Judge with Righteous Judgment
Jesus said: "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1).
Does this mean we are never to judge? Certainly not, for Jesus also said: "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
We are commanded to exercise "righteous judgment". We are forbidden to judge when we are not qualified to do so.
First we will examine forbidden judgment, then commanded judgment.
We may not judge according to appearance (John 7:24). This means that we may not judge on the basis of insufficient, superficial information. Outward appearance is often deceptive. "Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden" (1 Timothy 5:24, 25). Righteous judgment must be based on conclusive evidence. We may not judge on the basis of appearance, personal opinions or unsubstantiated suspicions.
Jesus said: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck out of your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
If we condemn someone for something we do ourselves, we bring condemnation upon ourselves. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?" (Romans 2:1-3). "Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:36-38).
We may not judge in matters of opinion. "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:1-4). "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: "As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way" (Romans 14:10-13).
We may not judge with insufficient knowledge. Paul wrote: "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts;and then each one's praise will come from God" (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
We may not take God's place in judgment: "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:11-12).
We may not condemn the guiltless by neglecting mercy: "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice', you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Matthew 12:7).
We must keep these warnings carefully in mind.
At the same time, "Judge not, that you be not judged" is often the wailing cry of false teachers and hardened sinners who misapply the verse to ward off censure for their evil deeds. Do not be intimidated by such people, for Jesus has commanded us to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24).
"He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 17:15). "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:11).
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This is reminiscent of Leviticus 19:15. "You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. But in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor."
There is a place for righteous judgment. When Christians persist in sin, they are to be judged by their fellow Christians, as Paul explained to the Corinthians: "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner - not even to eat with such a person. For what have I do do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore 'put away from yourselves that wicked person' " (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
When Christians come in conflict, some wise man should be found to judge between his brethren: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?" (1 Corinthians 6:1-5.
We may not reserve judgment when faced with clear manifestations of evil. Jesus reprimanded the church at Thyatira: "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and beguile My servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20). What if false teaching on divorce and remarriage leads God's people to commit sexual immorality? Will God hold us guiltless if we allow such to be taught, and if we fellowship with people Jesus says are committing adultery? (Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
Many commands of God require the exercise of righteous judgment.
"But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
"And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15).
"Teach and exhort these things. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wrangling of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself" (2 Timothy 6:2-5).
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17, 18).
All these commands require the careful exercise of righteous judgment. Do not be deceived by smooth words and flattering speech. Beware of wolves who come to you with a sheep's skin.
We must be careful not to make unqualified judgments.But we must judge appropriately when commanded to do so. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).