There has been a lot of talk, particularly from non-Christians to Christians, about not judging. “Don’t judge me,” is used as a defense for all sorts of actions–past, present, and future–and there is some scriptural basis for the claim.
After all, Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2, “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged. And with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you.” In Luke 6:37, Jesus said, “Don’t judge, And you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, And you won’t be condemned. Set free, And you will be set free.”
James elaborates on this when he writes, “Don’t speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11-12).
From this, one would gain the impression that we aren’t to judge, that when someone does wrong around us, we are to keep our mouths shut and mind our own business.
But this is at odds with verses like Luke 17:3, where Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove [correct] them.”
And Leviticus 19:17 says, “‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.” The word “bear” also means “furnish.” Collectively, these verses state that it isn’t right to tolerate or ignore sin just because it is being done by your brother, because sin unchecked is like a weed. If you leave it be uncorrected, it will take over the whole garden.
So how are we to reconcile the two? Are we to speak, or not speak? And if we speak, how are we to make sure we’re correcting, rebuking, and reproving and not judging?
- Do it quietly. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother.” There’s no reason to make a show of correcting someone, and doing it in private is a way of showing grace towards the one doing wrong.
- Consider your own behavior. Matthew 7:3-5 says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye;’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Your correction will come across that much stronger if you can honestly tell the other person, “Hey, I had this problem, and God and I corrected it. I got free from X, and you can, too.” (But notice, the verse says to “remove the beam,” not just to note its existence.)
- Have realistic expectations. Proverbs 9:7 says, “He who corrects a mocker invites insult. He who reproves a wicked man invites abuse. Don’t reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” Different people will respond to correction differently, and it would be naive to approach them all the same way.
For example, while Jesus made it clear in Matthew 18 to start a correction privately, there can come a time when you have to adopt a different tactic: “[I]f he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:16-17). Paul concurs, noting that when it comes to those who are called a brother (or fellow Christian) and yet remain habitually sinful, refusing to change, we should not associate with them, adding, “Don’t even eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
- Be gracious. Scripture makes it clear that our attitude while correcting should be that of a readiness to forgive. Even if things progress to where someone is removed from the assembly and considered an outsider, we should stand ready to welcome them back in once they repent and change, as can be seen from Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 2:5-7: “Sufficient to such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the many; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow.” It isn’t our job to make it hard for someone to return and follow God again, to give them a list of “well, if you’re really repented, you’ll do this and this and this for some many years, and then we’ll believe you.”
- Don’t condemn. We aren’t all at the same place in our walk with God. Some have come to understand certain things, and others aren’t there yet. Romans 14:4 says, “Now receive one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions [or to argue endlessly about who is right]. One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Don’t let him who eats despise him who doesn’t eat [who plays it safe by avoiding anything that might possibly be sinful]. Don’t let him who doesn’t eat judge him who eats, for God has received him. Who are you who judge another’s servant? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for God has power to make him stand.”
Ultimately, it is between God and the other person as to whether they should do what they’re doing. If it’s an area where scripture is ambiguous, and you have an opinion, you are welcome to share it, but remember that your interpretation might be wrong and they might have revelation you haven’t received yet.
If scripture makes it clear they’re in the wrong, then correct them, but remember that you cannot judge them. You shouldn’t make them “serve out a sentence” as punishment for straying, and you should be ready to welcome them back as a fellow believer.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren