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One of the most abused passages of Scripture in our day is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Often, people reading the passage stop after the second word, attempting to short-circuit any possible rebuke or correction of their beliefs or actions. In context, however, the passage is not an absolute prohibition of judging. Certain judgments are necessary, as verse 6 makes clear. We have to be able to discern (to judge) dogs and pigs.
We often turn the need to exercise judgment into judgmentalism. Social media tempts us all to become judges. Someone posts something with which we disagree, and we immediately react. Often it is the case that someone posts a link to an article with a provocative headline. We don’t read the article, but we respond to the headline. We are drawn into arguments that end up suspiciously like the “myths and endless genealogies” against which Paul warned Timothy (1 Tim. 1:4). We assume that we are always right and dismiss others in a judgmental spirit. As James noted with regard to the tongue, “These things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).
It is easy to blame social media. But social media is simply a provocateur, giving us the opportunity to show what is in our hearts. We entertain high opinions of ourselves. We become puffed up, filled with the sense of our own superiority. We elevate ourselves to the status of judge and make pronouncements. Some people respond positively to our remarks, encouraging us to say more. We dismiss critics as ignorant. All this reflects the unsanctified heart, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Such activity should tell us that we do not yet know as we ought to know (1 Cor. 8:2).
How should we deal with this? The temptation is to point out the faults of others in this regard, but that is just another form of judgmentalism. It marks us as hypocrites, those who point out the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the log in our own eyes (Matt. 7:5). Instead, we should consider the advice of James. We need to recognize that judgmentalism rises out of jealousy, selfish ambition, and boastfulness and that it reflects earthly, unspiritual, and demonic wisdom. It produces only disorder and every vile practice. Instead, we need to cultivate godly wisdom—peaceable, open to reason, impartial, and sincere. Such wisdom produces a harvest of righteousness sown in peace (James 3:13–18).