God gives us responsibilities, and to carry out those responsibilities we have to make decisions and choices. God requires that we make choices in this life, not only choices about right and wrong, but choices in how we carry out the business of living. Often we have to make judgments about other people to make those choices and decisions. We may have to hire an employee. Two applicants apply for the job, but we can only hire one. Which one do we hire? We choose who we will marry. We choose what Church of God fellowship to attend or support. Someone invites us someplace, and we have to say yes or no. We may have a job offer from two companies - which one do we accept? We may be accepted at two colleges, which one will we choose? A pastor must choose who in his congregation will give sermonettes, who will lead songs, who will serve in various capacities, and if someone is asked to serve, he must choose to say yes or no. He must balance his responsibilities to serve with his responsibilities to care for his family.
Many choices have nothing to do with judging other people and their qualifications and character, but many choices do, and we may have to judge others before we make a decision. So in choosing a wife or a husband, a person has to judge their compatibility. In judging whether to hire someone, an employer must judge his or her qualifications as well as character. And so on.
Sometimes, in judging others before making a decision, we have to know something about their character to be able to estimate the results of our decision. If I know something about a prospective employee's past performance, I can estimate what his future performance will be if I hire him, for example. If you are dating someone and you see that person's behavior in a wide variety of situations over a long period of time, you will be better able to judge what their behavior is likely to be if you marry that person.
It is not wrong to form judgments about a person's character when you are making a decision that requires that you know his or her character to make a wise decision. It is not wrong to notice that some people seem to be easily angered. We have to know that in order to apply Proverbs 22:24-25: "Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul." We are instructed not to be friends with people given to anger, but to obey this we have to judge and discern who is given to anger.
It is not wrong to avoid the company of those who would harm us. It is not wrong to judge others to know if being in their presence can harm us, spiritually or physically. It is not wrong to avoid dangerous situations. "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3).
We should, with the wisdom and foresight God has given us and continues to give us, anticipate the results of our choices, to discern the best we can the consequences that are likely to result from various courses of action, so that we may chose a course of action that leads to good results.
What loving and wise parent does not teach his or her teenage children to avoid making the wrong kinds of friends, to avoid the company of those who have a bad influence on those around them? Likewise, God teaches us to avoid those that will draw us away from Him and His way of life or may do long-term physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to us. But to do this we have to judge other people. We have to judge what kind of people they are, what their character is like, what their habits of thinking, speaking, and acting are.
We also have a responsibility to judge ourselves, not in the sense of rendering any kind of final verdict on our character, which is God's prerogative alone, but to see where we fall short and what our faults are so we can work on them (1 Corinthians 11:31, 2 Timothy 4:1, John 5:22, 2 Corinthians 13:5).
Yet, Christ teaches, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matthew 7:1-2).
We are not to judge the guilt of others, whether they are worthy of punishment or reward, in God's sight. That is God's prerogative alone. Nor should we judge what is not our business, things that go beyond the responsibilities for decision making that God has given us. "Then one from the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' But He said to him, 'Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?' " (Luke 12:13-14). If Christ did not judge matters beyond the responsibilities that the Father had given Him at the time, neither should we.
"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).
We should not be in the habit of dwelling on the faults of others, judging them as unworthy of our help or favor or love. This is a common habit of mankind, a character trait of human nature, and because it is part of human nature it is a temptation for us in the Church. People tend to dwell on the faults they think they see in others as a way of magnifying themselves in their own mind, whether they realize it or not. It is an expression of vanity. People like to think they are better than others. The Pharisees had that problem (Luke 18:9-14). But we are to avoid that kind of judging. We should strive to esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Each of us has a full-time job of searching for, finding, and correcting our own faults. We do not have time to look for the faults in others, to compare ourselves with them, to think we are better than they are (2 Corinthians 10:12).
We should judge those things we have to judge to make the decisions God gives us the responsibility for making. But judging if our neighbor is worthy of our love or his degree of guilt or innocence before God is not our right. Let us make the judgments we have a responsibility to make, and above all let us examine ourselves and correct our thinking and behavior where it is wrong.
If someone, because of his or her faults, is a danger to us or a bad influence on us, we can judge that we should avoid that person, as God instructs us (Proverbs 22:24-25, Proverbs 22:3), but we should still love the person in the sense that we want the long-term best for him or her and we should pray for that person, that God shows mercy in judgment as we want Him to show mercy to us.
Above all, we should not hold grudges, desiring that God punish a person and bring suffering on him or her because that person offended us, unless God punishes to correct the person for his or her good in the long run. We must have an attitude of forgiveness, even if it must be, for our physical or spiritual safety, from a distance from an abusive person for now. We can express that attitude of love and forgiveness by doing good for a person, even the good of praying for him or her.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).
"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45).
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
When and How to Judge, Chapter 5