During a recent discussion on reasons for leaving the church, the subject of judging came up. Some think that people in the church are too judgemental, and others think that we need to stand up for our convictions. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to show a brother his fault? Then again, it also says, “Judge not”. (Matthew 7:1-2) How can we do both?
Matthew 18:15-17 says that if your brother sins, go and show him his fault when you are alone. Don’t make a public spectacle of the problem. If you can’t resolve it between the two of you, follow the steps in the rest of the passage, which may in fact end in separation. Let me be clear, this passage refers to relationships with fellow Christians, people who profess to believe essentially the same things that we do.
What about those who, in our view, are living a life of sin? We need to be very careful here, not to become too self-righteous. (Romans 12:3) We are all sinners (Romans 3:23) somewhere on the road between lost and being saved by grace. (Romans 3:24) This is where the passage in Matthew 7:1-2 comes in. Judge not, so that you won’t be judged. The measure of grace, or lack of it, that you use in judging others, will determine how others, and God, will judge you. The word translated as judge in this passage means to be critical and condemning; this is what we are to avoid. We are certainly called to be discerning, as the following verses indicate. Matthew 7:3-5 teaches that we need to examine ourselves first. Once we become aware of our own faults and have corrected them, we are in a place to be able to graciously help our brother, our fellow believer.
How then can we help non-believers to see the light? Not by criticism, but by love. John 13:34-35 indicates that they will know we are Christians by our love. I Peter 3:15-16 tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. Both those passages indicate to me that we need to build relationships with people who don’t believe the same things we do, so that we can share what we believe with people who are willing to listen to us, so that they too might share the hope that we have. If they reject our views, or our help, or us altogether, we need to leave them alone. Matthew 7:6 tells us not to throw our pearls before swine. Don’t give what is holy to someone who doesn’t know what to do with it and will only condemn it and then attack you. That would be a very good occasion to shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10:14)
What is our reason for pointing out others’ faults? Is it to make ourselves feel better about our own sins, because we haven’t done anything as bad as they have? Is it to lead them to the path of life, because we are sure from their actions that they aren’t on it? Only God truly knows a person’s heart, but even if they are on the wrong path, condemnation and criticism are not the right way to approach them. Whatever we do, we need to be very careful of our own actions and motives before we say that we are obeying what the Bible teaches.