A man boarded a transatlantic ocean liner and found that he would be sharing his cabin with another passenger. He checked the accommodations, met his roommate and immediately went to the purser to leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ships safe. He explained that he didn’t usually do this, but having met his roommate he thought he might not be trustworthy. The purser took the valuables and remarked, “I wouldn’t feel bad about that at all. Your cabin-mate has already been here for the same reason.”
In Matthew 7:1 Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Romans 2:1 adds, “Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else.” However, in John 7:24 Jesus tells us that we should judge and 1 Corinthians 2:15 teaches that “…he that is spiritual judges all things.” Does this seem a little confusing? We must remember that our English Bible is translated from other languages. In New Testament Greek there are three words used for our English word judge and a quick peek at them will clarify the seeming contradiction of whether we should judge or not.
The word Jesus used in Matthew 7 means to scrutinize, decide and subsequently condemn or damn. Jesus is cautioning us from making hasty, sweeping decisions followed by scathing condemnations. This type of judging, for the Christian, is forbidden.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Christians are encouraged to judge the situations that occur within the church. This is a different word meaning to analyze and then make an appropriate decision. In other words, it is detail and evidence-based rather than judgemental with respect to persons or their motives. It is looking at the facts and deciding what is right and what is wrong.
A third word appears in 1 John 4:1 where Christians are told, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but judge the spirits, whether they are from God.” This verse sounds quite judgemental and it is. Believers are admonished to employ a process of discernment by which they either embrace or reject certain teachers and teaching.
The line between the three types of judgement/discernment may be fairly thin at times. I’ve found it helpful to retrain my thinking from, “What is wrong with them to do/say that!?” to, “I wonder what has happened to them to prompt them to do/say that?”
Jesus gives us the appropriate criteria for judgement. He said that we should not “…judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” This kind of judgement requires God’s wisdom, biblical guidance and human kindness.
“He that well and rightly considereth his own works will find little cause to judge hardly of another.” Thomas a Kempis