To Judge or Not to Judge

2 Comments October 31, 2011 in Christian Life, Marriage, Teen Girls and Women

I love the conversations going on in the comment section of my A Married Woman and Her Friend? post. This is a really hot topic.

But it’s been hot for some time. This is really a very difficult issue.

Not too long ago I was talking with someone, telling him I would not go for a walk with him around town – even though he is a friend, and he does stay at our house. Even if he did want to go for a walk to ask me about my faith in Christ.

I don’t know how to describe the profound shock that registered on his face. And if he’s reading this he will agree that we had a most interesting discussion afterward!

This kind of situation has been cause for hurt, harm and broken relationships for many, many years. In some cases for good reasons, in others for bad. Let me break it down for you.

In the hypothetical situation I laid out in that post (no, it was no one in particular) the man could have been anyone from a brother, to a long lost friend, to a secret lover. But the thing is… it really doesn’t matter. There are responsibilities that apply to ALL the parties involved.

And, like many commenters indicated, although the situation I presented was entirely fabricated, in many senses it is very real. This happens. All. The. Time. And if you read the comments (and I recommend you do, it was an excellent discussion) you’ll see that a single event can be interpreted in so many ways, and the ways people respond to it can be vastly different.

Here we go!

The appearance of evil

First let’s talk about the appearance of evil. The KJV, and only the KJV, translates 1 Thessalonians 5:22 to say “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” And so for many, many generations it was taught that if it looks evil, you should not do it. And if we use this measure on our hypothetical situation, then it seems obvious – the woman and man should not be sharing this meal in the restaurant because it MIGHT look sinful. And according to this verse interpreted that way, we would say it’s wrong because it lends the appearance of evil.

However, we need to look at that verse more carefully. The Scriptures should be read as a whole, not in part only. And the character of God can never be divided to be opposite of Himself. Jesus came to be our example, therefore we can trust that whatever Jesus did was in line and in accordance with the whole of Scripture and the character of God. In that case… we cannot use that translation of the verse.

Why? Because Jesus did a lot of things that had the “appearance of evil”. He “worked” and healed on a Sabbath. He hung out with drunkards and sinners to the point that he was accused of being a glutton and drunkard. Hmmmm… so if it is okay for Jesus to engage in activity that had the appearance of evil, is it okay for us?

The verse has been translated differently in every other version since. And I’m no expert on translations – I prefer to study the original text with the dictionaries and commentaries that are available. So this is NOT a discussion on which is the correct or best translation. This discussion is specifically about THIS verse.

Most other translations interpret the verse to say something like: Avoid (Stay away from/abstain from) every kind of evil.

Which would then mean that it is okay to be in a place where it LOOKS like I’m doing evil but in which I am completely abstaining from it regardless of what others might see.

This gives me and you permission to freely go, be and do all that we think God has called us to do regardless of what others think. Right?

Yes. And no.

Let me continue. There’s the matter of judging and offending.


I’ll talk about offending first. As Christians we need to understand our freedom in Christ. That freedom is freedom from sin, but more than that it is freedom to obey, serve and pursue our Lord. That includes freedom to NOT do the things that are okay for us to do. We have the freedom to say no to things we want or like so that others won’t find our lives a stumbling block to their faith. (See Romans 14.)

Our freedom sometimes needs to be curbed. We sometimes have to refrain from doing what we want, so that the work of Christ in the hearts of others won’t be damaged.

That means… if my or your lifestyle or activity would cause someone else to believe wrongly about God, His character or His Word we may need to stop.

There are many people who choose not to become Christians because of the hypocrites in their lives. Some of them are genuinely hypocrites. Some might be genuinely living in the freedom God gave them, but without consideration for others around them who do not yet understand this freedom that Christ offers. And it is this group – the matur(ing) Christians who are living out their freedom regardless of what other people may think or understand – that so easily causes upset within the church.


That brings us to judging. There are a bajillion verses about not judging others. And it’s true. We’re not supposed to judge others, right?

Well… maybe it’s not so cut and dried. It’s true we are not supposed to judge others. At least not those outside the church. That’s God’s territory. Our job is to judge those inside the church.

WHAT???!?!?! I can hear you screaming at me! It’s true:

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, ESV)

There are all kinds of verses in Scripture about not judging. Many of them refer to not judging sinners. Some refer to how we judge others – especially being careful that we are not overlooking our own sin and folly in our judgments of others. But when it comes to people who are Christians – we are to judge.

How can we judge? God has given us the tools and resources to judge. And He even gives us rewards if our judgment brings about holy living, especially returning someone to the straight and narrow if they have headed off of it.

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” (Galatians 6:1, NLT)
“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20, NIV)

Both of these verses indicate that it is the job and responsibility of Christians to watch, and judge those around us who call themselves Christians, in order to save their souls from death.

What does it look like in real life?

So what does that look like in our hypothetical, but oh-so-real situation?

Does the woman, as a leader on the worship team at church have the right to have dinner with a strange, unknown man in a public place where others can see her?

Yes. She does have that right if she is not engaging in any kind of evil. So provided that man is her brother, or best friend from childhood, it may be okay.

But should she exercise that right the way she has? Is she giving others reason to wander from the faith? (“If she can date other men it must be okay for me too.” Or an unbeliever thinks “See, she’s out here having an affair… she proves Christians are all just hypocrites!”) Remember… even though we are not given biblical permission to judge those outside the church they have every right to judge us. We are ambassadors for Jesus Christ. And our lives should make Him attractive. We know we will be judged, so how then should we live?

And what about you and me? Some people seem quite sure that there is no responsibility in this situation. Just wait and see. Let her bring up the subject. Assume the best. Give her the benefit of the doubt. But I see none of that in Scripture.

What I see is that as Christians we should be judging others within the church. Together we must be the holy, pure and acceptable Bride of Christ – and it should have no hint of sin within her.

It is the responsibility of Christians to confront her. But that confrontation can be and should be as sweet as possible. We need to either in public or in private honestly let her know we saw her, and were wondering who her friend was. At that point it is her responsibility to tell the truth or lie. But if she was meeting with her brother there should be no problem in her saying so… and she should – pay attention here friends… this is for you – she should express her gratefulness at their concern for her soul.

If at the time of the conversation it appears that there is a sin issue involved, the Scripture makes it clear that whoever has addressed this issue with her needs to urge her toward repentance. If she fails to move toward repentance then steps must be taken further within the church leadership according to Matt. 18:15-17.

So… how should this kind of situation be handled? This is what I think:

If a man and woman who are not married to each other go out, it must be done carefully!

  • As much as possible it should be done in such a way as to not cause others to stumble in their faith, or to cause the world around to speculate as to their hypocrisy.
  • Their conduct should be such that it gives no reason to question the credibility of God or the Church.
  • They should be willing to explain their actions and the reasons behind them.
  • They should express thankfulness to those within the Body of Christ who obey His Word and confront them on their actions, understanding that the confrontation is really an effort to keep them from leaving their faith, to protect the reputation of our Lord, and to give opportunity for an escape should sin actually be an issue.

Those who confront must also do so with care!

  • They must do so in humility… not to find out the latest gossip… but to understand the heart of the matter and the people involved.
  • They should also be willing to speak up to stop any harmful gossip regarding this situation if it comes up.
  • They should not allow the names of fellow Christians to be smeared when they have better information they can appropriately share.
  • They should be willing to accept that the freedom the person/people involved have might not be the same as what they have.
  • They should be willing to remain or engage in relationship with that person in the event that sin is confessed to the point that reconciliation with God and the church has been established.
  • They should also be willing to invest time in prayer for the person/people involved.

That’s my answer to the question. But I’m not done.

There’s still more to come…

Next week I’m going to answer this again, from a completely different angle. In the meantime think on this:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

(2 Peter 2:9-16, NIV)

Don’t forget to share your thoughts!

  • How do you think these situations should be handled?
  • What’s your take on “avoiding the appearance of evil”?
  • Have you ever been in a situation like this, and if so how well was it handled?
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