09/12/2012 05:43 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Who Are You to Judge ME? (Maybe, Someone Who Cares)

In today's culture, it might well be time to rethink our outlook toward judging and being judged. Particularly in the Church, the mistaken attitude that we have no business judging other believers is so pervasive today that I think it's time to re-consider what it really means. The scripture from Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge" has been so misunderstood that I think we need to re-examine it. Did Jesus really mean that we should never judge others?

It's interesting that when you examine the scriptures related to judgment, it's not just the act of judging that Jesus is talking about as much as our attitude while doing it. After all, common sense tells us that making judgments is an important part of life and we're required to do it on a daily basis. Who we let our children play with, where we work, who we associate with, how we spend our time, are all judgments, and if we didn't make them, the quality of our lives would be poor indeed.

In a civil society, each of us must be held accountable. Today the culture tries to convince us that tolerance is the highest virtue. But to respond to everything with the question who are you to judge? could easily be the rallying cry of laziness, damaging behavior and outright evil. After all, what would our society become if we stopped evaluating student performance, calling failed leaders into account, or arresting criminals? Without proper criticism and judgment, living in real community would become impossible.

For the Christian, the question becomes: How do we judge like Jesus would, and how can we be sure that love, repentance and restoration are the principles that we use in making our decisions?

First, anyone can have an opinion, but true judgment happens after serious examination and reflection. We can't be frivolous, especially when dealing with an alleged mistake of a friend or fellow believer, but if we follow scripture and investigate properly, we can arrive at a proper decision. Paul's New Testament writings to Timothy and to the church in Corinth are virtual manuals about judgment and correction within the context of the Church.

Second, lose the beam. When Jesus taught in Matthew 7:3-5, he was speaking in the context of a hypocritical religious system that said one thing and did another. The Pharisees couldn't see clearly because of their own corruption, and yet felt perfectly free to judge and condemn others. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to be absolutely perfect in word and deed before we can practice discernment, but if we point the finger at someone else, we need to be living right before God and have a clean conscience.

Third, judging actions and judging people are dramatically different issues. There's never a place for strife, gossip or personal attacks, but serious discernment on issues of behavior, performance, quality, responsibility, stewardship and skill are absolutely necessary. We can love a leader, but when their lifestyle becomes abusive or their teaching aberrant, it's critical for the life of the Church that they be held accountable. Likewise, when a Christian employee does a poor job at work, he or she needs to be disciplined. It's not about them personally, it's about their performance and the impact it's having on others. When Solomon built the temple, he didn't hire good-hearted losers. He hired the best craftsmen and artists in the land.

The truth is, the Church today has it backwards. We spend too much time criticizing the outside culture, and not enough time criticizing the Church. Paul wrote in First Corinthians 5:13, "God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you." And yet, today, churches and ministries raise millions to boycott and protest network television, movies and mainstream culture, and all the while, we're dropping the ball when it comes to encouraging each other toward excellence.

It never hurts to keep in mind that our ability to judge is always limited, and one day, we'll all stand on level ground before the ultimate Judge. But until that time, I hope we will stop being afraid, and continue calling each other to task for our many failures and shortcomings, so that we can, as Paul said, "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."