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Judging the Beliefs and Behaviors of Others
By Gary F. Zeolla
I was "lurking" in an Internet forum recently, and there was an interesting discussion going on about Mormonism. Specifically, some were claiming that Mormonism is Christian while others were saying it was decidedly not Christian. I agree with the latter view and have already written extensively on this issue (see the articles listed at Mormonism).
But what intrigued me most about the conversation is when people started quoting the verse "Do not judge …" (Matthew 7:1). They were quoting this verse to try to say that as Christians we should not "judge" the beliefs of others. Some were going a step further and using this verse to say we should not judge the behaviors of others. "Just worry about yourself" was the attitude.
But is this what Jesus meant by this verse? And more generally, is it wrong to judge the beliefs and behaviors of others? I wrote on this verse and subject once before several years ago in my article "Judge Not …." But I think it's time to address it again from a different angle.
Context, Context, Context
As always, when interpreting a Bible verse, the context in which it appears needs to be considered. So below is the entire paragraph in which the above verse appears.
1"Stop judging, so that you* shall not be judged, 2for with what judgment you* judge, you* will be judged, and with what measure you* measure, it will be measured to you.* 3But why do you look at the speck, the [one] in your brother's eye, but you do not notice the log, the [one] in your own eye? 4Or, how will you say to your brother, ‘Allow [me], I shall take the speck from your eye,' and look!, the log [is] in your own eye? 5Hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
In this passage, Jesus is addressing hypocrisy. He is saying that we will be judged by whatever standards we set for others. So we need to be careful in making such judgments. We need to be sure that we are not engaging in the behaviors that we condemn others for. So in this sense, we do need to "worry about ourselves." But Jesus ends the passage by saying, "then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." So He says we should try to correct other's behaviors once we have dealt with our own.
It is also helpful in interpreting a verse of the Bible to see what other passages have to say that address the subject. In this case, Paul elaborates on these same issues in his Epistle to the Romans:
For this reason, you are without excuse [or, defense], O person, every[one] judging, for in what you judge [or, pass sentence on] the other, you condemn yourself, for the same [things] you, the one judging, are practicing! (Romans 2:1)
21Therefore, the one teaching another, you teach yourself, do you not? The one preaching not to steal, do you steal? 22The one saying not to be committing adultery, do you commit adultery? The one detesting the idols, do you rob temples [or, commit sacrilege]? (Romans 2:21,22).
In these verses, Paul makes it clear that hypocrisy is in view. He is declaring that those who do the things they condemned others for are "without excuse." He even mentions teaching in this regard. And this could refer to the teaching of doctrine. But again, the main point is, if you are teaching a particular doctrine, do you truly believe it yourself?
The point is, there is nothing in such verses that forbids the judging of the beliefs and behaviors of others. In fact, Paul is judging those who are engaging in behaviors they condemn in others. We just need to be sure we do not fall into this category.
Being sure we are not engaging in hypocrisy is only one qualifier on "judging" others. Another qualifier is that the issue be one in which the Bible is clear on the subject. In other words, there are many "gray areas" in which there is not a clear Biblical standard on an issue. And we are warned about not making our own particular standard the standard that we hold others to.
Paul address this issue in Romans chapter 14:
Now be receiving the one being weak in the faith, not for disputes over opinions. 2One believes [it is permissible] to eat all [things], but the one being weak eats [only] vegetables. 3Stop letting the one eating despise [or, look down on] the one not eating; and stop letting the one not eating judge the one eating, for God [has] accepted him. 4Who are you, the one judging another's household servant? To his own master he stands or falls; but he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5One indeed judges [or, considers] a day [to be] above [another] day, but another judges every day [to be alike]; be letting each be fully convinced in his own mind.
6The one honoring [or, observing] the day, to [the] Lord he honors [it], and the one not honoring the day, to [the] Lord he does not honor [it]. And the one eating, to [the] Lord he eats, for he gives thanks to God; and the one not eating, to [the] Lord he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God.
In these verses, Paul is addressing those who believe that certain foods are "ungodly" and should not be eaten and those who believe certain days should be considered special "holy days" and observed in a different manner than "normal" days.
What he is saying is that if a person has such feelings, fine, abide by your conscience. But you should not foster your beliefs onto others. The reason is, in these cases, there is not a clear Biblical standard for such things.
An example of this would be the vegetarian who believes it is immoral to kill and eat animals. If you are "fully convinced in your own mind" that this is the case, then fine, don't eat meat. But do not look at me with my steak and say I am sinning. And conversely, I should not look down on you for not eating meat.
But that is as far as these passages go. Paul is not addressing issues where the Bible is clear that a particular behavior is right or wrong. Paul is talking about issues in which there is not a clear Biblical mandate one way or the other.
Jesus and Judging
In Matthew 23, Jesus was very forceful in condemning hypocrisy. And in doing so, He gave us some clear examples of the "judging" of wrong behaviors and beliefs. I could quote this entire chapter, but a couple of verses will have to suffice.
13"But how horrible it will be to you*, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you* devour the houses of the widows, [fig., illegally cheat widows' out of their property] and in pretense [or, with a false show] are long [in] praying, because of this you* will receive more severe judgment [or, condemnation]….
23"How horrible it will be to you*, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you tithe [i.e. give a tenth as an offering] of the mint and the dill and the cumin [i.e., various seasonings] and neglected the weightier [fig., more important] [matters] of the Law: the judgment [or, justice] and the mercy and the faith; these it was necessary to do, and those not to be neglecting. 24Blind guides! The ones straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel!
In these verses, Jesus is condemning the scribes and Pharisees for using their positions to illegally attain property that is not theirs. Such behavior is criminal and should be condemned, whether done by religious leaders, business executives, or whoever.
He is also condemning them for a false show of religion and for being concerned about "minor" religious observances while not addressing the most important matters. And notice that one of these more important matters is "judgment" (or justice). Possibly, Jesus is referring to the scribes and Pharisees being arbitrators in disputes in which their judgments are being corrupted in some manner.
But whatever the exact background, Jesus in being clear that He has judged their behaviors as being wrong and is condemning them for it.
Paul and Judging
But that is Jesus, Of course He has the right to judge people. But what about us? Let's look at some other Biblical examples.
Paul writes to the Corinthians:
Sexual sin is actually heard of [or, reported] among you*, and such sexual sin which is not even named [or, known] among the Gentiles, that someone is having the wife of his father! 2And you* have become conceited and did not at all rather grieve, so that he should be expelled from the midst of you*, the one having done this deed! 3For I indeed, as being absent as to the body, but being present in the spirit, have already judged the one having committed this, as being present.
4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you* are gathered together and my spirit [is with you*], with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5hand over such a one to Satan for destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit shall be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus. 6Your* boasting [is] not good! You* know that a little leaven [or, yeast] leavens the whole lump [of dough] [or, causes the whole lump [of dough] to rise], do you* not? (1Cor 5:1-6).
Here, Paul is very clearly "judging" the behavior of the man who was sleeping with his stepmother. Moreover, he is judging the Corinthians for not judging the man! So yes, when the behavior is clearly wrong, we are to judge it as such.
Next, let's look at what the Scripture teaches about itself:
16All Scripture [is] God-breathed and [is] beneficial for teaching [or, doctrine], for verification [or, reproof], for correcting faults, for instruction in righteousness [or, the behavior that God requires], 17so that the person of God shall be fully qualified [or, perfectly fit], having been completely equipped for every good work (2Tim 3:16,17).
So the Bible clearly says that one of its uses is for "correcting faults." Moreover, it can be seen from the wider context that this is not only referring to our personal Bible reading and the Scriptures showing us our own faults. This verse is taken from Paul's first epistle to Timothy. At this time, Timothy was in the position of teaching others. This can be seen the verses that follow right after the above verses:
2Preach the word! Be ready in season [and] out of season [fig., whether the time is favorable or not], convict, rebuke, [and] encourage, with all patience and teaching. 3For there will be a time when they themselves will not put up with sound teaching, but according to their own lusts they will heap up teachers to themselves, itching in the ear [fig., craving to hear what they want to hear], 4and on the one hand they will turn away the ear from the truth, on the other hand they will be turned aside to myths. 5But you, be sober [or, clear-headed] in all [things]; endure hardship; do the work of an evangelist; completely fulfill your ministry (1Tim 4:2-5).
Note the words "convict, rebuke." Part of teaching involves convicting and rebuking people for their behaviors and their beliefs. That the latter is involved can be seen from the verses mentioning "teachers" and "truth." But, of course, the Scriptures are to be our guide in what behaviors and beliefs to rebuke. This is why this paragraph immediately follows the one above.
So we are to rebuke those who hold to false religious beliefs. Paul gave an example of this when he appeared before the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). In his speech, he went point by point through various Athenian beliefs showing how each one of these was faulty. I won't go into details here as I do so in my article Paul in Athens. But the point is, Paul has given us the instruction and the example of rebuking and exposing false religious beliefs.
Other New Testament Writers
Much of the New Testament was written for the express purpose of rebuking and correcting false teachings.
Consider John's warning:
Beloved, stop believing [or, trusting] every spirit, but be testing the spirits [to see] if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this is known the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ [as] having come in [the] flesh is of God. 3And every spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ [as] having come in [the] flesh is not from God, and this is the [spirit] of the antichrist which you* heard that it is coming and now is already in the world (1John 4:1-3).
Declaring other teachers to be "false prophets" and their beliefs and teachings as being "the [spirit] of the antichrist" is rather strong stuff. But it doesn't even compare to the language of Peter as seen in 2Peter chapter 2 and Jude as seen in his epistle. For the sake of space, I'll simply refer the readers to these chapters. But I do want to quote one verse from each writer.
12But these, like irrational animals [guided by] natural instinct having been born for capture and destruction [fig., slaughter], speaking evil of [or, blaspheming in] [things] which they fail to understand, in their destruction they will be destroyed, (2Peter 2:12).
10But these indeed slander as many [things] as they do not know [or, understand], but as many [things] as they understand by natural instinct (like the irrational animals), by these they are destroyed [or, corrupted]. (Jude 10).
Note that Peter condemns these false teachers for "speaking evil of [things] which they fail to understand" while Jude declares they "slander as many [things] as they do not know [or, understand]." Many times, false beliefs are based on a lack of understating or a misunderstanding of what Christian beliefs truly entail. It is for this reason that Christians need to declare correct teachings and yes, rebuke false teachings, especially when they are based on misunderstandings or even purposeful corruptions of true Christian teachings.
One final point; although rather strong language is sometimes used by Biblical writers, and at times this might be necessary, for the most part we need to listen to Peter's instructions in regards to defending our beliefs:
15But sanctify [the] Lord God in your* hearts, and always [be] prepared with a defense to every[one] asking you* an account concerning the hope [or, confident expectation] in you*, with gentleness [or, considerateness] and respect, 16having a good conscience, so that in what they speak against you* as evildoers, they shall be ashamed, the ones slandering your* good conduct in Christ. (1Peter 3:15,16).
"Gentleness [or, considerateness] and respect"--this is the attitude we should have when "judging" others. Moreover, note that Peter indicates we need to be careful about our own behavior. So this takes us full circle. Yes, we need to worry about ourselves, but a defense of Christian values and beliefs is also needed.
To conclude, there are times when it is wrong to judge others as to their beliefs and behaviors. It is wrong to do so when we are engaging in the same behaviors or when we secretly hold the same beliefs. It is also wrong when the behavior or beliefs concerns a "gray area"--one in which the Bible is not clear on the issue.
But when a behavior or belief is clearly Biblically wrong, it needs to be rebuked. At the same time, the correct Biblical teaching needs to be proclaimed. The purpose of this teaching and rebuking is to establish ourselves in correct behaviors and beliefs and to try to lead those who teach, believe, and act otherwise to the truth.
20But you*, beloved, building yourselves up in your* most holy faith, praying in [the] Holy Spirit, 21keep yourselves in [the] love of God, waiting for [or, expecting] the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22And be having mercy on some, making a distinction [between persons], 23but others be saving with fear, snatching [them] out of a fire, hating even the tunic [or, garment] having been polluted [or, defiled] by the flesh (Jude 20-21).
Scripture taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible: Second Edition. Copyright © 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org). Previously copyrighted © 1999, 2001 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Judging the Beliefs and Behaviors of Others. Copyright © 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
It was posted on this Web site November 2, 2004.
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