Doing so isn’t always straightforward or clear cut. Jesus cautioned us to not judge or condemn others,3 but He also told us to “judge righteous judgment,”4 which involves discerning, evaluating, and differentiating between right and wrong. How do we know when to apply each admonition?
If someone does something that is obviously morally reprehensible, it is reasonable that you would feel compelled to speak out, especially if others are being harmed or led astray as a result. Or if you see that something evil or destructive has a foothold in someone’s life, such as drug or alcohol abuse, you would probably feel responsible to try to wake the person up to where that path is leading.
But there are some situations when right and wrong aren’t so clearly delineated. Something that is wrong under most circumstances might be necessary under other circumstances, such as committing violence to defend oneself or other innocents. In other situations, only time will tell. Jesus said that we would be able to judge people and situations by their fruits,5 meaning we will know only after the situation has played out.
We also need to guard against common pitfalls in the judging process, such as the temptation to make blanket judgments about certain types of people or situations, or to make issues more black-and-white than they actually are.
We shouldn’t feel compelled to judge every person we encounter whose life seems to have gone wrong, or condemn others because of the poor choices they seem to have made. We should be more concerned about helping them than about judging them. We can’t know the burdens and weights that people carry, or all the reasons they make the choices they do. Only God is in a position to pass wise and fair judgment.6 He knows their hearts.7 He understands everything about them in a way that we would never be able to.
We can offer advice or support when appropriate, but it’s not likely that people will be receptive to offers of help if they aren’t presented lovingly. We need to remember that we are also sinners8 who need God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, which can cover a multitude of sins.9
Judgmentalism portrays the opposite of God’s unconditional love. Judging or labeling people by their perceived weaknesses, or their past, or their physical characteristics, or their age, or their ethnicity, or their beliefs, or any other factor works against the inclusiveness and spirit of love that should be the hallmarks of our lives as Christians. We should be known for our love and lives that manifest the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.10
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Sizing up the elephant
There is an Indian fable about six blind men who encountered an elephant for the first time. One man felt the elephant’s leg and said, “An elephant is like a tree.” Another grasped his tail and said, “No, an elephant is like a rope.” The third bumped into the elephant’s broad side and said, “I’m telling you, an elephant is like a wall.” The fourth man felt an ear, smiled, and said, “Ah, I am now aware that the elephant is like a leaf.” The fifth man grabbed one of the elephant’s smooth, sharp tusks and declared, “The elephant is definitely like a spear!” The sixth man caught hold of the elephant’s trunk and said with certainty, “You’re all wrong! An elephant is like a snake.”
We laugh, but we have all jumped to conclusions when we only saw part of the “elephant.”
1. John 8:3–11; Matthew 12:10–14
2. Matthew 9:13; 12:7; Luke 10:30–37; Galatians 6:1
3. Matthew 7:1
4. John 7:24
5. Matthew 7:20
6. James 4:12
7. 1 Samuel 16:7
8. Romans 3:23
9. 1 Peter 4:8
10. Galatians 5:22–23 NLT