The word “judge” has become synonymous with a pretty nasty image. The last thing Christians wants these days is to play into the stereotype of the judgmental religious fanatic who shoves a Bible in people’s faces and gives them a list of reasons why they’re wrong. And why would we? We’re constantly told that no one should ever judge anyone else for any reason. Even the Bible tells us not to judge:
“Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
So, while we’re studiously avoiding the flecks in everyone’s eyes, with some biblical justification, we’ve made judgment as a concept in Christian circles so abhorrent that it couldn’t ever be good. Far be it from us to ever tell anyone that the way they live their lives is wrong. After all, we’re all sinners saved by grace, and no one is better or worse than anyone else. So no judgement. It’s just wrong, right?
Except God is our judge and he is righteous, so there is nothing inherently evil about judgment. We often forget because we think of Jesus as soft and gentle, which he is, but Jesus judged pharisees in a way that many of us today might consider unchristian. He called them hypocrites, broods of vipers, greedy, self-indulgent, lawless, murderers, and hell-bound in Matthew 23. Peter also condemned false teachers in 2 Peter 2, calling them slaves of corruption and saying that the gloom of utter darkness is reserved for them.
We don’t possess the same insight into the human soul as Jesus does, or perhaps even Peter, but we are also commanded to judge, specifically those inside the church who are living in error. In Matthew 18, Jesus commands us to rebuke in private a brother who sins against us.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 gives the most clear expectations of judgement for believers. He writes the church that it is alright to associate with the sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers and idolators of the world. Clearly, because Jesus also associated with them. But Paul writes that Christians should not even eat with another Christian who is “guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler” (verse 11). Paul ends with this charge:
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
There are right and wrong ways to judge, and right and wrong people to judge. As Christians, we bear a responsibility to judge each other’s actions for the purpose of sanctification. Letting a spiritual brother or sister live a life of sin in the church without consequences isn’t loving. We shouldn’t reprove others for the sins we ourselves struggle with but neither should we allow a sinning Christian to continue in fellowship unrepentant.
When judgement is needed, judgement without love is wrong and so is love without judgement. They aren’t mutually mutually exclusive concepts.