Many Christians in our day condemn judging as an unloving practice and rail against those “mean-spirited” Christians who compare men, ministries, and churches to the moral standards of the Bible. This is an unfortunate situation. There would be zero controversy if all who professed the name of Christ actually studied and believed the Bible — the whole Bible — and let it be its own interpreter.
To begin with, the teaching that all judging is wrong is based on a gloss (a proof-text understanding) of Matthew 7:1 which ignores the context that extends through verse 6. If we allow the passage to speak for itself, it does not ban judging outright — it does not say that judging is always wrong. It bans judging under a very specific circumstance, namely when the person attempting to judge has a big piece of crud in the eye of their heart.
While we call this hypocritical judging, the problem extends far beyond mere hypocrisy. When believers point out “problems” in their brethren that are significantly smaller than the problems they indulge in their own heart and life, the incongruity is not an accident. It is the fruit of spiritual pride that magnifies shortcomings in others and marginalizes one’s own carnality. Such a man cannot possibly be of any real assistance to his brethren. Would you allow a surgeon to undertake surgery on you if he had a big wood chip in his eye? Of course not. The very idea is absurd. Likewise, foreign objects in the eye of the heart — idols, pet sins, worldly compromises — unfit a man for removing foreign objects from the eye of his brother’s heart.
Contrary to the popular teaching, it is not wrong to notice specks in the eyes of our brethren, nor is it wrong to call those specks sin, nor is it wrong to attempt to remove them. The fact is, this passage lays the believer under a solemn obligation to help his brethren remove specks from their eyes. God wants them removed. “Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” We all need to have a single eye, untainted with worldly garbage that hinders our focus on the things of the Lord. The mutual removal of these specks is the moral equivalent of washing each others feet in John 13. Our feet do get dirty walking in this world. We need each other if we would maintain a walk worthy of the One who bought us.
Judging cannot be intrinsically wrong. God himself judges sin, iniquity, and unbelief. Will someone point out that believers are not God? True, but this pious line is throwing dust in the air. Of course, we are not God. But we are commanded to walk in the light as he is in the light. And we have the mind of God in the Bible on all matters vital to faith, holiness, and righteousness. We have sufficient light to judge right and wrong. If we refuse to judge right and wrong according to the Bible, we judge the Bible and the God who wrote it. Such a response is tantamount to saying that the Bible is either unclear or wrong.
Now why do people oppose judging? Usually for bad reasons. Men often take this ground because their conscience bothers them about sin or compromise that they are indulging. They don’t want to deal with their problems. And they don’t want anyone else to address them either. Man also take up opposition to judging because they want to live in an easy-going world without black-and-white moral imperatives. They don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of discerning between true teachers and false prophets, between saving faith and the faith of the devils, between the ignoble men (dogs and swine) and men of noble character.
But I would point out that not all who oppose the message of “judge not” are defending sin. Some are simply gun shy about judging because of bad experiences with mean-spirited Christians. Others, especially young Christians, are simply following the lead of men they respect. These should be patiently and gently instructed in the ways of the Lord.
In closing, brethren, don’t be intimidated by the “judge not” crowd. Calling sin sin is never wrong. Calling out serious error is never wrong. Calling upon professing Christians to stop wallowing in the hog pen and make their calling and election sure is never wrong. And helping good men to be even better is never wrong. But in all of our mote-picking efforts, let us make sure that we have judged ourselves first. And let us make sure that we are clothed with the grace and gentleness of our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, it is His sheep that we are dealing with.
“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”
Lee W. Brainard