Reproduced with the permission of a friend, who wrote an email to me on the subject and brought a great deal of clarity to my own thinking:
You’ve all heard it said: “What gives you the right to judge me?” or simply, “It’s wrong to judge others.” On the other hand, we don’t hold back on the need to execute judgement swiftly and thoroughly on the perceived evil doers that we read about in the papers (or worse, know personally), whether that is through our legal system or our own private (or public!) expressions of judgement. Which of these apparently contradictory approaches is right? How do we reconcile them? Someone who is immature in their understanding and handling of this subject (which is not connected to physical maturity, as we’ve covered elsewhere on this site), will choose one of these two apparently contradictory “options” and play it out based on the situation they are faced with (situational ethics). However, there is a higher requirement to maturely, and with wisdom, reconcile this complexity of judgment.
Consider what the scriptures have to say on the matter:
1. Do not judge!
“Judge not, that you be not judged.
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure
you use, it will be measured back to you.
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not
consider the plank in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your
eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see
clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral
Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this
world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you
would need to go out of the world.
But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a
brother (i.e. who calls himself a Christian), who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler,
or a drunkard, or an extortioner- not even to eat with such a person.
For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not
judge those who are inside?
But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves
the evil person.”
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
3. The qualifiers
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
“…and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is
2 Corinthians 10:6
From this we can see that scripture commands us to judge, but when we do so, we need to do it with wisdom and maturity an without a hint of hypocrisy. Otherwise, how would we be able to rightly condemn the wicked and acquit the innocent? The traditional take on the “law of love” (situational ethics) is incomplete and essentially immature, because it does not allow for circumstances where love must judge i.e. the paedophile must go to jail to prevent him from repeating the offence. We can see how Jesus handled a situation like this perfectly:
“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:3 – 11)
Did Jesus condemn her? No. Did he love her unconditionally? No – you may be surprised to see that His forgiveness was conditional on the premise that she “sins no more”. He did not mean this in the sense that she would never sin again in any way but that she would no longer continue in an adulterous lifestyle (she was clearly guilty). So God showed her not only mercy (not giving he the punishment she deserves) but He also gave her grace (giving her a gift she doesn’t deserve) to go and sin no more. If he had saved her from her judges and said to her, “Don’t worry, just be on your way,” would justice and mercy have prevailed? No. She may have gone back to continue in an adulterous lifestyle that would potentially break up a marriage etc. This is a great case study for righteous judgement and the true love of God that “saves the sinner, but without the sin”.