Honoring and respecting others, treating them with kindness and dignity regardless of their behavior, is a given for me, and it goes without saying that I can’t approve or condone their sin. (Jud 1:23) It’s also clear to me that I am to esteem others better than myself (Php 2:3), to consider others morally superior to myself. But what does it mean to not judge? (Mt 7:1)
Perhaps judging means to pass a sentence of some sort, as a judge; perhaps it’s taking that extra step, to go beyond simply observing that someone is breaking God’s law, and making a determination of how culpable and morally guilty they are in their sin, deciding how depraved and corrupt someone is and what they deserve for their sin. Perhaps it’s here, where we mortals are forbidden to go.
What tools do we have to evaluate moral goodness or badness in ourselves or others? How can I compare myself with another on moral grounds? If God were to ask me to rate my own goodness on a scale of 0 to 100, 0 being absolute and total wickedness and 100 being absolute perfection, what grounds do I have to rate myself with any specific positive value? Is 1.0 low enough? How about 0.0001? Isn’t it naked presumption to give myself anything above zero? (Ga 6:3)
I have some idea what absolute perfection looks like in Yeshua, and I know I don’t measure up, but in attempting to determine how close I am to His perfection, or how far away someone else is, I find myself in strange and unfamiliar territory, trying to make measurements in a space where I have no means to calibrate distance.
Perhaps this is why Paul put so little stock in the moral evaluations of others, even his own, calling it “a very small thing.” (1Co 4:3) We cannot see another’s motives, why they’re doing what they are. We can’t know all of their wounds and insecurities and baggage, what makes them tick. It’s impossible for us to determine the moral quality of someone else’s heart; it’s a space where we just don’t belong; God occupies it well enough, all on His own.
So, God is telling me, “Judge not.” Refrain from any attempt to measure or evaluate others on moral grounds. This posture doesn’t actually condone or enable anyone else’s sin, it’s simply the only default position that makes sense when I’m not equipped to make any kind of moral evaluation. Judgement is God’s job, and He doesn’t need my help.