Summary: What's the difference between an appraisal and a judgment? If the devil can't destroy us by making us apathetic, he'll try to do it by making us judgmental.
It’s hard to talk about judging others without sounding judgmental!
“Judge not lest ye be judged” is one of the most quoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible. People who never open a Bible, people who are biblically illiterate, still know this statement, and readily use it. The way it is used is to stop any discussion about the rightness or wrongness of behavior. The implication is that we should never say any behavior is wrong because we’re not to judge. Yet “without judgment, society cannot operate: we’d have to fire all umpires, no teacher could grade student performance, no citizen would sit on a jury or call a public leader to account” (Lewis Smedes).
Jesus is telling us not to pass judgment on others; in other words, not to condemn people. We’re to speak truth, and let God judge. This doesn’t mean we don’t appraise things. We have opinions. Everyone does. But we’re to “speak the truth in love.” If we point out sin, we do so with compassion, what I like to call “carefrontation.” To know when to speak and when to remain silent requires spiritual discernment.
Judging seems the easiest thing in the world to do. Jesus warns us to not be too quick to judge; but to judge with charity, to judge well. He adds a word of caution: “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Another translation says, “Don’t jump on people’s failures, unless you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging” (the Message). If truth matters, if how people live matters, it matters to us as well. The judgments we give are the judgments we’ll get.
Jesus isn’t saying that we’re to never regard any behavior as wrong. Say, for instance, that someone is caught in a lie. Are we being judgmental is saying that person lied? It wasn’t just a “mistake.”
Jesus also tells us to forgive others…but in order to do so, we must first determine that they’ve done something wrong. We identify a behavior as wrong; otherwise it is impossible to forgive. When we fail to forgive, that is when we’re being judgmental. Unforgiveness is an act of condemnation.
What’s the difference between judging and appraising? To judge is to assume intent and condemn…to appraise is to evaluate or form an opinion. One shows discernment, the other hostility. Jesus is not forbidding us from expressing our opinions on matters of right and wrong, nor is He prohibiting constructive criticism. In John 7:24 Jesus says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a righteous judgment.”
What are we saying about ourselves when we judge others? We’re implying that we’re better than them; we need to guard against an attitude of superiority…failing to see the “plank”. We all have faults; we all struggle with living the Christian walk. In offering someone constructive feedback, we need to admit we’re fellow-strugglers.
Harsh criticism looks ugliest on Christians. If the devil can’t destroy us by making us apathetic, he’ll try to do it by making us judgmental. Some Christians seem to feel they’re not spiritual if they aren’t denouncing the sins of others. They’re known for what they’re against. They condemn even the motives of others, yet God alone knows why people make certain choices. God alone knows the truth about each of us.
The kind of judging Jesus is condemning is the ugly attitude of fault-finding: a mean-spirited, negative attitude that destructively looks for the worst in people. This goes beyond stating an opinion. The judgment Jesus is speaking of extends to how we treat people. Judgments affect relationships.
Sometimes our doctrinal differences color our judgment: “He can’t be a Christian, why he belongs to such-&-such a church.” Our relationship with Christ, and not our denominational affiliation, determines whether we’re true Christians.
Being judgmental can be a form of pride. It communicates an arrogant feeling of superiority. By putting others down, we lift up ourselves…and in matters that are often none of our business. It’s easy to judge even though we don’t have all the facts; nonetheless, sometimes we don’t even want to hear the facts--our minds are made up!
Criticism of art, music, or literature, is a matter of personal opinion…but it becomes judgment when bonfires are lit, and the books, paintings, and recordings are burned. While I believe there’s a place for censorship, we need to tread carefully.
The worst thing we can do for someone who needs correction is to say nothing. As concerned friends, we point out when someone is headed the wrong direction. The goal of correction is to help, and we’re doing it right when the person feels helped. Too often, correction becomes a chewing-out. Galatians 6:1 advises: “When people are trapped in some sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently.” The word “restore” (in the original Greek) was used to describe the setting of a broken bone. The healing is handled gently. Some who confront do so with a lack of “bedside manner.”