It’s my life. I can live it the way I want. If I want to buy a nice car, I should be able to without someone judging me for how I spend my money. If I want to move in with my girlfriend, so what? It’s not hurting anyone else. If I want to smoke a pack every day, then I should be able to smoke a pack and not feel like other people are shaming me for it. What gives anyone else the right to tell me whether what I’m doing is right or wrong?
These aren’t the voices of people on the other side of the world; these are the voices of our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. All of us know what it feels like to be judged. And I haven’t met a single person who was excited about being judged. What we all really want to say to our judgers is, “Stop judging me!”
Is it acceptable to judge other people? Regardless of how I answer this question, my answer would be judgmental since I don’t possess the authority to determine what’s right or wrong. Therefore, I need to go to an authoritative source to find the answer to this question.
The best authoritative source I know is the Bible, so that’s where I’m going to go. I realize some of you may not view the Bible as an authoritative source, but I still encourage you to join me in taking a look at what it says about judging others; you may be surprised what it has to say about this topic.
Is It Acceptable to Judge Other People?
Whether you believe the Bible is an authoritative source or not, you’ve most likely heard a verse from it which addresses the issue of judging others: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” At first glance, it may seem like this verse is saying that we shouldn’t try to determine whether other people’s thoughts, words, and actions are right or wrong. Well, at least that’s the context in which I see most people quote it.
For many years, I thought that’s what it meant. But recently, I decided to dig deeper into this verse, specifically by looking at it in the Greek language (since the New Testament was originally written in Greek and later translated to English) in order to gain a better understanding of the context in which this verse was written. The Greek word used here is for “judge” is the word krino. Theologians generally agree that the definition of this word in this context is “to assume the office of a judge.” What Jesus was saying, therefore, was, “Do not assume the office of a judge.”
A key word I want to point out in this definition is the word assume. What does it mean to assume the office of a judge? In Findlay where I live, we have a municipal court where we have two elected judges. Our two judges have been given the authority to make determinations between disputing parties about who’s right and who’s wrong. They do not assume the office of a judge; they have been given the office of judge. By being given the office of judge, they have the authority to make these determinations. When Jesus said that we are not to assume the office of judge, he wasn’t saying that no one could be a judge; he was saying that we cannot unilaterally give ourselves that authority. This authority has to be given to us by another source.
What about Paul?
When we flip ahead in the New Testament, we come across a letter which was written by Paul to the church in Corinth. If you think churches today have issues, you should read this letter. Their problems dwarf the problems in today’s churches. The people were dividing themselves based upon which apostle baptized them and which one they liked more. They were struggling to understand the true meaning of Jesus’s atonement. They were questioning the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolic gifting. There was a guy in the congregation who was sleeping with his step-mother. Some of the people were suing each other. Some of the people were arguing over whether they could eat food sacrificed to idols. And they had a huge misunderstanding about what it meant to speak in tongues.
As Paul was addressing one of these issues, he rhetorically asked the church, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” Wait a second…didn’t Jesus tell us not to judge people? Why is Paul now telling us to judge people? Instead of assuming Jesus and Paul were saying two completely different things, let’s take a closer look at these two verses to see if they actually align with one another.
If Paul is saying that it’s permissible for people in the church to judge other people in the church, then he must also be saying that people inside the church have been given the authority to judge one another. Of course that doesn’t mean people in the church have been given the authority to condemn one another (since only God has that authority), but they have been given the authority to hold each other accountable to living in obedience to Jesus’s commands. Does this interpretation align with other biblical discussions about the church?
Believe it or not, it actually does. In the same letter, Paul tells us that everyone who is part of the church (the invisible church) is part of the body of Christ. To put this in simple terms, the body of Christ looks kind of like a football team. One member of the team can’t do it all himself, but when the team, comprised of many people with different skill sets, comes together, they can play a competitive game of football.
The coach’s job is to give the team instructions for what to do. The team is obviously going to be most effective when everyone on the team listens and follows the coach’s instructions. However, sometimes players don’t listen to and follow the coach’s instructions. Let’s say, for example, that a wide receiver runs the wrong route. Do you think his teammates are going to say, “I see he ran the wrong route, but I’m not going to say anything because I don’t want to judge my teammates”? I don’t think so. You better believe someone in the huddle is going to call him out for running the wrong route.
Or how about if a lineman misses an assignment and the quarterback gets sacked? Is the quarterback just going to brush it off because he’s not supposed to judge him? Once again, I don’t think so. The quarterback is going to make sure the lineman knows he missed his assignment.
Why do the players on a football team judge one another? Is it because they don’t like each other? Not at all. They judge each other because they are concerned about the effectiveness of the team. If each player on the team doesn’t take responsibility to hold each other accountable, then they probably aren’t going to win any games.
In the same way, the body of Christ, which is made up of many people, is most effective when every person is living in obedience to Jesus’s (the coach) instructions. Sometimes this involves judging (making a determination of right and wrong) one another. I’m not talking about “judging” over differences in opinion about how one should dress for gatherings or for the amoral activities in which a person engages. The type of judging I’m talking about doesn’t tear down the body, but builds it up in love.
We all have blind spots. We all run the wrong passing route. We all miss a block over and over and over again. But when we’re surrounded by others who have this same mindset, they’ll be willing to point out our mistakes so that the entire team can be more effective. I’m very thankful for the people in my life who are part of the body of Christ who love Jesus and me enough to judge me so that our team becomes more effective.
What about People outside the Church?
Going back to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, we see that we do not have the authority to judge those outside the church. Instead, we’re told, “God judges those outside.” What does it look like for those of us who are a part of the body of Christ? I’ll give two examples of what this might look like.
Let’s say I have a friend who isn’t part of the body of Christ who decides he and his girlfriend are going to move in together. Theoretically, a dating couple could live together and not commit adultery (I’m talking about all forms of adultery, not just sex), but you and I both know that the chances of that happening are next to zero. So for the sake of this example, I’m going to assume that they are committing adultery. According to the Bible, adultery is sin. But since my friend isn’t a part of the body of Christ, I have no authority to judge him.
In another example, let’s say that I have a male friend who has a male partner. The Bible is quite clear that homosexuality is sin. But since my friend isn’t a part of the body of Christ, I have no authority to judge him.
One Final Note
Before I end this discussion, I have one final clarification I want to make because the last thing I want anyone to do is claim that I’m giving them permission to condemn or harshly rebuke other people. First of all, I’m not giving anyone permission to do anything; the authority to judge comes from God. And second, the Bible doesn’t say anything about us having the authority to condemn or harshly rebuke another person, even people who are a part of the body of Christ.
The purpose of judging in the church is to build up the church, not tear it down. When we see another member of the body living in disobedience to Jesus, it’s the love, grace, and compassion we have for them that should drive us to have a conversation with them rather than pride. In Galatians 6, Paul wrote, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
I appreciate you taking the journey with me to explore the topic of judging. This study has led me to conclude that we are not to assume the position of a judge and the authority that comes with it. However, if we have been given the position of a judge, then we need to judge with the authority we’ve been given in accordance with the law. Every member of Jesus’s invisible church has been given equal authority to judge everyone else in the church, but they have not been given the authority to judge people outside of the church. The authority to judge in the church is intended to build up the church. People outside of the church, with the exception of governing judges, have not been given the authority to judge other people.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.
 Matthew 7:1.
 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Judge (Noun and Verb)”, accessed October 10, 2017, http://studybible.info/vines/Judge (Noun and Verb).
 1 Corinthians 5:12.
 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12
 1 Corinthians 5:13.
 Exodus 20:14.
 1 Corinthians 6:9.
 Galatians 6:1.