Wait … Nooooo! Did I read that correctly? Is the author saying we are to judge and that, even worse, judging is a loving thing? Gasp! Doesn’t the author realize what Jesus said in his Gospel? “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Mt 7:1-2).
Properly understood it is a loving thing to judge. But of course the key is, “properly understood.” In the church there are three arenas in which judgments can be made: 1) regarding one’s heart, i.e., their salvation, 2) actions, and 3) teaching.
It goes without saying we are never to judge a person’s heart. That is the Holy Spirit’s prerogative and we are not Him. Should we attempt to do such an unconscionable act great harm results for the wheat may be uprooted with the weeds (Mt 13:29). At most we can say something along these lines: “John, I am concerned your neglecting to come to the Divine Service may weaken your faith … for it is in the Divine Service the Means of Grace are graciously given to us beggars.” But to go any further is to place upon ourselves a responsibility which does not belong to us.
The Scriptures do teach that we have the responsibility to judge our behavior and that of our neighbor as well. To some degree this truth is still accepted in the Church but with the incoming tide of a post-modern multicultural worldview under the banner of diversity this is being questioned with greater frequency. If society no longer judged actions we would have to retire all judges from office for their vocation entails that they, well, judge. Oh, and additionally we would have to empty all prisons if society no longer judged. In the Church the Holy Spirit through St. Paul encourages us to observe actions shunning what is evil and embracing what is good.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people … with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5:9, 11).
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
The third category—to judge teaching—is most difficult for modern Christians to embrace. It disrupts the apple cart of live-and-let-live. Yet Jesus would have us judge what is taught and that is the context of St. Matthew, the seventh chapter. Stop and think about it. Who is the author behind the blanket statement: “don’t judge?” (For the time being overlook the conspicuous and ever present contradiction of liberalism in making such a judgmental statement—don’t judge!) Who is the author behind such a blanket statement of “don’t judge”? It is non-other than the father of lies, Satan. The Enemy would have us not judge so we are defenseless against his wiles of false teaching and he can destroy us for all eternity. False teaching invariably leads to a false christ who does not save.
Every road has two ditches with which to contend. The polar opposite of those who would not judge are those who would do so in a hyper-critical prideful attitude. (May Jesus keep us all from such a spirit.) This is driven not by an attitude to learn and defend oneself. But rather this is done through prideful attitude that seeks to belittle in order to control and exalt oneself. This too is not of Christ and disrupts the flock of Christ.
When we make judgments we are defending ourselves from harm. When you test drive a potential car and get a second opinion on a medical issue or surgeon you are seeking and making a judgment to protect yourself from harm. And that pleases Jesus.
Most certainly we are to judge in a kind, loving spirit seeking to win the person over rather than pummel her into the ground with a holier-than-thou attitude. The background of Matthew 7:1-2 is Rabbinic Judaism of Jesus day which was thoroughly marinated in works’ righteousness. This engenders an attitude of superiority which is why Jesus’ desire to give Himself as gift for the salvation of the world was rebuffed by so many.
These days a slightly new tack is advanced by those who deny transcendent truth which is the worldview lurking behind the cry, “don’t judge”. The siren’s cry of doubt and relativity is advanced by those who claim, “well …, that’s only your interpretation.” This is but a subtle twist on René Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” With a sniff of condescension we have, “I doubt, therefore I am an intellectual.” Following our first parents the very words Christ are subsumed under human evaluation whether in the clichéd version of “don’t judge,” or, “that’s your interpretation.”
Jonathan Fisk brings understanding to what is going on when he writes:
“It boils down to something like this: “Because it is theoretically possible for me to misrepresent the words of the Bible, this therefore means that the words of the Bible can’t actually be received without misinterpretation.”
This is insanity. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, if they teach us anything, teach us that the almighty God not only can speak in human language, but He does. When He does, He uses real, true, actual words. God believes these words have meaning. He is convinced these meanings are His own power of salvation to all who believe it (Romans 1:16) this faith can be truly received and confessed again to others, not merely as an interpretation, but as the exact same, original oracle of truth (Romans 1:14). (Jonathan Fisk, Broken: 7 Christian Rules That Every Christian Ought To Break As Often As Possible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 95-96.)
Jesus does not want us to judge people’s hearts or salvation. That is the context of St. Matthew 7:1-2. That being said Jesus wants us to judge doctrine in order to protect and preserve our souls in the one, true, faith. Satan is the author of the blanket statement “don’t judge.” In this manner Satan can destroy us.
Jesus continues his discourse in the seventh chapter of St. Matthew where He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Mt 7:15-16a). First and foremost the fruit of false prophets deals not with the moral life—though this is not to be overlooked. The fruit Jesus speaks of is the doctrinal teaching espoused by prophets—false or faithful. The Lutheran Study Bible, nicely confesses this with these words; “7:16 fruits. Used seven times in vv 16-20. Does not refer to good deeds but to what the prophet says—his preaching and teaching (cf Pt 2:1).” C.F.W. Walther in his sermon, The Sheep Judge Their Shepherds, preached,
When Christ in our Gospel speaks of fruits which a teacher shall bear, then these are not first and foremost the fruits of life, but the fruits of doctrine. If a teacher does not bear the fruit of pure teaching, he is a false prophet, though he be a Paul or an angel from heaven.
Jesus would have us judge … what is taught for our salvation depends upon it. And this is an act of love. For love—agape—agape—love, which is the Greek used in 1 Corinthians 13:6—“rejoices in the truth.” Do not be intimidated by those who chimerically say we are not to judge. Take courage and heart from the words of Jesus, St. Paul, and Walther who would have us judge, kindly, patiently, and graciously giving people the gospel benefit of the doubt where we are able. Do so in order to protect ourselves and bless others with the truth that salvation is a free gift won by Christ’s ministrations. Here is a short palate of verses which I use from Jesus to strengthen myself, and hopefully you, the reader.
- “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Mt 7:15-16a).
- “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret [judge] the present time?” (Lk 12:54-56)
- If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (Jn 7:23-24).
And from St. Paul:
- “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining [judging what was preached] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
- “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor 5:12).
- “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” (1 Cor 6:2).
And from C.F.W. Walther in his sermon whose very title supports the thesis that it is a loving thing to judge; The Sheep Judge Their Shepherds. Three quotes from a possible host found in his sermon will suffice.
- “All Christ’s sheep are judges, both learned and layman, man and wife, bachelor and spinster, young and old, for it concerns each one’s soul, his own life, his own salvation.”
- “To be sure, it is the holy, inalienable and unassailable right of the whole congregation and of every member to judge doctrine, to prove it, to receive it or reject it.”
- “Give earnest consideration then, my friends, to the fact that you are called to the office of judge in the congregation.”
May this article support you, the reader, in the high calling of judging doctrine; what is preached and taught not succumbing to the spirit of the age which so judgmentally says, “don’t judge.” Bear the fragrance of Christ and eschew prideful hyper-critical acts of judgment cloaked in pious fig leaves which seek pride and control. Follow Christ’s warnings and judge what is preached and taught. In this way we defend ourselves from what is harmful, so we may reach out to the neighbor with what is eternally true for the salvation of souls—Christ crucified.
– Pastor Weber
 Jonathan Fisk, Broken: 7 Christian Rules That Every Christian Ought To Break As Often As Possible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 95-96.