"Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." John 7:24 NIV (emphasis added)
Years ago I was told that the most familiar Bible verse to American culture was the following saying of Jesus: “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1). I recall feeling somewhat shocked when I heard it. I thought for sure that John 3:16 or “God is love” or one of the Ten Commandments would’ve been at the top of the list, but it wasn’t. On the one hand it was surprising, but on the other it sort of makes perfect sense.
The effects of moral relativity are so replete within our culture today that people’s sense of autonomy (self-rule and governance), when it is threatened, will generate enormous pushback. No one wants anyone else telling them what they should, or should not, be doing. Granted, self-determination is a God-given prerogative, but this does not mean we do not answer to a higher moral authority that our own. What is more, folks who use this verse out of context in an effort to justify reprehensible behavior not in keeping with the righteous standards of God’s Word, do so only to peril. Many folks who can quote Matt. 7:1 fail to realize that Jesus provided more to the story than simply “don’t ever make an assessment regarding your neighbors . . . at all . . . whatsoever.” In fact, Jesus isn’t saying this at all.
Jesus does say that we are to make judgments. The act of making a judgment is not only justifiable, it is actually impossible to avoid doing within human society. The fact is, we are moral creatures making moral decisions within a moral world. The real issue is not relinquishing the right to make a judgment, but rather whether the judgment being made is righteous and in accord with God, His Word, and His Will for us.
The thrust of what Jesus actually said has to do with making rash judgments, or superficial judgments, not with the act of making judgments themselves. What this does for us is it helps us to see we need to have a broad enough framework within which to make sound judgments, and this can only be done by way of a comprehensive worldview that is consistent, coherent, and intelligible. To be true, the attitude of a person’s heart makes all the difference for there is a world of difference between “being judgmental” and “making a sound judgment.” making an assessment as to whether a person’s behavior is appropriate or not is different than looking down upon someone as being “lesser-than” in light of their immoral or highly questionable behavior.
Word for the Way:
Make accurate assessments, but don’t be judgmental in so doing.