“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (Matthew 7:1-5 MSG)
We hear it all the time: Don’t judge me; only God can judge me!
But how much of this is true? The verse above makes it pretty clear that we should not jump on someone else’s failures or judge them for their shortcomings while ignoring our own, but this is not an excuse for denying accountability for actions, which is what we suspect most people are concerned about when they ask what the Bible says about judging others’ actions.
Judgment and accountability are not the same
A lot of people are quick to judge the actions to others, forgetting the verse from Matthew but citing this verse from 1 Corinthians:
Even though I’m not there in person, consider me right there with you, because I can fully see what’s going on. I’m telling you that this is wrong. You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master. Assemble the community — I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 MSG)
However, the heart of what the apostle Paul is getting at with this verse is what to do with someone whose actions are wicked, not just our perception of them. Furthermore, it’s referring to someone who is part of a church body, not someone outside of it. How could we possibly expect someone outside of the church to live by the church’s standards? This is why we cannot judge the outside world, but it is permissible to hold each other accountable to the path of righteousness by judging each other’s actions for what they are, not how we perceive someone.
For example, if someone says they love and follow Jesus but they abuse their children, it’s clearly fair to judge them for their actions and for them to receive punishment. However, it’s unfair to judge someone as wicked because they have tattoos and piercings. They may be a nice and respectful person, but you simply don’t think the way they look is right or godly, so you ostracized them. This is exactly the type of behavior Jesus warns us against in Matthew.
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