(Centennial Fellow) “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The tolerance movement in our secular culture screams this biblical passage (Matt: 7:1) to silence Christians from expressing their biblical judgment in opposition to the moral relativism of the American culture. This has become the clarion call of the millennial generation, the most unchurched cohort in America. The resulting silence has helped usher in widespread abortion, homosexuality, pornography, drug use, alcoholism, gambling, censorship, infidelity, illegitimacy, divorce, abuse, same sex marriage, greed, cheating, violence, and the demise of America’s Judeo-Christian institutions. Moral decay, along with economic prosperity, are the hallmarks of our age.
History shows that moral decay and economic prosperity will accompany each other only for a season. This is clearly recorded over and over in the Bible. It is recorded by secular sociologists (Sorokin and Unrein.) It is recorded by historians (Toynbee and Tytler.)
Many Christians mistakenly believe they should not judge others because they do not understand hermeneutics, the discipline of interpreting the Bible. It is clearly not true. A text out of context is a pretext. Christians should clearly exert judgment and be involved in the culture. We should examine the different types of judgment to understand what Jesus meant with his oft-quoted words in Matthew 7:1.
There are two kinds of judgment Jesus teaches in the Bible. The first is unrighteous judgment, meaning that we should not judge hypocritically (Matt. 7:1, Luke 6:36-38) based upon appearance (John 7:24) or withhold judgment entirely (Matt: 15: 13-16). This means that we may not judge on the basis of a hypocritical judgment of a sin we ourselves are guilty of, judge based upon insufficient information, or not judge at all. All are unrighteous judgments.
Not judging at all may be the worst of the unrighteous judgments. Hypocritical judgment typically hurts the individual. Withholding judgment can hurt a society. This helps explain why America is in steep moral decline. This may also be the most egregious example of what many Christians do today out of fear of being ridiculed, persecuted, losing friends, or losing money. “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15). Tacit assent justifies the wicked and is clearly wrong according to the Bible. The Christian should not avoid exercising judgment when faced with clear examples of moral wrong.
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). Jesus taught that if we tolerate false teaching on divorce and remarriage (which leads God’s people to commit sexual immorality) God will not hold us guiltless (Matthew 5:31-32; and 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). James 4:17 tells us that deciding not to speak and act in the face of wrong is a sin, “To him that knows to do good and does not do it. It is sin.” 2 Tim 3:16 confirms we should speak out, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
In the same way, Matt. 5:13-16 tells us to be salt and light to the world. Salt is a preservative that prevents decay but requires contact to effectuate result. Jesus condemned the indifference of the Laodicean church in Rev. 3:14 which many emulate when they remain silent while judgment is required. We are to be Christ exalting and not man pleasing in our conduct. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil, is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act…” Many Christians fear men so much because they fear God so little.
Many Christians have a low view of God and a high view of themselves which causes them to remain silent when confronted with behavior that is opposed by the Bible. J. Vernon McGee said “What a mistake we make if we think that the church has the authority to decide what is right and what is wrong. The true church is made up of believers in Jesus Christ, and they form what Scripture calls the body of Christ. They are to be lights in the world. And if we are going to be lights in this dark world, we need to be careful to identify with the person of Jesus Christ and recognize… the Word of God as our authority.”
When we ignore what Christ teaches in the Bible, we are exalting ourselves and allowing sin to establish a stronghold. Jesus clearly taught that most people go to hell. Matt: 7:13 tells us that the gate is narrow that leads to life and only a few find it. Oddly, most people believe in the concept of hell but believe that someone else is going there instead of themselves (despite the fact that most people will end up there.)
The decision to not be salt and light in a dark world is analogous to allowing children to play in a dangerous intersection, that is, someone will be getting hurt and we could have stopped it had we intervened. Luke 12:48 says “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” It is abundantly clear that choosing silence when judgment is required is the wrong decision for the Christian.
The second type of judgment is called righteous judgment which must be based on conclusive evidence and the word of God. Righteous judgment requires an understanding of the Bible and a responsibility to speak out against moral decay. Jesus said “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). This resonates with 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.”
Paul wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). Jesus said of John the Baptist, ” I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28) John the Baptist spoke out in righteous judgment against Herod the Tetrarch and was beheaded for his trouble (Matt 14: 1-13.)
Christians should be judging each other, 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, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to 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).
Paul encouraged the judgment against fellow believers “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). Paul went further in the judgment of other Christians, “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).
The Old Testament taught: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) The prophet Jeremiah recorded, “You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:6) Job 21:14 states, “Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.” A discerning and mature Christian is one who is “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14) and thus, knows how to apply Scripture to everyday life. We compare, test or judge what we see or hear, to Scripture and to what God has defined as right and wrong doctrine and theology.
In the New Testament, the word discern (diakrisis in Greek) means “judicial estimation” or in other words, “to judge or to assess.” The Bible commands us to judge or “test all things”, in other words, to practice discernment: 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8) Acts 17:11 says that when Paul taught the Bereans, they were “more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Those who will not judge are spiritually immature, are deceived, or they are spiritually dead. What the church needs today is a class of believers who will rightly judge, confront evil, and stand for the truth without compromise. Compromising truth with evil is like seasoning good food with cyanide. The worst lie is often a half-truth and the worst sin is often the sin of omission. The Bible says that we are to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) If we see a loved one about to be devoured, do we remain silent and say “Judge not and be not judged?” Of course not. This saying is the shibboleth of the tolerance movement which is rooted in secular philosophy.
The Bible clearly teaches that justice and judgment are basic attributes of God’s character: Isaiah 30:18 states that “the LORD is a God of justice” Psalm 9:7- 8 states that as the moral lawgiver, it’s His nature to judge because “He has prepared His throne for judgment. He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.” It is important to note that God’s attribute of holiness is His paramount attribute and it is the only one of His attributes that is repeated three times in a row in the Bible for emphasis. The phrase “holy, holy, holy” appears twice in the Bible, once in the Old Testament (Isaiah 6:3) and once in the New Testament (Revelation 4:8).
Recall that Jesus spoke out in harsh judgment on numerous occasions. It is useful to understand that Jesus, is eternal, part of the Triune godhead, holy, and immutable. This means that Jesus bears responsibility in the Old Testament decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, to unleash the great flood that destroyed all but eight of mankind, to command the slaughter of the first born sons in Pharaoh’s Egypt, and the slaughter of the Amalekites, Canaanites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, and others. This reality underscores that Jesus does judge and there can be a significant cost attending that judgment.
Jesus spoke harsh judgment in the New Testament as well. “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt 12:34) Another, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt 23:27) Jesus said “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Jesus said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34)
Jesus admonished “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60) He also scolded troublemakers “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matt 18:6) He said “You fools and blind men, which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?” (Matt 23:17) In Matt. 23:33, He said “You serpents. You brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” In John 8:33, He said, “You are are of your father, the devil and you want to do the desires of your father.” There at least 18 occurrences in the Bible where Jesus spoke harshly in such judgment. Most people depict Jesus as only love and grace while ignoring His holy judgment. However, the Bible shows that Jesus, hardly politically correct, could appear harsh as He judged righteously.
Jesus will bring God’s punishment on the wicked and ungodly at His second coming: 2 Timothy 1:7-9 says that “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” Jude 14: 15 says “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
Jesus spoke often of the “day of judgment” at His Second Coming: Matthew 10:15 says “Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” Matthew 11:22 states “But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11:24 confirms “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 12:36 reminds “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. Matthew 13:41- 42 warns that “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
The Bible clearly teaches that God judges nations and people. It teaches that righteous judgment is an essential part of His character. It teaches that man is made in God’s image and followers of God should be salt and light in a world of darkness. It is important for God’s people to understand the Bible, apply it in their lives, and stand for its principles in the face of an increasingly hostile culture that is dominated by secularism. Jesus commanded His followers to indeed judge, but to judge righteously, forbade them from judging unrighteously, and to do all things in love. Secularism has attempted to twist biblical passages to prohibit judgment and embrace tolerance for all behaviors. It is the ignorant, evil, or indifferent that will embrace that faulty premise.
Those that say “judge not and be not judged” to condone volitional autonomy irrespective of morality invite judgment upon themselves while tacitly endorsing the increased moral decay of a culture already vexed by depravity. Dr. Adrian Rogers once said, “Even now, the raging waters of God’s wrath pound against the dam of his mercy.” It is more urgent now than ever to speak truth into the culture and into the lives of people who matter most to us and to do so before the dam breaks.