Judge Not, Because You Don’t Know Enough to Judge

By Casey Chalk Published on September 5, 2018

Even compliments sometimes reveal a hidden judgment. Take the comment my wife and I often hear in public: “You must be such good parents, your children are so well-behaved.” Of course, when some passerby sees them complaining, screaming or hitting each other, he’s thinking “What bad parents.”

A good friend of mine and his wife, devout Catholics expecting their first child, were married for several years without conceiving a child. Family and friends presumed they were more focused on their careers than starting a family. The irony? My friends threw caution to the wind years ago. It simply took that long to get pregnant.

Recently a well-meaning friend kept pushing us to homeschool our eldest daughter. He was one of those who believed that parents who didn’t homeschool were lazy or foolish. Some churches are notorious for exerting social and moral pressure on families to homeschool. Yet who here knows the needs of our children better? Our unsuccessful attempts to educate our daughter proved she would do much better in a school setting — and she has.

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This kind of judgmentalism is often excused as “seeking the good of others.” Here’s one reason it’s wrong: because we’re often wrong.

Pigeon-Holing Others

Here’s another: Judging others undermines their status as people created in the image of God. The traits, experiences, and hardships unique to them becomes subsumed by whatever silly, limited, and erroneous caricature we give them. “The parents who won’t discipline their children”;“The couple who won’t have kids”; “The overweight person who refuses to exercise.” Whatever we call them, it’s usually dehumanizing.

Here’s a third reason not to judge: We might wrongly impugn the very character of God. In Jesus’ parable of the landowner and the laborers (Matthew 20:1-16), those who worked all day judge those who were hired late in the day.

Of course, the landowner had found these “late hires” waiting around for work, implying they weren’t lazy, but simply unemployed, a status that should have evoked the original laborers’ empathy. Yet they see only that they worked longer and received the same pay as those hired later. They grumble against their master and accuse him of perpetrating an injustice. The owner rebukes them:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? 

In the same way, we can miss how God has worked in the lives of those we’re judging. We could be judging them for failing when they’ve been sacrificially obedient. That disobedient child may have a physical or psychological problem. His parents may be showing heroic love we can’t see. They may be turning every day to God for His grace and help.

Be Pitiful

Late nineteenth century Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren famously quipped, “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” Such an insight serves us well as we walk a world full of sinners. Indeed, as one who can often fall into the trap of judgmentalism, I’ve been surprised how often my opinions prove wrong.

St. John Paul II declared: “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” The more I’m the recipient of unfair judgmentalism, the more I’m convinced that rather than critique other’s supposed weaknesses to buttress my own inflated ego, I should simply love them.

Indeed, this how I came to faith in Christ, when a Stranger I knew not, rather than judge me, deemed to call me his friend.

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  • SkyGirl315

    The reason for pushing for homeschooling is due to the issues public schools have today, particularly being far too secular. But there’s nothing wrong with finding good Christian schools either.

    • Ken Abbott

      The quality of the education imparted in the public schools is inconsistent and often dependent on local circumstances. I have great concerns regarding the content of teaching that is guided by Common Core principles or geared to the recent revisionist Advanced Placement curricula. Also, I object to the heavy dollop of social justice propaganda served up in some schools, and many public schools are not to be trusted at all to teach human sexuality.

  • Patmos

    Of course you should use judgement, and of course you should use discernment. It’s absolutely foolish to think otherwise. The whole “Judge Not” phrase is often horribly misused as an excuse to let sin slide, when in truth the phrase is used in scripture as meaning to condemn not, and there’s a huge difference. People were getting ready to stone the adulteress to death, that is, to condemn her. While it is true Jesus showed her mercy, he also then used judgement when saying go forth and sin no more. He knew the Torah, and he knew enough to judge.

    • Ken Abbott

      Agreement on the need–the requirement–to exercise discernment.

    • Christ is God.

      • Ken Abbott

        Well, amen to that.

        • The fool seemed to claim that Christ is not God and is merely a guy who knew the Torah as if it was a magic spellbook.

          • Bryan

            Methinks you’re reading in your own assumption that everybody else has it wrong but you. Patmos said nothing to subvert or deny the deity of Christ.

          • I would read their message over again. Their desire to subordinate Christ to their ego is self-evident.

    • William B Travis

      lol. Not you again. Your attempt at nuance (“judge not” as “condemn not”) misses the entire point.

      Try reading the verse in context (Matt. 7:1-5). That context has nothing to do with Jesus telling people to avoid condemning others for sin. The point of that teaching—which very same subject Paul covers at length in Rom 14 (Rom 14:10)—is to avoid the spirit of fault-finding which Paul classes in Rom 14:1 as avoiding “doubtful disputations”. The point is not to chastise a brother for what amounts to a speck in his eye when there are matters of far greater importance that require our attention (Matt 7:5).

      Fascinating that you equated judgement with condemnation (“Judge Not” = “condemn not”) and then you say Jesus used “judgement” in the case of the woman caught in adultery. Time to re-work your definition.

  • tz1

    Well, instead of homeschooling, your kids can attend drag queen storytime, and be asked/told if they are transgender or gay in kindergarden. Heather Has two mommies and Daddy has a room mate.

    Public Schools are temples of Molech where childrens souls are burned and destroyed in fires of the doctrines of hell.

  • Charlene

    If you ever sat in on a trial where you hear witnesses tell conflicting stories of an incident, you understand why Christ said “Judge not.” Imagine yourself in a courtroom where someone is lying under oath – about you.

  • obambooocha

    ︅I fo︅u︅︅nd m︅y s︅ecr︅︅e︅t︅ f︅o︅l︅d︅e︅r w︅it︅h m︅y ︅d︅i︅r︅︅t︅y sh︅o︅t︅︅s︅ – t︅h︅a︅t︅︅s t︅h︅e︅ arh︅i︅v︅e︅.
    ︅S︅e︅n︅d︅ m︅e ︅s︅o︅m︅e︅t︅h︅i︅︅n︅g︅ he︅r︅e︅, I r︅e︅a︅dy t︅︅o da︅t︅e︅ ̩▶️ i︅a︅l︅︅m︅a︅z︅.︅c︅o︅m︅/︅i︅d︅4︅︅3︅︅4︅4︅4︅2

    • salxcher

      ︅Y︅o︅u︅r b︅i︅g pu︅s︅︅s︅y l︅i︅p︅s︅.︅.︅. i︅t︅s a︅m︅a︅z︅i︅n︅g︅!︅

  • Nathan James

    It’s careless and sloppy to speak of judgment as dehumanizing. Jesus judged people throughout the gospels, either to praise or to condemn them. People are morally responsible creatures and being judged is entirely fitting to our humanity.

    Certainly, it is true that judgement ought to be just and accurate. Jesus’ judgment is always wonderfully accurate, as when he said “one thing you lack,” or another time, “your sin remaineth” and also “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

    Perhaps you had in mind an attitude that sees sinners as worthless and unlovable, but that wasn’t communicated in the paragraph that ended with “Whatever we call them, it’s usually dehumanizing.” Instead I was left with the thought that judgment is by nature dehumanizing, which is very, very wrong. Quite to the contrary, to fail to judge me by the standard God has set for men would be dehumanizing.

    But to the larger point of your article, yes, it is easy to blunder into inaccurate judgments. Very true.

  • swordfish

    In the parable of the landowner and the laborers, almost everyone would find the situation it describes unfair. Our sense of fairness is one of the most basic intuitions about our dealings with others that we have. Studies have shown that social animals like dogs are able to sense that a situation is fair or unfair. In the light of this very basic fact, I’m wondering what the point of this parable is – ignore our sense of fairness?

    • Bryan

      Everyone earned the same outcome, so in a socialist perspective, everyone was treated equally. In fact this parable is used to support socialism from time to time. But that’s not the point of the parable. What the master says is right: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
      To your question, no the point of the parable is not to ignore our sense of fairness. The point of the parable is that salvation is available to those who believe, whether they believe their whole life, or not until the 11th hour. (This is where that phrase comes from, by the way.)
      On unfairness, another point you can learn from this parable is that salvation itself is unfair. And thank God that it is! Given what can be learned from the rest of the Bible, no man can ever be good enough to earn his or her salvation. That’s because, from a Christian worldview, each sin is so horrible compared to the holiness of God, that it cannot be atoned for except by sacrifice. So, according to the Bible, Jesus came to earth, lived as fully Man and fully God, and was crucified and risen so that his righteousness could be imputed to our record so that those who believe can stand before God with a righteous record. That is the ultimate unfairness: that a perfect God would take the punishment we deserve for our sins, and give us right standing with Himself through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      We shouldn’t ignore our sense of fairness. But we should be thankful when God is unfair for our sake.

      • swordfish

        “That’s because, from a Christian worldview, each sin is so horrible compared to the holiness of God, that it cannot be atoned for except by sacrifice.”

        This makes no sense. Why would killing a person ‘atone’ for sins carried out by other people? Why would killing a person make anything better in any case?

        • Bryan

          The price of a sin is death. That was the price of the first sin in the Garden and it is the price of all sins since then. It’s because God is perfectly holy, perfectly righteous. He cannot sin nor allow it to continue without consequence. Sin is rebellion against God.
          So if the price of a sin is death, someone has to pay that price. That was the reason for animal sacrifice in Jewish tradition. But the animal sacrifice couldn’t fully atone for man’s sins. So a substitution was made. God provided His Son Jesus to take on our life’s sins and allow us His life’s sinless record. Something like if you agree to pay a debt for your friend. If you go through the legal process you would sign your name to his debt and you are accountable for that debt. Your friend is free of that debt.
          But if you substituted your life’s record for mine, there would still be sin for both of us that had to be paid for. So we need one who has no sin to take our sin for us and give us his record that has no sin in it.

          • swordfish

            “The price of a sin is death.”

            The price for ANY sin is death? Even working on a Sunday? No human society has ever come up with such a cruel and disproportionate system of punishment. This is already proof beyond reasonable doubt that your perfect God is actually less moral than an average person.

            “That was the price of the first sin in the Garden and it is the price of all sins since then.”

            Condemning all people (and all animals, who are totally innocent, btw) who will ever live to die because one person has ‘sinned’ is more evidence that your perfect God is less moral than an average person.

            “He cannot sin nor allow it to continue without consequence.”

            God seems to allow all sin to continue without any consequences (cf current Catholic Church child abuse scandal) while people are alive. Punishing people after they’re dead isn’t any use to the victims. In any case, if he’s capable of stopping sin but doesn’t, how is that not more evidence that your perfect God is less moral than an average person?

            To make the above even worse, isn’t it actually the case that if sinners repent before death, they can avoid hell? It would be conceiveable that victims of child abuse could reject the Church and end up in hell, while their abusers could repent and end up in heaven. Genius system!

            “But the animal sacrifice couldn’t fully atone for man’s sins. So a substitution was made. God provided His Son Jesus to take on our life’s sins and allow us His life’s sinless record.”

            How would an animal sacrifice partially ‘atone’ for our sins? If Jesus’s death fully atoned for man’s sins, why are we still judged for our sins?

            “Something like if you agree to pay a debt for your friend.”

            You can take on someone else’s debt, but you can’t take on someone else’s sin. If I murdered someone, would it make sense for you to take on my sin by going to prison for me? That wouldn’t make any sense, it wouldn’t satisfy the family of the victim, and it wouldn’t deter me from comitting further murders. It would be a totally moronic, useless course of action.

          • Bryan

            We’ve already discussed the morality of God in other articles (“Things Aren’t Meant to be This Way…” among others). So you can reread those comments or continue believing as you do.
            “God seems …”
            “Seems” is the important word in that thought. We cannot know everything that is being done in this life in the heart and life of a sinner. Also, from a Christian worldview, this life is not all there is. If every person ever created has an eternal soul, then that soul will continue to receive consequences for their actions during life. So “[p]unishing people after they’re dead” is legitimate because both the perpetrator and the victim have souls that will continue after their earthly bodies have died. Also, while on earth, there is the authority of the mad made government to impose justice as best they can on those who do wrong against their fellow man.

            “If I murdered someone, would it make sense for you to take on my sin by going to prison for me? That wouldn’t make any sense, it wouldn’t satisfy the family of the victim, and it wouldn’t deter me from committing further murders. It would be a totally useless course of action.”
            This point and the part about animal sacrifice go together. So if I were to take your punishment for murdering someone, it would not make sense. It would not make sense because I am as much a sinner as you are. Even if I had not murdered someone, I would have still rejected God in some other sin. So my sacrifice wouldn’t do either of us much good. But if there was someone who hadn’t sinned and he sacrificed himself for you, then if his record was installed over yours you would get the better end of the deal because your sins would be on his shoulders and his sinless life would be on yours.
            Every sin is an act of rebellion against God, so every sin is ultimately against God. What does that do for the victims of a tragedy like a murder? It allows them to grieve against God and seek justice from Him rather than relying solely on men.
            Concerning your last sentence and a half, ask yourself again, if you really had someone sacrifice themselves for you because they loved you unconditionally, would you really continue to live the same way you did before? And if you did, wouldn’t that be a complete rejection of that love? That rejection of God is why there is a Hell where people who choose to reject God go because they do not want to be with God. So it’s not just I don’t believe in God so I’m not going to do what these religious people say. It’s I hate God so much, that I don’t believe anything He claims to have done could possibly affect my life. They would be like the murderer in you example who continues to murder after being given a chance at a new life.

          • Bryan

            I responded earlier but it’s seems to have gone into the ether. Hopefully, you at least got the email notification. There wasn’t anything inappropriate in it that I can figure.

          • swordfish

            Yes, I received an email notification with your comment, which I spent quite a while replying to. When I tried to post it, your comment wasn’t there. This happens quite often on The Stream. The only thing I can think of in this case is that your comment might have been too long, but if that’s the case, why not have a word count limit in the comment box?

          • Bryan

            That could be the case. And the character limit counter would be helpful.
            Could you reply to this comment? I’m curious what your response was.

          • swordfish

            (As per your request, here is my reply.)

            “We cannot know everything that is being done in this life in the heart and life of a sinner.”

            If God is intervening, he’s doing a pretty poor job of it. He’s let 3,000 children be abused in just one US state by his own fanclub. What I would expect if God really intervened would be a perfect world with nothing bad happening at all.

            “So “[p]unishing people after they’re dead” is legitimate because both the perpetrator and the victim have souls that will continue after their earthly bodies have died.”

            We go from God not intervening enough, to him intervening too much by punishing people when it’s too late, in a way which is too extreme (by virtue of being infinite), and unfair because it’s impossible to get out of. Nothing about this system of punishment makes sense, and it makes our human justice systems with all their failings look really smart by comparison.

            “So if I were to take your punishment for murdering someone, it would not make sense. It would not make sense because I am as much a sinner as you are.”

            It wouldn’t make sense anyway, not because you’re also a sinner. Being punished for someone else’s crime doesn’t make sense full stop.

            “Concerning your last sentence and a half, ask yourself again, if you really had someone sacrifice themselves for you because they loved you unconditionally, would you really continue to live the same way you did before? And if you did, wouldn’t that be a complete rejection of that love?”

            Jesus was either sacrificing himself because everyone is a sinner, or because only some are. If it’s the latter, then he sacrificed himself for those Catholic child abusers and other sinners. If I was one of their victims, I wouldn’t be very impressed. If he sacrificed himself because everyone is considered to have sinned, I’d like to have a word with God for creating a world in which everyone is condemned to death before they’re born because of a mistake made by someone else.

          • Bryan

            Thanks swordfish.
            Just one thought:
            “It wouldn’t make sense anyway, not because you’re also a sinner. Being punished for someone else’s crime doesn’t make sense full stop.”
            You’re right that it doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work. If someone who was perfect decided that they loved you enough to sacrifice themselves for your crimes, wouldn’t that be an act of extraordinary love? All the more so if it worked they way they said it does?

          • swordfish

            “If someone who was perfect decided that they loved you enough to sacrifice themselves for your crimes, wouldn’t that be an act of extraordinary love? All the more so if it worked they way they said it does?”

            You’re framing this in such a way that it appears better than it does if we have all the facts at our disposal. For instance, the fact that the person sacrificing themselves for me is the same person who has condemned me to death in the first place, the fact that they came back to life after a few days anyway, or the fact that their unconditional offer actually comes with hundreds of pages of confused and vague conditions attached.

          • Bryan

            “or the fact that their unconditional offer actually comes with hundreds of pages of confused and vague conditions attached.” You remember that before you said “To make the above even worse, isn’t it actually the case that if sinners repent before death, they can avoid hell?”
            So both the person who is saved from a young age and the person who coverts on their deathbed are just as saved. (Now, for lack of a better concept at the moment, there are, I believe, degrees of heaven as there are degrees of hell. So if you live a life full of yourself and at the last moment repent, you would still be saved but you would still have a legacy of a wasted life that could have been service and worship.)
            So life for the Christian is to be an ongoing act of worship in gratitude for the life that has been imputed to him. Some of that is following precepts and values, some of that is living fully and using that life to worship and help others to worship. We are to obey because Christ loved us, not because we have to. It seems subtle but it makes all the difference in the world.

    • Ken Abbott

      What was unfair? Did not each group of laborers agree to the terms of employment? Were any of them coerced?

      • swordfish

        You’re just repeating the justification given in the parable. Are you telling me that if you were in the situation described, you wouldn’t see it as unfair that someone did a fraction the work you did but got paid the same? Saying that everyone agreed to the terms is a cop-out, as they wouldn’t have agreed if they’d have known what was going to happen.

        • Ken Abbott

          1. Given that the “justification” was provided by the teller of the parable himself, I think it perfectly apt to cite it.

          2. I might very well have grumbled–just as the workers hired first did (verse 11)–because a common (and childish) complaint that people often issue is, “That’s not fair!” We have a very self-centered view of the world.

          3. But in fact no injustice was done to them (verse 13). They agreed to work for a denarius and a denarius is what they received. The gamble was they might have turned down the offer at first, hoping for something better, but at the risk of not being employed–or paid–at all. You lie in the bed you make. Spin hypotheticals all you want, but at the end of the day (no pun intended) the property of the landowner was his to distribute as he saw fit and in keeping with the agreements that were made.

          4. Are you surprised that the kingdom of heaven is described in ways startling to sinful men? Why would you assume you would be at home in it?

          • swordfish

            You’re just repeating the same justifications again but using more words.

            “I might very well have grumbled”

            Good for you. As a British person, I’d go so far as to call this the “mustn’t grumble parable” 🙂

            “a common (and childish) complaint that people often issue is, “That’s not fair!”

            If it’s common, there’s probably a good reason for it. Complaining that things aren’t fair when there’s nothing that can be done about them is childish, but feeling that a situation is unfair is at the heart of all the most important advances we’ve had in society. For instance, was if fair that women doing the same jobs as men used to be paid less? According to Jesus in this parable, they should have just shut up.

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