In Romans 2:1 and in many other places the Bible says that we should not judge each other. We should not condemn each other. How exactly am I to understand any difference between condemnation and mentoring–between condemnation and the attempt to save a brother or sister from the consequences of their choice? I heard from some in my Church that when they try someone to teach, the disciples of Christ refer to the fact that we should not condemn each other, and thereby depart from the mentoring. Is there a clear distinction and a clear indication of how to distinguish between condemnation and mentoring?


This is a common question. We are warned in rather stern terms not to judge on another, yet we see at times examples where we are told to make judgments about one another for the sake of individual or group spiritual health. My first comment is that clearly a balance in this area is needed, but that this balance should weigh in the direction of not “judging” people. Judging, at least in English, has more than one sense. Judging may mean making a judgment about whether something is right or wrong–better or worse. It can also mean looking down on someone and thinking of them in a bad way because of a fault or mistake. As a rule, making judgments about whether a decision is wise or wether an action is sinful or not is less probematic but judging people–forming a decision about the worth of the person overall, often based on comparison to ourself–is much more likely to be sinful. I do not know if this subtlety will come through in Russian.

Of course, now it is time to use scriptures! Romans 14:13 and Matthew 7:1 are good examples of warnings against judging. Romans 14:10 starts with Paul asking, “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother…. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.”  In the context, what is being condemned here is not making decisions about whether a particular decision or action of another is either advisable or sinful, but passing judgment on the person as to their worth overall, and doing so in a way so as to build oneself up at the other’s expense.

Matthew 7:1-5 is probably the most famous scripture on the topic. 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?… 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.” The message here is similar, but not identical. We are warned against a judgmental attitude, but rather to leave judging to God. Also, we should look at ourselves with a more critical eye than we look at others. Notice, however, that taking the speck out of our brother’s eye is not necessarily condemned. In both passages, we are encouraged to leave judging of the overall worth of people and their worthiness as human beings to God. Yet Matthew 7:1-5 makes it clear that not every kind of judging is wrong.

So, let us talk about the kind of “judging” which is not only wrong, but even encouraged in some cases. I have already said that making reasonable decisions about the wisdom or spirituality of the actions of others is not always wrong. In fact, we are called in some cases to make such judgments. In Romans 12:1-2 we are told that if we make ourselves into living sacrifices we will grow in our ability to determine and approve God’s will. Presumably, this will be with regard to our own lives and those of others. In Romans 15:14 Paul tells those who are full of goodness in Christ that they are competent to counsel one another. This sounds like making judgments about actions and giving advice with regard to those actions. In Colossians 3:16 we are encouraged to teach and admonish one another. This is an aspect of what we have come to call “discipling” one another. Colossians 1:28 also comes to mind. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect (complete) in Christ.” Particularly for those who are wise and experienced, we are charged to admonish everyone with such wisdom (but we should add in a lot of encouragement and praise and help as well!).

You ask about mentoring. This word has an almost identical meaning to the word “discipling” as it is commonly used in church settings. The passages above instruct us to do such mentoring. In fact, those who refuse such guidance, counseling and admonishing from one another will not grow in Christ. We need mentoring in the church, but, bearing Romans 14 and Matthew 7 in mind, such discipling must be in the spirit of helping and advising, but not judging or commanding. As I like to say, “advice is advice.” There is a place for stern warnings and rebuking (1 Tim 3:16) but I believe such actions should be rare and generally should come primarily from mature Christians.

I hope this is sufficient.

John Oakes

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