In a culture saturated with relativism, the concept that there is no objective right and wrong, it is quite common to be reminded that the Bible forbids us to judge. After all, being ‘judgmental’ or accusing someone of wrongdoing is about as bad as it can get and it seems that many Christians have accepted this notion as well.
As a result, many are opposed to passing, or at least hesitant to pass, judgement on other people’s choices, including the choice of abortion. This begs an important question: what did Jesus really mean when he said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”?
As with any text we must first look at its context to discern the meaning. Using only Matthew 7:1 or Luke 6:37a gives an incomplete picture. The context shows that this passage is not an absolute prohibition from judging but instead is intended to address unfair and hypocritical judgment. “Judge not” warns against backbiting, slandering, and being overly critical, while “that ye may not be judged” indicates what will happen to those who follow Christ’s command; generally, they will be treated kindly and spared unjust judgement as well. John Calvin remarks about these texts in his commentary, “It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge” (p. 346).
Additionally, we ought to take into account the entire Bible message rather than interpret a verse in isolation. If the explanation of a passage contradicts the overall Gospel this should tell us something is wrong. In the case of Matthew 7:1, it is important to note that the word ‘judge’ in its various forms is found over 700 times in God’s Word so to base our entire approach to judging on one verse would be foolish. Psalm 119:13, Proverbs 3:21, Jeremiah 22:3, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, and Philippians 1:10, to name a few, show we are not only allowed but even bound to judge. We must speak and act in accordance with the revealed will of God and therefore condemn sin. In fact, failing to do so would be rebellion by reversing God’s will through our actions or lack of them.
At the same time, the Lord gives guidelines for how to judge. We must always begin with examining ourselves, lest we ignore the ‘beam’ in our own eye (Matthew 7:4-5). Moreover, we read in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” There Jesus tells us to judge but to do so righteously, using God’s Word to discern sin and not by appearances or our own standards. We must do so lovingly and modestly, with God’s honour and our neighbour’s welfare in mind, realizing that God is the only Lawgiver and Judge (Isaiah 33:22).
What does this mean regarding life issues? J.C. Ryle, when warning against dealing deceitfully with the Word of God, points out that we corrupt the truth when we make a wrong application of it or avoid speaking about it when it may give offence. In the case of abortion, we corrupt the truth and misapply God’s Word when we do not condemn a procedure that intentionally and directly ends the life of a preborn child.
Our Reformed heritage has much to say about this as well. Christian apologist Francis A. Schaeffer, when describing the Reformers, explains that they took seriously the Bible’s own claims for itself: that it is the only final authority. They believed that we need the answers given by God in the Bible not only for how to be in a relationship with Him but also for how we must live and distinguish between right and wrong. Thus, when God’s Word tells us that each individual has unique value and that ending an innocent life is wrong, we consistently ought to live according to and lovingly act upon that truth.
This can be difficult, even painful at times, but there can be no compassion without truth. When we refrain from judging a behaviour that is harmful to our neighbour, we are actually negligent and disobey the commandment to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Telling a loved one that their choices are wrong can be upsetting but not doing so would be much more uncompassionate. Since we know that abortion disobeys God’s law, ends a child’s life, as well as harms people spiritually, emotionally and even physically, speaking out against it is both truthful and compassionate.
So what must we do? On the basis of an unweakened Bible, with the aid of properly conducted science and strategies, we should teach and act to influence society as much as we can. We are not excused from being the salt of the earth, just because the culture no longer rests as much as it once did on Christian thinking. We are not excused from speaking the truth, just because our society holds the belief that there is no absolute truth.
If we have compassion for those around us we must not compromise the truth or hide behind a faulty interpretation of a text about judging, whether to spare people’s feelings or our own reputation. Instead, we must do all that we can to stand against the loss of humanness in all its forms and to help people see the truth that, with God’s blessing, will set them free.