It’s always a little baffling to me that some of the most familiar words in the Bible can so often be misunderstood, misquoted, or misapplied. How many times have you heard someone say, “Money is the root of all evil”? In fact, Scripture never says that. But the apostle Paul does say in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (emphasis added).
Some people quote the apostle Paul when he says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Some use those words to claim that the husband is the boss and whatever he says goes; others say that these words are outdated and no longer relevant because they put the wife in a secondary and subservient position. In fact, neither view reflects the meaning of what Paul says. Submitting to her husband as to the Lord is simply a Christian woman thankfully recognizing that God has given her a husband as her head who will do everything he can to be a blessing to her spiritually, emotionally, and physically, just as Christ does for his church.
Maybe one of the most frequently misunderstood and misused statements of Scripture is “do not judge” (Matthew 7:1). People often believe that the passage means that Christians should never tell others that they are doing something wrong or sinful. “After all,” they say, nervously, “God does not want us to judge. What right do you have to tell me what I’m doing is wrong?”
So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”?
Jesus was telling us that certain kinds of judging are indeed wrong and sinful. It’s wrong to judge self-righteously and hypocritically, as if others are guilty of sin and we are not. Jesus illustrated that when he said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). It is wrong to judge superficially or on mere appearance, without knowing all the facts. Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment reminds us to take another’s words and actions in the kindest possible way. It is wrong to judge others harshly and unlovingly. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” And, finally, we should never presume to know what is in a person’s heart; only God can know that.
Having said all that, God does want us to judge. He wants us to exercise judgment and Christian discernment, not of people but of actions and words. He wants us at all times to be determining whether those words and actions are in keeping with what God has told us in his Word.
If God has told us that a certain action or lifestyle is wrong and sinful, we need to look at that action and determine whether it departs from the standards that God himself has set. If a person or a church body says something that conflicts with God’s Word, we have a responsibility to make a judgment that those words are false. Loving judgment of whether words and actions are God-pleasing not only allows us to call others to repentance but also enables us to avoid falling into sin or holding on to false doctrine.
Judging others is sometimes wrong and sinful. But many times, judging words and actions in love is absolutely necessary.
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 108, Number 10
Issue: October 2021