(1 Cor. 4:5) Can we judge people or not?

CLAIM: Here, Paul says that we should not pass judgment. Does this mean it is self-righteous to judge others?

RESPONSE: A couple of observations can be made:

First, Paul is focusing on internal motivations –not external actions. He is not describing overt, clear sin. Instead, he is “conscious” of no clear sin (v.4), and he said “I do not even examine myself” (v.3). Here, Paul is describing “motives” and things “hidden” (v.5) –not clear immoral actions. Later in 1 Corinthians 5:12, Paul speaks to external, immoral actions. He writes, “Do you not judge those who are within the church?” Moreover, Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (Jn. 7:24). In other words, we shouldn’t judge motives, but we can judge clearly immoral actions. Consider how strange it would be, if we couldn’t judge actions like rape, murder, or molestation! Obviously, the Bible states that we can observe right from wrong in these clear moral cases.

Second, this doesn’t mean that motives are unimportant. God is going to judge our motives and the things hidden in our hearts (v.5). However, we shouldn’t dwell on this too much, because we aren’t fit to dwell on our sinful heart (Jer. 17:9-10). If we have improper motives, God will reveal these to us, as we serve him (Phil. 3:15; Ps. 139:23-24).