To Judge or Not to Judge, That’s the Question
I pass judgment on my friends, my clients and utter strangers all the time. I offer opinions about their clothes, their taste in movies, their writing, their charity or lack of charity and what they do. But I keep telling myself I shouldn’t do that. It’s wrong to judge.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” That’s Luke 6:37. Pretty obvious, right? But is it? What does it really mean? Do we mean the same thing the secular culture means by “don’t judge”?
WHAT IS JUDGING?
We know that judgment is God’s job. He’s the one who decides who is a sheep, who’s a goat, and who will pass on his right or left side. God has made it very clear to us that it’s his prerogative to judge hearts and people.
Judging an action, however, is something different. We can judge actions. We can say “that was a bad thing to do.” “Stealing from the grocery till is immoral.” “Paying that person below the minimum wage is unethical.”
Jesus judged both actions and persons, but we aren’t God in flesh. We’re fallen, broken and sinful. So we don’t get to judge anyone’s heart, not even our own. We can say that robbing your boss is evil, but does that mean that we are saying our neighbour is a bad, awful person?
SHEEP AND LAMPS
According to our culture, yes, that’s exactly what it means. Our society equates judgment of action and judgment of heart. When we say an action is wrong, immoral or unethical, it’s assumed that we mean the person is wrong, immoral or unethical and therefore is a bad person.
But hang on a moment! When we say God judges, we don’t mean he’s condemning everyone to hell. Matthew 25 addresses not just those who failed to fill their lamps and got locked out of the banquet hall for the wedding feast. It doesn’t just say that those who failed to feed, clothe and visit the stranger are goats and miss out on inheriting the kingdom. That chapter addresses the sheep who visited the poor, the maidens who had filled their lamps, the servants who earned interest on the talents their master gave them.
Being one of God’s sheep isn’t a negative judgment. Going into the wedding feast on my Bridegroom’s arm sounds like a good thing to me. So if I praise the job someone’s done on feeding the poor, I’m judging their action just as much as when I say that stealing from their boss in order to feed those poor was a bad thing.
Neither am I saying that they are a good or evil person for having done those things.
To judge simply means to form an opinion or to assess: actions and hearts.
What people mean when they say, “don’t’ judge” is “don’t say anything negative.”
But how can we say anything positive about actions that are wrong, sinful and hurtful? We can’t. So effectively we’re silenced unless we understand how to show the difference.
CRYING OF THE LAMBS
As long as we make it clear that we are judging only a person’s actions, and not their heart or soul, we’re okay. But how do we do that so people understand that we are judging only their actions?
The answer is both simple and incredibly difficult. We tell them their actions are wrong, while we treat them with love, dignity and respect, as we want to be treated. As we would treat Christ himself.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.