to make us believe something false, then we need to follow the principles outlined in the last section of this article. But most troublesome incidents are fellow-members doing things that we think they should not do. Our role is to gently help (not condemn) if we can—being careful that we do not sin (Gal 6:1). When the holy spirit is present and errors are not disastrous, Paul shows us that we can live in peace with our differences in Romans 14:1-4:
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let no one who eats despise him who does not eat, and let no one who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”
We must realize that people are not guided into all truth all at once. The original 12 apostles had to be told they were not ready for some truth. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16:12). This concept of learning truth a little at a time is found elsewhere in the scriptures (Mark 4:33, 1Cor 3:1-2, Heb 5:11-14). We must not judge or despise people that are growing, but cannot yet bear all of the teaching that we can.
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).
If we believe someone else is sinning, we can reach out to help without judgment or trying to be righteous for him. “Brethren, if any man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted....But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load” (Gal 6:1, 4, 5).
While the Bible teaches that we should not take it upon ourselves to judge our brother, sometimes we are asked to make judgments.
We are in training to become kings and priests and reign with the Messiah at his return (Rev 1:6, 5:10, 2Tim 2:12, 1Pet 2:9). Micah 4:1-4 shows that the laws and judgments will go forth from Jerusalem. “For all people walk each in the name of his god [Hebrew Eloim—those saints that have overcome and have been changed to spirit], But we will walk in the name of the Lord [Hebrew YHWH] our God forever and ever” (Mic 4:5). As opportunity permits, we must be learning to make righteous judgments based on the law [the Hebrew torah refers specifically to the first five books, but more generally refers to all scripture].
The first half of I Corinthians 6 explains that brethren should judge cases among themselves rather than go to civil courts. In ancient Israel, the people were commanded to choose judges that would judge righteously (Deut 1:13, 16:18). These judges were not a “police force” roaming around looking for the sins of others, but rendered judgments when people came to them (Ex 18:16, Deut 25:1). Also, there were specific situations where people were specifically commanded to go to the judges (Deut 21:1-2, Ex 21:6,22, 22:9, et al.).
As the Eternal is now dealing directly with his converted people, rather than through a civil government, Matthew 18:15-20 is the specific procedure given for His people to make judgments. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Each person with the Holy Spirit has access to Divine guidance and the Eternal’s law. We should be able to resolve difficulties among ourselves. Indeed, we are given a chance to judge ourselves.
However, there are tares (unconverted) among the good seed (Matt 13:30). Even those that are converted are not yet perfect. There will be times when brethren cannot use the law to resolve their differences. “But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’” (Mat 18:16). These witnesses are people familiar with the problem and are, as all people, responsible for living by every word of the Eternal (Deut 8:3). Hopefully, when faced with the testimony of more than one, the person at fault will see his error and repent of it. But if he does not, the Eternal does not leave judgment in the hands of the friends of one of the parties.
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church [Greek ekklesia]. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17). The Greek ekklesia means assembly or “body of called-out ones.” It does not specifically mean “ministry,” though it would include all baptized members of the congregation.
When a case is brought to the ekklesia, it is a time for the members to make a just judgment based on the law of the Eternal. As Deuteronomy 17:8-13 commanded the death penalty for those that would not heed the judgment given by the highest courts, so the Messiah commands that a person be cast out of the congregation if he will not heed the judgment of his brethren. This is serious business! “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18).
How much of the congregation is required to render a judgment? Every member? Will one wise man do? The next verses answer: “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mt 18:19-20). Two, preferably three members in agreement are needed to render a judgment. In major matters affecting many people, the entire congregation could be involved (Acts 15:22).
When we are asked by our brothers to judge an issue, we must take it seriously. These judgments are public—they will be known by others and affect the lives of others. As the title of this article and numerous other scriptures indicate, we will be judged by the way we judge others.
In case the question should arise, we should not get involved judging those outside of the Church. When “one from the crowd” asked the Messiah to make his brother divide his inheritance, He did not get involved. As we too well know, the civil process of judgment can take an incredible amount of time. The Messiah had a message to preach and a mission to accomplish and he could not get involved in a task which belonged to the civil government of that day.
The scriptures tell us that we must individually judge whether or not teachers are teaching truth. One of the most often quoted scriptures about leaders is 1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Obviously, it is the job of the member to determine which leaders are “following Christ.” If it were the job of the leader, we would be required to follow every “Christian” leader. Numerous other scriptures show this principle:
You shall not listen to the words of that [false] prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:3).
For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you (1Cor 11:18).
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us (2Thes 3:6).
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness,... who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself (1Tim 6:3,5).
And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars (Rev 2:2).
These scriptures say nothing about convicting, accusing, or attempting to stop false teachers; they simply command us to note them and avoid them. Indeed, the Eternal uses false teachers to test others (Deut 13:3). While we must avoid their errant ways and teach the truth to those that will hear it, we have not been called to pronounce judgment or condemnation upon them.
This concludes our study about judging others. Remember, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt 7:2).
—Norman S. Edwards, 3/1995