To Judge or Not to Judge?

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? – I Corinthians 5:12

Recently a fellow blogger a blog post about a believer’s dilemma when seeing someone in church dressed in an inappropriate way.

On the one hand, inappropriate dress is a distraction from worship. On the other hand, we’re admonished to “judge not.”

I was thankful the blogger specified addressing the problem if it’s someone you know. In such a case it might be fitting to take that person aside and gently admonish.

If, on the other hand, the distracting person is a visitor to the church, especially a first-time visitor, I would prefer to extend a welcome and talk to the Lord about that person’s appearance instead, considering the unknown situation and possible reason for being in church.

The post reminded me of a (true) story a pastor once told that has stayed with me for many years. A woman had visited his church one Sunday, dressed in a way that was what some might deem inappropriate, others might call downright “slutty.” The women of the church warmly welcomed her, while the men treated her cordially, albeit maintaining a respectable distance.

The next week she returned, dressed a little more appropriately. Again, she received a warm welcome – respect at arm’s length from the men, and this time hugs from the women.

A few weeks later she went forward to receive Christ.

Shortly after making that commitment, the woman gave her testimony at her baptism. She confessed that when she first came to the church she had been determined to dress as she always did. She had also determined that the moment anyone said one word about the way she was dressed, she was going to walk out and never come back. But that had never happened. Instead, she had been won over by the unconditional love of Christians. At this point she may have been open to receive correction from her spiritual sisters, but by now that correction was unnecessary. The Holy Spirit Himself had been speaking to her heart and had given her, among other things, the desire to present herself “in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

How I wish this story reflected the norm, but sadly most churches lean either in the direction of judging visitors and driving them away, or tolerating, even covering up sin in their own congregation, for fear of “offending” a brother or sister – especially one who is a major donor. Some churches do both.

The best teaching on this topic comes directly from Jesus, beginning with the words that have recently replaced John 3:16 as the favorite Bible verse, especially among non-believers:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 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’s 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. Matthew 7:1-5

Notice two things about this passage: first, Jesus is addressing hypocrisy. He warns that if we want to correct others, we’d better be doing it from a position of humility and purity, having already corrected ourselves, because we will be judged by our own standards.

Secondly, Jesus, does not say we are never to judge anyone. In this context of a fellow believer, He is saying that we must first “take the plank out of our own eye” (correct ourselves), “and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We’re to help one another live godly lives, but prayerfully and with an awareness of God’s grace toward all of us.

In the context of unbelievers, we should recognize that without Christ we are capable of every kind of evil we see in them – and worse. Being saved doesn’t mean we are better than they are, just better off. We should seek the same grace for the lost that we have received, and being self-righteous is not the way to win them over.

Paul gives a clear guideline for discerning when to judge and when not to judge:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. – I Corinthians 5: 9-11

Once a person is saved, we should start to see the actions and attitudes of a changed life. Belonging to Christ transforms us, and although we will never be perfect this side of heaven, true believers have a desire to live for Him. One who calls himself a believer and yet willfully continues an ungodly lifestyle clearly doesn’t understand the purpose of grace. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”

The woman in the pastor’s story clearly had the fruit of repentance. What about you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we acknowledge that without You we are helpless sinners, bound for death and hell. But You extended Your grace when You died to pay for our sins. May we never take our salvation for granted. Give us wisdom to examine our own lives before judging others. Give Your Church the grace to help one another live as You have called us to, in Your name. Amen.

63 thoughts on “To Judge or Not to Judge?

  1. Well done, Annie. I wish I had something intelligent to add to this post, but you pretty much said it all. I will say, though, that the pastor’s story is powerful. In such situations, we all need to make a very quick prayer to God to give us wisdom!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Interesting timing, Ann. I just got off the phone with a close friend who still attends the church that my family and I left two years ago; we talked primarily about the direction of said church. The main reason we left is related to what you wrote about, in this case, unwillingness to preach about specific sins–except pride. I’m so thankful that you made a distinction between believers and unbelievers in terms of judging.

    Here’s a link to something I wrote a while back about judging that you might be interested in taking a look at:

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks Ann. That’s a great testimony of how it should be done. I have a massive amount of church experience so I’ve seen this kind of thing many times. Once, in the late 1980s, a young couple visited the church I was attending. I had never seen them before. They had a great attitude, were smiling and happy to be there. They sat right behind us. The young man had a dangling metal earring in one year. No big deal, right? Well, to my chagrin and great embarrassment, during the service the pastor called him out, rebuking him for the earring from the pulpit. I could hardly believe it. Needless to say, I never saw them again. I saw a lot of this.

    Though there have always been rednecks in churches, I think most of this stuff began happening on a large scale in the 1960s to 1970s when so many young adults were coming to the Lord. The traditionalists often treated them like lepers. Granted, many simply didn’t know any better but the overreaction to their appearance was a gross violation of the Lord’s teachings and still is. One wonders how many quit on their pursuit of God based on the way they were treated.

    When I first visited a church (traditional, conservative, but with a new group of young adults) in the mid 1970s at the invitation of a good friend I trusted who was recently saved, my hair was really long. Thank goodness I was among some cool understanding people, at a prayer meeting, some of whom were also recently saved or just knew how to treat people. Nobody cared about my appearance or said anything. They were happy I was there. A week or so later, my decision for the Lord made with no looking back, I got a haircut. A real one. No one ever told me to or even suggested it.

    We MUST allow the Spirit of the Lord to do His work in bringing whatever conviction is necessary. We MUST trust Him and allow for His timing. In the meantime we MUST love people and not judge them.

    Be Blessed

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I wonder if those busybodies ever read about the tradition of a pierced ear being the sign of a bondservant. When a slave was legally freed but out of love wanted to stay with his master, the master pierced his ear and gave him an earring, showing that he was a free man but a (willing) servant. Paul described himself as a bondservant of Christ. Some people need to spend less time judging others and more time studying Scripture. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Good stuff. Reminds me of an episode at a church where I was serving as an associate pastor years ago. My oldest daughter, who was 16 or 17 at the time was singing in a choir for the Easter service. She was dressed in a beautiful well fitting dress that her grandmother had bought her for the occasion. Apparently one of the ‘church ladies’ thought the dress had a neck line that was a bit too low, (seriously, her mother and I had no problem with it and we are very conservative and protective of our daughters) so she made the comment between services to her younger sister. “I can’t believe your dad would let her wear that dress!” Of course little sister had to share that with big sister, so she did the second service with a denim jacket on over her dress. Later, at a family Easter dinner she was still wearing the jacket so I asked her; why? As she told me what happened she was visibly upset and humiliated. I was furious. This one busy body ruined what had started as a truly blessed day. Sadly, this began a downward spiral for her at this church, and church in general, that took years to overcome. Long story short, we both left there. She had to eventually make her peace between the Father and herself, seeing herself through His eyes. And I started a new ministry in another town where busybodies and religious people were not comfortable for long and were not tolerated. The religious spirit is the most dangerous spirit the enemy has in his army. At least for the church. Yes Christians should dress modestly, but as you point out, we must be careful in our judging. I’ll stop now 😉

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Wow, Dan, there’s a whole blog post right there! Years ago, we had a phrase, “majoring in the minors,” describing people who, as Jesus said, “strain at a gnat but swallow a camel.” What a shame your daughter went through that. I’m so glad she has made her peace with God. I’m convinced that the Lord never wastes our suffering. Perhaps He is going to use her experience in a big way to reach out to young people – or deal with the busybodies.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen, Linnie! And if He didn’t come to condemn, what makes us think WE have the right to condemn? If we focus on making ourselves pure and blameless, I’ve found that’s enough to keep us plenty busy. As for convicting sinners of sin, the Holy Spirit can do that, maybe using our example to rebuke the casual observer. We may not have to say a word!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well balanced truths Ann. Most church goers err by judging superficially but, when they should address one “who calls themselves a brother” but is an adulterer, they drop the ball.
    I don’t know any church that “expels the immoral brother ” – even pastors cry for forgiveness AFTER getting caught. And they keep the pulpit.
    Perhaps few really fear God. But the balance you put forth is valuable.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My church practices church discipline, Lisa Beth. Although we haven’t had any cases of blatant sexual sin, we have had to deal with people sowing division and neglecting the fellowship. In every case I’ve seen there has been a reaching out from the church to try to restore the person, and only after continuous refusal to repent (for up to a year) has the person’s membership been taken away. I have never felt the church was too harsh with them. On the other hand, I brought a homeless woman to church one night, and no one made her feel unwelcome. Several members went out of their way to come talk to her. I was so proud of them. (Can you tell how much I love my church?)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The same pastor told a contrasting story about a judgmental church that did NOT respond the way his had, and it did not have such a happy ending. Not only was the young man not coming back, but he was suing the church. (And the pastor said, “I hope he wins.”)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I totally agree with this when it comes to someone new to going to a church and being Christian. Treating them gently and teaching them to do better is the right thing to do. I know a woman and she use to attend church every Sunday from childhood and then in her late 20’s the way she dressed changed drastically. She is a very busty woman and she would wear tops with deeply plunging neck lines and most of chest was on display. The way she was dressing was disrupting service distracting teenage boys and men alike I am sure it was distracting to the women as well.
    Her mother pulled her aside and asked her to dress more modestly when coming to church and she refused, later other women in the church did the same telling her it was distracting to the boys and the men as well she still refused. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know better because she did she simply didn’t care.
    Eventually she left the church and became a wiccan she says she left on her own, but I am not so sure of that. I think the women handled her properly and it wasn’t so much judgement as it was looking out for all the members of the church because her actions were tempting others in the church especially young boys with things like lust. It is sad she rejected God, but I think she did that long before she left the church.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree completely. Judging from her actions, it would seem she was more interested in the attention than helping the young men keep their minds pure. If she called herself a believer, it was absolutely right of the women to try to give her some guidance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I agree it was the attention she was after. The thing that always got me is her husband allows her to dress that way knowing other men are staring at her. The women were definitely right for the boys and even young girls. It is hard to tell young girls you need to use modesty when you have a woman in the church with most of her chest exposed.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for this. That story of the woman “testing” the church is so helpful! Many people are leaving the church right now because they have suddenly realized that the church they attended was based on keeping up appearances, not Jesus . I think it’s a good thing to question the church you attend and make sure it, as a body, is led by the Spirit. I know that wasn’t your point . Lol! I guess I started writing a blog here. Anyway, thanks for the lesson in right judgment.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I was always raised with – wear your Sunday best to church. And my parish tried to follow that, too – as much as one could, depending on their income levels.

    However, I’ve been to other churches where people come clothed… more relaxed. At first, I wondered why they didn’t make the effort to look good for God, but then I wondered if maybe dressing up is more often for others around us rather than God. I learned that some people wear suits all week at work and they appreciate being able to relax and come as they wish to the House of God. While I continue to dress smart, I no longer judge other churchgoers. Sometimes they are wearing something because they are coming back (or going somewhere right after) and having to change would mean that they would skip mass altogether.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I remember attending a church service once (as a guest) where the church made a point of welcoming homeless people. One young man was dressed in clothes he’d literally slept in for days. Congregation members were totally welcoming and I was told many of these people went on to join the church precisely because they weren’t being judged when they first started coming. I remember wondering how people at my own church would react if someone came to church like that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Debi Sue, thought I had responded to you, but if I did it on my phone, it might not have come through. I wanted to recommend a book to you that my friend Kimberly Bowman wrote, called “Undercover Bag Lady.” Kim disguised herself as a homeless person and visited a different church each Sunday. She documented her experiences in the different denominations, and I’m sorry to say, most of what I read was deeply disappointing. This book can easily be read in one sitting, but it has such a profound message..

      Liked by 2 people

  10. This post caught my eye because I just read your header Scripture in 1 Corinthians recently. I was pondering that specific verse in relation to the previous chapter where he says to judge nothing before the Lord comes. And then of course we have the following chapter talking about how they should be able to judge matters amongst themselves instead of going to court. So many facets of judging that we need to keep straight! I appreciate your thoughtful sharing here. That story is truly powerful. Lord help us grow further into such wisdom!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer. Yes, it is a complicated issue. I’m not a Greek and Hebrew scholar, but I suspect what we call “judging” is translated from different words that could mean discern, condemn, think ourselves superior, reach a conclusion, or merely have an opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey Ann, I want you to know I mentioned this post in my latest article I posted today. I didn’t mention it or you by name, of course, without your permission. Thanks again. Blessings

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’ve always been in the mindset that “come as you are” does not only apply to your heart condition but also the condition of your clothes. We are ALL sinners saved by grace. If God threw our sins in a sea of forgetfulness who are we to judge? There is also a scripture that reads “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (James 4:7 NKJV) That’s why God judges by the heart alone. Great Post!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Sister Ann what a refreshing post! This has been so taken out of context and used as an excuse for “political correctness” to the point where nobody wants to speak up when in fact there is a time and a place for it. The world, unrepentant, can’t help themselves. They are in bondage to sin. Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t truly condemn sinners when He spoke with them. But the “religious” know better and He was very quick to point out their hypocrisy, thus we have the balance found in Matthew 7. Actually, I wish more people would read the WHOLE chapter instead of the first few verses! I just want to say thank you for following the Holy Spirit’s leading in this. This article couldn’t have been more right on target! Again, thanks and God bless!! 👍💗🕊📖😇

    Liked by 2 people

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