Recently, I was asked by a couple of friends what the Bible says about judging people. It’s a good question!
One of the most common things I hear from people is “Don’t judge people; your own Bible says not to.” At the same time, many churches that are supposed to be living out the Bible seem to be judging people anyway. What do we say about this? Are churches wrong? Are the accusers wrong? What does this have to do with ducks?
There is an old episode of “Veggie Tales,” where the characters attempt to explain selfishness by telling a story. Basically, there’s a king named George who loves taking baths with a specific rubber ducky. Even though he has a closet packed with the finest rubber duckies in all the kingdom, he doesn’t like them as much as this one. One day, he looks out his window and sees a child playing with a different rubber ducky. It’s the most perfect rubber ducky he’s ever seen, and he wants it. He goes to such great lengths to get it that he plans to send the child away from his home so the child won’t be able to protest.
In reality, this story has nothing to do with something so trivial as a bath toy. In the Bible, the king was David, and his duckies were his many beautiful wives. He sees another man’s wife bathing, calls her to the palace, and sleeps with her. Soon when he finds out that she is pregnant, David tries to cover the story quickly by having her warrior husband come home from battle to sleep with her. That way, it would seem to be the soldier’s child instead. No one has to know; scandal averted. When the soldier doesn’t take the bait, David has him killed so he can marry the dead man’s wife.
This is far from a “simple” case of selfishness. How could someone do this? How can David, the man after God’s own heart, be capable of something like this? If this were to happen in front of you, you might demand that justice be done. But are you going to accuse a king of murder? Do you know what he could do to you if you did?
He certainly doesn’t see his actions for what they are; he’s too busy trying to get himself out of a dangerous scandal.
This is where we get into the topic of judging.
A prophet of God named Nathan came to David to give him some tragic news:
“There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.” (2 Samuel 12:1-4, NLT)
Needless to say, David was extremely angry at this rich man. How could this man–a citizen of David’s own kingdom–dare to do something so brutal and disgusting? Why couldn’t he use an animal from his own flock? He had more than enough to spare.
David gets so angry that he says, “As surely as the Lord lives, any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.” (v. 5)
“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you…I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah…I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah…and stolen his wife.'” (vv. 7-9)
Nathan judged David right there. He called David out on a lifestyle that dishonored God and told him that it was wrong. Are you going to tell Nathan that he was wrong in his judgement? Obviously not; most people would approve of this judgement because it’s generally clear that murder is wrong.
But what if David’s first plan worked? What if he successfully covered up this one-night-stand, and the unwanted pregnancy? Or for that matter, what if David had only told a small lie, or had stolen something? What if David had simply worshiped a false god or cursed someone? All of these actions dishonor God. But would you still agree with Nathan for judging so harshly?
It’s not fun to be told that you are wrong. Fortunately, David acknowledged his actions. And even though the bad stuff had already been done, God was willing to forgive David once he had repented (though not without some form of punishment).
Now let’s look at the passage where the Bible says not to judge:
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:1-6, NLT, emphasis added)
Wow. Let’s unpack that really quick.
Jesus starts off by stating a problem–people are judging others. It’s a specific type of people though. The people who are judging others are people who think they are perfect, but are in fact not.
Jesus reminds us that the standard we use to judge will be measured to us. As an example for this, Jesus talks about a couple of friends. One has a speck of sawdust in his eye, and his friend has an entire log in his eye. The guy with the log tries to clear the eye of (“judge”) his friend, even though he can’t see well enough to do it. The only way he would be successful is if he cleared his own vision first. All he has to do is remove the log from his own eye, and then he can judge correctly.
Here’s another example for you: Let’s say the man with the log in his eye is David–a murderer. He sees a problem with the way someone is living; maybe a man was caught stealing in the market. This would be like David (the murderer–the guy who married a bunch of women and then cheated on them all) trying to teach this thief how to be a good, law-abiding citizen. Ridiculous. If David hadn’t acknowledged his own corruption, how would he be able to help someone turn from corruption? You can only teach something if you have learned it first.
Remember how Jesus said that the standard you use to judge will be measured to you? Let’s say that the standard is general perfection. If you judge someone on whether or not they are perfect, then you will be judged based on whether or not you are perfect. Other people will pick up on that and call you out when you mess up.
Fortunately, God is willing to forgive our imperfections through Jesus so that “now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1).”
However, the thing many Christians have trouble with today is the “condemnation” part. We aren’t called to condemn people. We are called to mutually judge each other’s actions based on what honors God. Jesus once said, “A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.” (Matt. 7:17, NLT). If we notice bad fruit (actions) in the life of a friend, we are called to find out what is wrong; we care for each other.
One of my mentors calls this “fruit inspecting.” I like that. Everyone produces fruit in their lives. And your actions say a lot about you, specifically whether you are a “good tree” or a “bad tree.” I would expect any of my Christian brothers/sisters to talk to me about it if I’m not living a godly life. After all, the log-and-speck example was about two friends–not strangers. I have a hard time seeing my own messes; I need someone to point it out sometimes. This is something that Christians are supposed to do for each other, through truth and love. It is intended to be a healthy way of Christian living.
The next step is how you are going to apply this.
This is a big topic, one that can’t be totally covered here. Also, this post will not resolve all of the judgement problems in the world. What this can do, however, is start some healthy conversations. I challenge you to not only discuss this with someone, but to also try to live this out with a friend!