So Should We Judge or Shouldn’t We?

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

-Matthew 7:1

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”

-1 Corinthians 6:11-12

Lately, I’ve been wondering to make of these two themes in the New Testament. Are Jesus and Paul at odds here? Which one is it–should we judge or not judge? Today, as I was typing up highlighted quotes from Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections, I came across a passage that helped me make a bit more sense of this paradox.

In Edwards’ time, Christian conversion was very popular. It seemed like everyone was professing a life-changing religious experience. Yet, before long, many of those professors seemed to move on to something new. Were they ever really Christians? What were the marks of a true encounter with God? These were the questions Edwards tried to address; he wanted to help his readers judge between true religious affections and counterfeit ones.

It would seem that Edwards is for judging. However, as he introduces the chapter on marks true Christian experience, he paints a more complex picture:

“Though it be plain that Christ has given rules to all Christians to enable them to judge of professors of religion whom they are concerned with, so far as is necessary for their own safety, and to prevent their being led into a snare by false teachers and false pretenders to religion; and though it be also beyond doubt that the Scriptures do abound with rules which may be very serviceable to ministers, in counseling and conducting souls committed to their care in things appertaining to their spiritual and eternal state; yet it is also evident, that it was never God’s design to give us any rules by which we may certainly know who of our fellow professors are His, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats. On the contrary, it was God’s design to reserve this to Himself as His prerogative.”

-Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Banner of Truth Trust: 1994), p.120

God equips us to make judgments about ourselves and others–in fact, urges us to judge–for the sake of our safety and for pastoral care. That is, there is a time and place to judge for others’ good. What helps me is that Edwards comes out and specifies that these are the times and places.

We are not to judge for others’ harm, simply to exalt ourselves above them. That’s probably why God has made it impossible for us to judge for certain, and it’s surely why Jesus commands us not to judge in Matthew 7. When we do evaluate or “judge” our and others’ Christianity, it is not be lifted up above other people; it is to be built up in the image of Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

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