Is There a Time to Judge?
“STOP judging that you may not be judged,” said Jesus Christ to a crowd of listeners. (Matt. 7:1) Did he mean thereby to rule out judgments of all kinds? Or, are there times when it is altogether proper to pass judgment without coming under adverse judgment from God?
The Bible definitely indicates that within the congregation of God’s devoted people situations arise that require passing judgment. For example, elders may be called upon to judge fellow believers who become involved in serious wrongdoing. (1 Cor. 6:1-6) They must determine whether such wrongdoers are truly repentant and desirous of living in harmony with Bible principles. In the case of unrepentant ones, elders must follow through on the Scriptural command: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Cor. 5:13.
It may be noted, however, that, in judging a person as an unrepentant wrongdoer, elders are acting in harmony with a judgment already set forth in God’s Word. They are not making a personal judgment based on their own opinions. To do so would be dangerous, opening up the way for personal prejudices to influence their decisions.
Another area in which elders must make an assessment is when considering whether Christian brothers qualify to serve as ministerial servants or elders in the congregation. Again, the assessment made should not be based on personal views but on God’s Word. Elders must be satisfied that those recommended or those presently serving truly measure up to the Scriptural qualifications.
Individually, therefore, if elders have any serious, Bible-based reservations, they should have the courage to state these even if the person whose qualifications are under consideration is present. At times some may hold back because the majority have already expressed themselves in favor of making a certain recommendation. But this is not wise. It may be that the others are unacquainted with certain factors that would have a definite bearing on whether a person really measured up to the Bible’s requirements for those entrusted with responsibility. Or, one’s own reservations may be cleared up by further discussion. At any rate, far better it is to let one’s Bible-trained conscience speak out than later, because the recommendation proved to be unwise, to regret having held back.—1 Tim. 5:22.
In some cases individual Christians must determine whether certain persons in the congregation are good companions for themselves or their children. (1 Cor. 15:33) When doing this, they should make sure that they are guided by a judgment already expressed in the Bible and are not selfishly motivated. No Christian, not even an elder, is authorized to pass judgment according to his personal standard.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the congregation at Thessalonica, discussed this matter of handling situations involving persons manifesting a wrong spirit. Some in the congregation there were lazy; they took advantage of the hospitality of their Christian brothers and meddled in things that did not concern them. (2 Thess. 3:11, 12) As to the attitude of the individual members of the congregation toward a person who continued in such a course, Paul wrote: “Keep this one marked, stop associating with him, that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.”—2 Thess. 3:14, 15.
For an individual to mark someone as a person with whom he should not associate in a social way definitely requires assessing or judging him. But such assessment manifests good judgment, since it is motivated by a desire to help the individual to change his ways. At the same time it protects the ones who stop associating with him from coming under wrong influence.
Parents especially have to give consideration to this when helping their children to appreciate that even in the congregation there may be some who, because of being strongly influenced by the world in attitude, speech and actions, are not good associates.
However, when a Christian judges according to his own standards, he is actually making an unauthorized assessment of an individual’s worth as a person. By taking it upon himself to judge by his own standards, he is placing himself in a serious position before God. The disciple James pointed this out, saying: “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against law and judges law. Now if you judge law, you are, not a doer of law, but a judge. One there is that is lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to be judging your neighbor?”—Jas. 4:11, 12.
James could rightly use such strong language, because Christians are commanded to love their brothers. (Jas. 2:8; 1 John 3:14-17) Now, would it be loving for them to speak against their brothers, to judge their actions, motives and manner of living by a standard other than that found in the Bible? Certainly not. Rather, persons thus judging would be setting themselves up as being above the law of love that God gives. (Matt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-10) They would be ‘judging that law’ as not applying to them.
What can cause a person to become involved in wrongly judging his brothers? He may impose his conscience on them in strictly personal matters. He may make his own tastes and manner of doing things the basis for judging their worth and motivations. Thereby he ignores the fact that people are very different and have different needs, likes and dislikes. It is vital therefore to watch that a person does not get an exalted opinion of himself. No imperfect human can set himself up as a standard for judging others.
Christians are also counseled against judging nonbelievers as individuals. The apostle Paul reminded Christians at Corinth that “God judges those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:13) God’s devoted people have no right to pass sentence upon individuals outside the congregation and to inflict punishment on them. The admonition applying to Christians is: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’”—Rom. 12:19.
In this regard, Christians can follow the good example of the archangel Michael. When disputing with the Devil about Moses’ body, Michael “did not dare to bring a judgment against him in abusive terms, but said: ‘May Jehovah rebuke you.’” (Jude 9) In this way Michael showed proper regard and respect for Jehovah’s position as Supreme Judge.
Furthermore, Christians should not judge others as being too sinful to deserve hearing the “good news” of God’s kingdom. They know that it is God’s desire that all men, if they but wish, come to an accurate knowledge of the truth and gain salvation. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) Hence, they should show their love to fellowmen in an impartial way by making an effort to reach everyone with the comforting message contained in the Bible.
Clearly, then, Christians can make serious judgments or assessments with reference to persons only when they do so on the basis of the Bible. For them to rely on personal opinion or preference could lead to their being judged adversely by the Supreme Judge, Jehovah God.