“Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1)
“My brethren, it is given unto you to judge” (Moroni 7:15)
How do we reconcile the two scriptural statements above? One appears to directly contradict the other.
It’s possible that you’ve heard the above verse from Matthew quoted in various situations. It usually goes something like this:
Follower of Christ: “This type of behavior goes against the Word of God.”
Person engaging in said behavior: “The Bible also says, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’!”
Is this what Jesus intended when He made this statement? That it would be used to refute application of the Word of God? Of course not. If you read the next four verses, it’s clear that Jesus is addressing the propensity that we as humans have to judge others for doing things wrong even when we ourselves are doing things wrong — perhaps even the same exact things!
When it comes to ourselves, we’re typically willing to consider mitigating circumstances, to allow for possible misunderstandings, to recognize that we’re not perfect but that we still love the Lord. Can we do the same for others? Or do we judgmentally hold them to a higher standard? If so, then we should be prepared to be held to that same higher standard. That’s what Jesus is saying.
What is judging anyway? If you consider what judges do in court, they use their knowledge of the law to form opinions about events that are presented to them. Since they are professional judges — and presumably expert in the law — their opinions count the most and can influence the outcomes of trials. If you’re involved in a trial, sometimes the judgment may be in your favor, and sometimes it may go against you. It depends on how your actions compare to the applicable laws.
If a judgment goes against you, then does it mean you are a bad person? Of course not. It just means that the judge has compared your actions to the law and has determined that your actions are not consistent with what the law says. It’s nothing personal — the judge doesn’t even know you. It’s a simple comparison of this (your actions) to that (the law) and an opinion as to how they match up.
Based on this, are we capable of judging whether certain behaviors go against the Word of God? As long as we are expert in what the scriptures say, we are very capable of making such judgments. Of course, we need to be careful — especially today when people are so easily offended. Any statements about behaviors being contrary to the Word of God should not carry indications that we think people who do these things are bad people or that they are condemned or even that we don’t like them. It should be as impersonal as possible — a simple comparison of this (the behavior) to that (the Word of God) and an opinion (judgment) as to how they match up.
In case we feel like we are not expert enough in the scriptures to make such judgments, Moroni seeks to simplify it for us:
“I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.” (Moroni 7:16-17)
Simple, isn’t it? Behaviors that draw people closer to Christ are of God. Behaviors that push people away from Christ are of the devil.
Being able to judge properly allows us to first make sure our own behaviors are consistent with the teachings of Christ (as Jesus said in Matthew 7) and then to teach others such that they can be properly equipped to judge their own behaviors. It also allows us to stand up for the precepts of Christ in a world that is quickly moving away from Him (and you know from the previous paragraph who influences people to move away from Christ).
Happily, the final judgment belongs to God. And, for those of us who follow Christ, we are blessed to have our sinful behaviors covered by His spilled blood — on the day of our baptism and as we continue to serve Him for the remainder of our lives. So, when we stand before God at the end of our lives, He will compare this (our name) to that (the Lamb’s Book of Life) and, finding our name there, His judgment will be — “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of thy Lord.”
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.