Judgmentalism

Preaching and Worship Resources about Judgmentalism

A prime example of sinful folly, judgmentalism is the tendency to judge the ideas, words, or deeds of others self-righteously, hastily, or presumptuously.

In Scripture

"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye" (Matt. 7:1-5).

"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one" (Matt. 18:15).

"Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement" (John 7:24).

"You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgement is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me" (John 8:15, 16).

"You have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things" (Rom. 2:1).

"But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God" (1 Cor. 4:3-5).

"My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted" (Gal. 6:1).

Be patient "And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them" (1 Thess. 5:14).

Points to Ponder

"Do not judge," says Jesus, "so that you may not be judged" (Matt. 7:1).

The first thing to see is that our Lord cannot have meant that we should never make moral judgments. He cannot have meant that we should never look at a cruel act or a dishonest act and say, "That is wrong." After all, the Old Testament prophets made moral judgments on every page they wrote. The whole Bible rings with them. The Bible calls us to make them: "Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good," says Paul (Rom. 12:9). Jesus himself calls us to make moral judgments. "If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matt. 6:14). "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt. 7:15). We cannot obey any one of these commands without making moral judgments.

When Jesus says, "Do not judge," he cannot mean that we should just forget about the difference between good and evil.

There's something else Jesus doesn't mean. Jesus cannot mean that we may never appraise each other's character. We have to do that too. At school, at work, at home, we have to judge each other's character. Every endorsement of a candidate for ministry, every marriage proposal, every choice of a business partner or a stockbroker or counselor or babysitter or confidant — every one of these requires a judgment of somebody's character. Jesus himself tells us to beware of false prophets. Jesus knew there are some people you can't trust, and it's helpful to know who they are.

So what is Jesus ruling out? I think the answer is that he allows us to judge, but not to be judgmental. Jesus allows judgment, but not self-righteous judgment or hasty judgment or uncharitable judgment. The reason is quite practical: unfair judgments are boomerangs.

"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." So take care when you're judging. Do only the kind of judging you would be willing to have come right back at you.

This rules out self-righteous judgment, for example. Self-righteous judgments don't work. Nobody will listen to them. If we criticize someone with a tone of voice that suggests moral failures are their specialty and moral successes are our specialty, all we have accomplished is the permanent alienating of another human being. Self-righteous judgments are both wrong and dumb. One reason they're dumb is that other people know enough to look who's talking.

No hasty judgments No self-righteous judgments. No hasty judgments either. No judgments before we've heard a person's story. When we hear of AIDS going wild in sub-Saharan Africa, we do have to get around at some point to decide that sexual promiscuity is lethal, and that God knew what he was doing when he put sex inside marriage. But if we see news footage of orphaned children,and weeping widows, and the glassy eyes and caved-in bodies of thousands of poverty-stricken human beings — at a time like that, moral judgment of people's sex lives wouldn't be the compassionate Christian's first reaction. There will be time for moral judgment later after we have done the more urgent things, such as weeping and praying and contributing to relief efforts.

No presumptuous judgments No self-righteous judgments. No hasty judgments. And finally, no presumptuous judgments. Presumptuous judgments are ones in which we presume to know what we do not know about another person. Avoiding presumptuous judgments means that even though we must judge people's acts and character, we ought to be much slower to judge the degree to which people are accountable for their acts and character. Yes, the rule of thumb is that people are accountable, and it's a good rule because it treats people as moral grownups.

But there's a good reason why the ultimate judge is God. The reason is that we don't know other people's raw material. We don't always know how they are wired, and how they were raised, and who humiliated them when they were young. Only God knows, and God doesn't tell us, maybe because we couldn't bear to know each other's hearts. God knows human hearts. We are stuck with speculations and rules of thumb.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. That is, "in everything do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matt. 7:12). Judge, but do it slowly, and do it humbly. Judge only in a way that you would like to be judged yourself. And leave the final judgment to God, who alone knows the human heart.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.