“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
People with little knowledge of the Bible, often know these verses… these words of
Christ. Some take the statement in a radical sense… never judge, never evaluate, never critique. Only the dead can (and should) exist this way. Some interpret the passage in an antinomian (anti-law) fashion. However, the lawless are as likely to be judgmental as anyone else, and to charge someone with being judgmental is, likewise, to be judgmental. Some seem to accept the passage as a bit of Christian “kharma.” If you judge expect to be judged. Neither one appears to find the concept of grace that is embedded in the passage.
Instead of dwelling on a hermeneutical understanding of the passage, I would like to look to look at a few missiological implications of not being judgmental.
A. One possible way of looking at this passage is that judgment should be delayed. After all, evaluation has to happen on some level. We don’t really have an option to not judge on some level at least, but we have the choice of judging from a position of knowledge or ignorance.
Critical contextualization is a term from Paul Hiebert that requires first studying a culture carefully, and sympathetically, before making judgments regarding what parts of the culture are beneficial and what parts are destructive. Sharing the gospel of Christ in a culture is more likely to be successful if it has been critically contextualized.
Additionally, trends over the last few decades have moved missionaries away from being experts/teachers to being learners. Effective learning again requires a certain withholding of judgment. As counselor John Bradshaw said (quoting others as well), once you are sure you are right about something, you cease to be creative and cease to learn.
B. Another possible way of looking at this passage is that one needs to recognize one’s limitations. Since we are limited by time, space, knowledge, and wisdom, it is appropriate to be slow to judge. After all, Benjamin Bloom defined the ability to evaluate/judge as the highest level of attainment in understanding.
It is becoming better understood that in a postmodern environment, truth and judment are not as valued as experience and “the quest.”: Some are bothered by this, but commonly this is because the training of Christians has often been built around a modernist perspective. However, since faith in the Bible is built on a level of doubt and lived out experientially, one might argue that a more effective way to share the faith is through joining people in their quest. This is similar to the findings in counseling where it is found that being a “wounded healer” is a powerful symbol to providing appropriate care. Perhaps Christians would be better witnesses if they focus on their own humanity with its limitations rather than embracing divinity with its claims of perfection.
Related to this is the growning understanding that dialogue (respectful listening to and sharing of beliefs) is more effective in many environments over proclamation and apologetics. While one does not necessarily have to suspend judgment to do dialogue, it does help to be open to listen respectfully… open to learning something new.
C. A third way of looking at this passage is that there are some things that we should really never judge. Sure, we can judge whether we like peanut butter and jelly over bologna and mustard, or not. However, perhaps there are things we simply should never judge.
A challenge often found in evangelical circles is determing who is saved. Curiously, the Bible doesn’t really tell us, but tells us how to judge ourselves, regarding our relationship with God. Perhaps we should not judge this. Paul Hiebert, again, provides insight in this area as well with is work on bounded versus center sets. Instead of going over that again, it would be better just to get to the conclusion… one should focus more on pointing people towards Christ. It actually makes sense. If they are not a believer, you point them to Christ. If they are a new believer, you point them to Christ. If they are committed Christians, you point them to Christ.
I personally believe that one does not need to embrace one single clear understanding of this passage regarding judgment. After all, withholding judgment regarding how to interpret this passage appears to agree with the spirit of the passage. Wrestling with a passage, while being slow to certainty, leaves one open to learn… and learning is good.