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Did Jesus forbid us from judging others?



In three words, blunt and absolute, Jesus commanded us, "Do not judge" (Matt. 7:1). But did he really mean that we should never judge others? He goes on to suggest that it's not the act of judging but the attitude with which we do it that God is most concerned about—"For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged" (7:2).

There are other Scriptures that either cloud or shed light on the issue. Paul told the Christians in Rome not to judge one another (Rom. 14:13) but taught the Corinthians that they were to judge sinful believers and leave people outside the church to God (1 Cor. 5:12-13). James said he who judges his brother speaks against the law (4:11) but also implied that our judgments of others must be done with mercy (2:12-13).

Common sense suggests that if no one ever judged other people, there would be no real human community. In a sinful world, no community can exist for long where nobody is ever held accountable: no teacher would grade a student's performance; no citizen would sit on a jury or call a failed leader to account. And, when you come to think of it, nobody would ever forgive anyone for wrongs he had done; we only forgive people for what we blame them, and we blame them only after we have judged them.

I would suggest that, in our day and age, we need more—not less—judgment. Modern Americans suffer from a fear of judging. Passing judgment on the behavior of fellow human beings is considered an act of medieval, undemocratic intolerance.

Why? Because, our culture tells us, we are all flawed people, and people with flaws have no right to judge other people's flaws. Furthermore, modern Americans do not believe that there are objective standards by which to judge. ...

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In the Magazine

October 1, 2001

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