As Christians, one of our main goals in life should be to love the people we have contact with. Love should be the hallmark of our relationships with fellow believers. And we should be known too for our love to those who are outside the family of faith.
There are, however, various ways in which Christians often fail to love as they should, and one of these is by judging people. This is a common and serious sin.
Different kinds of judging
When we say that judging is a sin, we need to be clear exactly what we mean by this. Not every kind of judging people is actually sinful.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, for example, the apostle Paul refers to a healthy kind of judging. In this passage he strongly criticizes the Corinthian Christians for not disciplining one of their number who is sleeping with his father’s wife.
In v. 3 he says:
“For I, on my part, being physically absent but present in spirit, have already judged the one who has acted in this way, as if I were present.”
(Bible Quotations in this article are my own translations of the Greek text.)
Paul is clearly implying that he was right to judge the sinner.
And then in v. 12 he asks his readers:
“For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are in the church?”
Paul is certainly implying that it is the Corinthians’ job to judge members of their church.
In these verses, then, Paul is referring to a good kind of judging people. It could be defined as an evaluation of people’s actions with a view to enacting church discipline. There is nothing unloving about this type of judging, and it is something that all churches should practice.
By contrast, the sinful type of judging that we are considering in this article is something very different. It is a kind of spiteful, hateful pointing of the finger at someone in condemnation. And this is always a sin.
Biblical passages that condemn judging
The Lord Jesus Himself leaves us in no doubt about how serious a sin this sort of judging is by what He says in Matthew 7:1-5:
“1 Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the standard of judging that you use, and things will be measured to you by the standard of measure that you use.
3 Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye without noticing the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while you have a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
This passage is very clear that judging is a grave sin. And there are other Bible texts that teach along the same lines. See, e.g., Luke 6:37-42; Romans 2:1-3; 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 4:5; James 4:11-12.
We should therefore do what we can to avoid judging people in this bad sense of the word. And importantly, there are some practical steps we can take that will help with this.
Stopping to ask if the person really has done what they are said to have done
The first step we can take is to ask ourselves if the bad report we have heard about someone really is true.
Sadly, Christians often fall into the trap of believing false rumours about people. Satan and his demonic followers are the masters of deception, and at times we have all doubtless come to believe that someone has acted badly in some way, only to find out later that it was a false report.
If, then, we hear that someone has done something bad, we need to pause and ask ourselves if we are certain that the information is correct. If we are in any doubt, we should keep that uncertainty firmly in our mind and hold back from judging.
Stopping to ask if what the person did really was outside God’s will
The second step we can take to avoid judging someone is to ask ourselves if the action in question really was against the will of God. Even if we are sure that someone has acted in a certain way, we must avoid jumping to a simplistic conclusion that the person has done something wrong.
We need to bear in mind that we will often not know all the circumstances that people find themselves in. Frequently, someone can be judged for doing or not doing something, when there was actually a good reason for their action.
For example, a person might be judged for being lazy and not helping out, when they might in fact be struggling with poor health. Or someone might be judged for failing to do something they said they would, when an emergency arose that took priority.
There are occasions, then, when we need to stop and ask ourselves if we really are sure that what a person has done is wrong. If we are in any doubt, we should hold back from judging.
Stopping to ask if the person knows that they have done wrong
The third step we can take to avoid judging someone is to ask ourselves if the person knows that what they have done is wrong. Even if we are sure that someone has done something against the will of God, we should stop and ask how aware they are of this.
In the Law of Moses specific reference is made to sins that are committed unintentionally (Leviticus 4:2, 13-14, 22-23, 27-28; 5:15, 17-18; Numbers 15:22-25, 27-29). The distinction between unintentional and intentional sins is surely relevant today too. People can sometimes do things that are wrong without really being aware.
In saying this, I am not trying to let anyone off the hook for ignoring the subtle voice of their conscience. Sometimes people do things that they have tried to convince themselves in their minds are not wrong, although deep down their consciences are warning them that all is not well. This is not the kind of situation I have in mind. I am thinking of those times when people are genuinely unaware that they have done something wrong. And situations of this kind do occur from time to time.
Even when we are sure that someone has done something opposed to the will of God, then, we need to ask ourselves if they are aware of this. If we think they might not be, we should hold back from judging.
Stopping to reflect on our own sinfulness
The fourth step we can take to avoid judging someone is to consider our own sinfulness. Even if we are sure that a person has knowingly committed a sin, we must remember that we are all sinners saved by the grace of God. We have all done plenty of wrong things ourselves.
If we, as sinners, choose to judge others for their sins, then to be consistent we should be content for others to judge us for our sins too. But it would be perverse for anyone to be content to be hatefully judged by others. Instead, we rightly dislike it when people judge us. And so, to be consistent we should dislike the idea of judging others too.
There are, then, several steps that we can take to avoid judging people. We can ask ourselves if we are sure that the person has done the thing they are said to have done. We can ask ourselves if what they did really was against the will of God. We can ask ourselves if they know they have done something wrong. And we can reflect on our own sinfulness.
If every Christian paused to think through each of steps before rushing to judge, a lot of harm to relationships would be avoided, love would be more abundant, and God would be more glorified.
A biblical warning
Finally, let us consider again Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-2:
“1 Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the standard of judging that you use, and things will be measured to you by the standard of measure that you use.”
Here Jesus is clearly warning us that our judging people is connected to our being judged by God.
Obviously, we want God not to judge us for our sins. So it only makes sense that we hold back from judging others for theirs. If we insist on judging other people, we are in a sense inviting God to judge us. And no one in their right mind would want to do this.