We often hear the words, "Don't judge me," in our world today. People often use the Bible in their defense for this statement, quoting the verse in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Even those who never read the Bible and live as though they don't believe a word of it know this verse and love to quote it when they feel under attack. Regardless, we are told not to judge. However, on the flip side, God's Word tells us in several places to rebuke our brothers and sisters in love. Luke 17:3 states, "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them." Matthew 18:15, "If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." So then what conclusion are we to make when the Bible tells us not to judge others but also tells us to rebuke others? What did Jesus really mean when he uttered the words, "Do not judge"...? Are we truly to never correct others or form opinions about anyone or anything in this world so as not to step on toes?
First, it is important to clearly define the words," judge," and "rebuke," so that we know what we're talking about when we mention them. The definitions, which are a compilation from Wikipedia, merriam-webster.com, and thefreedictionary.com, follow below:
Judge--to form an opinion or evaluation; to determine or declare after consideration or deliberation; to pass sentence on; to condemn; to have an opinion or assumption; to act or decide as a judge; one who estimates as to worth, quality, or fitness; to publicly denounce.
Rebuke--to express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions; to criticize or reprove sharply; to reprimand; to admonish; to scold or censure.
In looking at these two definitions it is rather hard to see much difference. It may even appear to some that the Bible is contradicting itself when we're told it is wrong to judge but okay to rebuke. So how do we discern the difference? In further studying related Scriptures, I believe there are a few key differences between judging and rebuking, though both have to do with a certain amount of reprimanding. When we "judge" someone, we are expressing condemnation (perhaps even publicly). We are acting as, "judge" (or God), and we are forming our own opinion about someone or something. Judging is not necessarily based on a factual incident--it is an overall "opinion," and is also not necessarily based on something done directly to us. We can make judgments about others without really knowing and understanding the truths. However, when we "rebuke" someone, we are recognizing and shedding light on a clear sin or sinful behavior. The sin is typically affecting us. This is based on fact, not opinion, and the admonishment is linked stronger to the wrongful action than to the person (we aren't in the position of "judge" to condemn or declare a punishment on them, but instead, we are bringing light to the problem). I believe "rebuke" has more to do with recognizing and shedding light on the sin rather than judging or condemning the sinner [person] for it. Based on God's Word, it is also apparent that when we are called to rebuke others, we are not to do so publicly. Rebuke has to do with the sin, and judgment has to do with the person.
This topic is one of those areas of complexity in God's Word that requires a great deal of prayer, wisdom, and thoughtfulness. It also requires selflessness, caution, and most importantly, an immense amount of humility. My favorite definitions for, "humility," are: "confidence properly placed [in God]," and, "to think higher of others than oneself" (as Romans 12:3 states). In our natural, sinful state, we as human beings have no trouble being critical or finding faults with others. So this is why we need to approach our position on this topic with prayer and great humility. When we think higher of others than we do of ourselves, we become more focused on our own sin issues than on those of others. Most of us at some point in our lives have been falsely accused or judged. We remember what that felt like and how harmful it was--it can napalm a relationship pretty hastily. If you've ever faced this, you know firsthand of the piety, selfishness, or jealousy that was at the root--and I believe when someone falsely accuses or judges, it is due to one of those three reasons if not all three. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we evaluate and examine ourselves in prayer and humility before going to someone to, "rebuke" or correct them in a matter to be certain we are not being motivated by any of those three evils on even a small level. Humility must be at the foundation.
Again, at first glance the words, "judging" and "rebuking," seem to be quite similar. But in looking closer at the contexts with which they are discussed in God's Word, it is clear that there is a difference. When you read further in Matthew 7 where the, "do not judge," verse is found, Jesus goes on to say in verses 2-5, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." When I read this, many things get readily cleared-up for me. First, we aren't to judge others because we are ALL sinful; therefore, as sinful people we are not qualified to, "play judge." Secondly, we aren't to judge others because we have ALL sinned and all deserve God's condemnation (as Romans 3:23 states). So we have no right to, "play judge," or condemn anyone for anything. If we do, we had better be prepared to take a long look in the mirror and be ready to be judged in turn. We must make sure there are no splinters or planks of sin in our own lives (and who can honestly make that claim) because none of us is living a perfectly pure existence or life. Therefore, we need to be much less concerned with what others are doing (or not doing) and more concerned with our own sin. Judging others is also dangerous because it can be associated with assumptions, or forming opinions about others and their behaviors, that may or may not be based on actual facts or truths. Judgments also typically have nothing to do with us--the person has not harmed us or our loved ones, or committed any sin against us. When our "issue" with someone actually has to do with them and God and nothing to do with us, we need to leave it lie and let the Holy Spirit do His work. Some things are just not our business, and we need to let God be God.
So what things ARE our business? If we likewise, look deeper at the context in Scripture where "rebuke" is discussed, we can see several interesting things. In the two most famous Scriptures on rebuke mentioned earlier, (Luke 17:3 and Matthew 18:15), right off the bat in both we are told, "If your brother or sister sins against you." To me it is very clear that the only time I have the right to go point out a sin to someone is if they are a brother or sister in Christ and if they have sinned against ME. I am not to be going around pointing out the sins and flaws of others for sport. If I am going to go rebuke someone, it better be important, it better be an actual "sin" (not a legalistic issue of grey), and it better be aimed at ME. Furthermore, Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 18:15, "...go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." So we aren't to be publicly defaming or lashing out in condemnation toward anyone. This is private matter and is to be discussed as such. Jesus goes further on this topic of a brother or sister who sins against us in Matthew 18:16-17, saying, "But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." This scenario begs further thought. If someone sins against me to the point that I need to involve others and the church, obviously it better be a big sin. If we have a problem with something someone has done to us that really doesn't warrant involving others or the entire church, we better just suck it up, forgive them, and move on in love. Christ did not lay down this example for petty matters, and we can trust that God is doing a work in our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it isn't on our timing.
Another item that is our business is that of, "shunning evil." We are not called to go around playing judge or condemner--those are God's jobs. But we are not called to go along with the world and give credence to sinful behavior. We are called to recognize evil and sin, and steer clear of both. There are literally tons of verses about how we are called to stand for Christ and His ways. We are also told to be "holy," which means, "set apart." In 1 Peter 1:16 it states, "Be holy, because I am holy," and in Leviticus 20:26 we again read, "You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own." The world likes to jump to the judgment of us (insert ironic chuckle here) that whenever we do stand for Christ and His ways that we are being judgmental of them. This is nonsense. Whenever you as a believer choose to take a stand against sin (without judging or condemning others), you are not only behaving righteously, you are following God's calling on your life. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." If you are a believer in Christ, and you believe that the Holy Bible is the infallible Word of God, then you have no choice but to stand for righteousness. Do not let anyone tell you that you are being judgmental when you do. Shunning evil is not condemnation toward others. It is taking a personal stand for your own beliefs and actions. There is a huge difference, and blurring the line is one of the world's greatest manipulative tactics in the life of a believer. Likewise, if we as believers piously twist the call to, "shun evil" as an excuse to go around judging and condemning others, we, too, are sinning (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church). But we live in this world and are called to be salt and light. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. We cannot be salt and light if we hide in our churches and houses, and never place ourselves in the world. The key is to be, "set apart" regardless of where we go and to "shun evil" regardless of where we are.
Again, I believe wholeheartedly that the sins of judging and condemnation have to do with one or all of the following three things: piety (legalism), jealousy, and/or selfishness. If someone is playing judge or condemning someone else, you can better believe one or all of those three sins are rearing their ugly heads. In the case of piety, the person is founded on playing God, self-righteousness and/or legalism. They are essentially, "patting themselves on the back" in thinking their choices should be everyone's choices. They believe they've found the exact path in life to righteous living-- the perfect list of do(s) and don't(s), and deep down, they think they are superior because of it. We've all fallen prey to these critics. You know the ones: those who ridicule you because your child didn't go to Christian school; those who frown upon you for not homeschooling your child; those who act disapproving because you also use your gifts, talents, and abilities outside of the church (ah hem...anyone with a paying job does, and we can't all get paid to work in the church--nor is that our best and only mission field as believers); those who think you shouldn't get paid to do God's work (yet have no problem that their pastor gets paid); those who believe it is their personal decision how many children you have; those who have a different set of rules for different people; those who think that all personal convictions in the grey areas of Christian living should be the same for everyone (or who don't believe in grey areas). The deeper issue in legalism is control. People who have a tendency toward legalism are afflicted with the sin of control--I know personally because I lived it for many years. They seek to be God, play God, and dish-out God's punishment. Sometimes these people are operating off of fear--fear that they aren't living the right way and so they want everyone else to make their choices so they can feel good about them, too. Or perhaps they want everyone's life to look like theirs so they don't have to compare (which is a sin that is causing discomfort for them). At times, Christians fall prey to, "martyrdom syndrome," which is a phrase I recently concocted about legalism. Essentially, it means depriving oneself of things or making life unnecessarily hard on oneself in order to feel or appear to be more "righteous." Depriving oneself in a quest for holiness or to show love and devotion to God is one thing (for example, during Lent)--this is commendable and personal. Depriving oneself in order to be able to, "earn salvation," or gain "righteousness," is another--and it is wrong. God's Word says we can do nothing to earn our salvation or righteousness--Jesus alone did that for us (Eph. 2:8-9; Ro. 5:18; Ro. 3:10). Even our "righteousness" is like filthy rags compared to God's, and without His grace and mercy (Isaiah 64:6). So legalism and piety are lines that should never be crossed in the body
of Christ. They are unity and grace killers, and they detract from what Jesus did for us. Christ did not come to set us free to turn around and strap us to a list of "do(s) and don't(s)" like the Pharisees preferred to live. They wanted benchmarks so they could feel "approved" before God. Christ came to tear those benchmarks apart. He came to rock the system and shake the foundation of the law. So we need to steer clear of
the slippery slope of the law and legalism because once we start drawing lines, we
better be prepared to draw
them for everyone and everything, including ourselves. There's really no end to it. Once you begin drawing those lines of legalism within the grey areas of the Christian life, you'll either find yourself boxed-in and in bondage to your list of "no-no(s)," or you'll risk
become hypocritical, pious, and prideful--all of which God hates.
In the case of jealousy, the person lashing-out in wrongful judgment or condemnation clearly has deep-seated envy toward you and/or your life. They make accusational remarks or arguments toward you or your personal choices with no real basis (or with incorrect presumptions or unverified proofs). Essentially, they wish they had those options and want to steal a little joy from your blessings or life by attempting to find fault (and if given the same opportunity or blessing, they'd be doing the same thing)! I heard a great quote the other day about jealousy. It said, "Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle." In other words, we all have different seasons of life, different blessings, different callings, and different challenges. So we must stop expecting that others' lives should look like ours. We must stop all the comparing, controlling manipulation, and envying--they are squelching love and unity.
Last, in the case of selfishness, the person wrongfully attacking you or your life choices has an, "it's all about me," attitude. Essentially, your life and/or life choices aren't giving them what they want. So they use religion and "God's Word" to try to manipulate getting what they want from you or how they think your life should look for their benefit. Godly, honest rebuke has no manipulation behind it whatsoever. It is when you've clearly committed a sin against the person and they are calling you out for it. Or, it is when you are clearly sinning and a fellow believer is speaking the truth in love of it to you out of their humble concern and wise counsel. There won't ever be a question involved in the motivation behind Godly rebuke. We can wisely give the litmus test to rebukes both given and received by considering all these things and examining our own hearts in humility and honesty.
In closing, another passage that follows suit with this topic is that of Luke 13:1-5: "Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” This passage is a great example of how we shouldn't judge others as being, "more sinful," or "more deserving" of God's punishments (shout out to Westboro Baptist, again). We are all sinful and deserving of God's judgments and punishments. No one is above anyone else. Planks and specks, people. Planks and specks.
Additional Supporting Scriptures:
Romans 12:3, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of
yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with
sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given
Romans 8:33-34, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."
Titus 3:10-11, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned."
Job 28:28, "And he said to the human race, 'The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'"
Proverbs 3:7, "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil."
Leviticus 19:17, "'Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt."
Proverbs 28:23, "He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue."
Proverbs 9:8-9, "Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning."
Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Proverbs 18:2, "Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions."
Proverbs 14:9, "Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright."
Psalm 1:1-6, "Blessed is the man who
walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of
sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the
law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a
tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its
season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he
prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives
away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners
in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the
righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."
Ephesians 4:2-6, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is One Body and One Spirit, just as you were called to One Hope when you were called; One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all."
Ephesians 4:14-16, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Ephesians 4:17-24, "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."