“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, NASB95)
If you are like me you’ve heard Christians and Christianity criticized by non-Christians as being judgmental. In some ways this may be quite true, especially when Christians take stands against biblically immoral activities and in so doing treat those engaged in those activities harshly. This has been true in some ways at some times with some anti-abortion activists. It also has been true in regards to the LGBTQ community. In the fervor to take a stand for morality some have done so in ways that are not consistent with how we are to behave as ambassadors for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. But even when these issues have been dealt with in proper ways there is a strong accusation generally made that Christians are judgmental, and in response many Christians are succumbing to not saying anything for fear that they might violate the instruction of scripture to “judge not.”
But let’s stop for a moment and consider what is really being said when we read warnings about judging others. There are several key passages, of which Romans 14:4 is just one of them. Here we read that we are not to judge the servant of another. This passage is written to fellow believers—Christians. When they, like us, placed their trust in Christ all of their sins were forgiven—past, present, and future and they turned over the ownership of their lives from the powers of evil (Satan) to the Lord of all creation (Jesus). They and we have a new master. They are no longer their own, for they have been bought with a price, and Jesus Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding on all of our behalf.
“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” … “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23, NASB95)
“who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34, NASB95)
Clearly we see from Scripture that God is the judge of all men. He holds their ultimate eternity in His hands, and the only way He has designated from passing from death into life is by trusting in His Son for our salvation. We do not have that power. It belongs to God alone, and for that reason we have no place trying to make those determinations. This does not mean, however, that we don’t speak up to one another and engage in the biblical one another’s of confrontation, rebuking, and correcting so that we each might be called to walk not as slaves of men but as children of Light. This is part of our one another activity, and doing so is not “judging” because we know God holds this in His hands, but it is encouraging each other more and more as the time of His coming draws near.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23–25, NASB95)
As I said there were numerous passages dealing with this issue of judging others. Another well known one is found in Matthew chapter 7 where we read, ““Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NASB95)
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NASB95)
Here we have a situation of critical living which is being confronted by Jesus. As we look at the fullness of these verses we see that we are called to deal honestly with the sin in our own lives humbly before God, and then we can see clearly to help our brothers to deal with the sin in their lives. This was a strong statement by Jesus as you can see evidenced by the references to the ‘log’ in the critical person’s eye as opposed to the ‘speck’ in his brother’s eye. Dealing with the issues of sin in another’s life means that we are people who deal rightly before God with the sin in our own lives, and then as we deal with others according to God’s standard (and not ours), we do so knowing just how much we have been forgiven and how merciful our God was toward us such that we deal in that same manner with others. Harsh critical judgment is always wrong. Correcting others as a part of our mutual growth in Christ according to God’s standard is something we are called to do.
Also in Luke chapter 6 we find Jesus speaking to this issue. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:36–38, NASB95)
Here we find that we are to be merciful and forgiving toward one another, not responding with judgment and condemnation. This is God’s standard and we need to adopt it as ours reflecting that we indeed are His. Backing up from these verses in Luke we find a number of instructions relating to how we are to take the higher ground in our interactions and in so doing, reflect the love of our God in dealing with those who either may not know that love or need to be stirred in walking in that love.
Paul was criticized by some and he had to grow in understanding how to live under that criticism, including even judgment that placed him in jail. He wrote for the Corinthians, to whom he wrote a very stern letter, that it is not the judgment of man that really matters, but rather the examination of his conscience and his actions by God. He wrote to them to not take upon themselves that role of passing in their own minds and actions some form of final judgment on others, but to leave this where it really belongs which is in the hands of God.
“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:3–5, NASB95)
There is a difference between passing judgment and confronting sin and immorality. Jesus spoke openly about the sinfulness of man as He walked the streets and met people in the midst of their messy lives. And in the next chapter of 1 Corinthians, right after the passage we just looked at, we find Paul instructing the Corinthians believers to take disciplinary action against one of those in their midst and even calling them to account for their own callousness concerning those actions.
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:1–5, NASB95)
There is only one Judge, and that judge is God. He is the One who holds eternity in His hands. We need to be constantly mindful of that, and as we walk with other believers we need to call each other to walking according to the standard of righteousness which He has given us. And as we walk in the world we need to be constantly mindful that they are slaves to sin, and we as His ambassadors, are to continually point people to God and not only declare their need of a Savior but show them the love of God that results from having been greatly forgiven and granted new life.
Speaking against sin may be received as judgmental, and there is not much we can do about that. What we can do is guard our own hearts, deal with our own sin, be constantly thankful for God’s forgiveness, and lovingly and honestly point others of their need to pass from the judgment of God to life in His Son.
“in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NASB95)