According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt 7:1-2).1 Whether a person is a Christian or not, reads the Bible much or not, most people have heard this teaching of Jesus. But this wasn’t the only thing Jesus had to say about making judgments. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (Jn 7:24, NRSV).
I want to set aside an exegetical analysis of both passages and just make a simple observation that Jesus is not opposed to making judgments. To suggest that Christians should not judge other people's actions based on Jesus's teaching is misguided. But please don’t assume that I believe Christians have the authority to judge people carte blanche. I actually believe a judgmental disposition hinders our witness to the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, which I want to explain why and propose a different disposition. To make this proposal, let me first point out that the judgmental disposition of some Christians is more that of condemnation and scorn mixed with anger and fear. We can observe this from a quick scan of social media and observe how some Christians respond to others displaying their support of Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community. The contempt and lambasting of people for whom these Christians don’t have any real-life relationships are evident. It is this kind of judging others that cause harm, and Jesus criticized his opponents for doing. This sort of judgmentalism is not about who is right and wrong on this or that issue. We can be right on any number of issues and still do harm in the way we go about responding to people who believe differently. When we denounce other people’s views in ways that condemn and ridicule them with anger and scorn, we antagonize rather than offer any constructive thoughts that might lead people to reconsider their views. Such antagonism only builds unnecessary walls between the gospel and society. Such antagonisms do nothing to invite people into the kingdom-presence of God, where they might learn to start living as followers of Jesus. So I believe we have to step back and ask first what our goal is as followers of Jesus. Is our goal to live in such a way that we invite others into the kingdom-presence of God, where they might learn to start living as followers of Jesus? Or is our goal just to let others know how wrong they are when they advocate views different from our own? If our goal is the latter, then I think we need to go back to the Bible ourselves and reconsider the life Jesus lived, his character and mission, and how that ought to shape our witness as people who profess to follow Jesus. If, however, we are really interested in inviting others to come and follow Jesus with us, then here is my proposal: Instead of trying to antagonize and criticize the views of people we’ve never met because we don’t like their religious, political, and cultural views, we need to focus on loving the real people living around us, including those people whose values are different than our own—as Jesus did. I am making this proposal because I believe that our witness to the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God happens in the context of real relationships. When we read the Bible, we encounter Jesus building relationships where the presence of God becomes tangible. God is at work in such presence to bring about his redemptive good in Christ. Although we all must decide what is right and good, we must give up the disposition of judging others. Instead, we must build real relationships with people where there is mutual listening and learning, as a practice of love, and trust that God is at work to bring about his redemptive good in Christ.
Rex serves as the lead minister for the Newark Church of Christ and has served vocationally as a minister of the gospel since 2000. In 2019, he received his Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois, his Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee, and his bachelor’s degree from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Rex is married to Laura and has three children.