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What did Jesus mean when he told us not to judge?
“You’re not supposed to judge!” We hear that all of the time. Christians hear that admonishment hurled back at them frequently. But is that true? What did Jesus mean when he told us not to judge?
Actually, judging is something we do all of the time. When we order a dinner from a restaurant menu, we judge between various dinner offerings and then choose one because we judge it to be the best. When we buy car, we’re making a judgment. When we discern what is good behavior and bad behavior, we’re judging. Actually, if we’re not supposed to make any judgments at all, then we should close down all of our courts and abolish all trial judges, along with police authorities and prosecuting attorneys. No, judging is necessary if we’re going to live with each other in peace and justice.
We need to recognize that there is a difference between judging what others do and condemning them. To condemn someone is to declare that he or she is a bad person. We need to recognize that good people can do bad things. It’s one thing to discern and judge bad behavior on the part of people and quite another to condemn them. I think that is what Jesus was telling us. Only God can condemn. That’s his job, not ours.
As people who must live with each other peacefully, we need to judge what is good behavior and what is bad behavior. If we didn’t make those judgments, we would live in chaos, in a world in which anything goes. Furthermore, we have the responsibility to teach our children what is good behavior and what is bad behavior. We need to teach them how to make good judgments.
When it comes to admonishing others, let’s be tactful and respectful. Finger wagging and sanctimonious preaching at others will succeed only in turning them off. We need to be careful and sensitive when it comes to admonishing others lest they become so defensive they won’t hear what we have to say.
There is a difference, you see, between who a person is and what a person does. The default position we should take is that all people are basically good. God loves everyone, even those who sin.