judge, v.: to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises
discern, v.: to perceive by the sight or other sense or by the intellect; to distinguish mentally; discriminate
Despite the world and some people in the church telling us not to judge, judging and discerning (which are synonyms), are important intellectual and spiritual tools God has commanded us to use, but to use wisely and truthfully. The following are some instances where correctly judging is a requirement for us as Christians:
He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? Matt. 16:2-3 (Investigate occurrences to discern if the message behind them is God’s message)
If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. John 7:23-24 (Judge intentions, motivations, & goals after careful scrutiny)
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. Acts 16:14-15 (If someone says they are a believer, we must consider if they are truly worthy of our fellowship in the Lord (1 Cor. 5:10-11))
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 1 Cor. 6:2-4 (We’re supposed to impartially, thoroughly judge disputes among parties within the church since judging is normal for us in life)
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom… To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 1 Cor. 12:7,8,10 (Discernment is a spiritual gift given to the church for every believer’s benefit)
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Heb. 5:13-14 (We are urged to be mature enough to have keen discernment that comes with the consistent use of our spiritual senses)
Must I be perfect to judge?
No. God does not require us to always have all our ducks in a row to carry out righteous discernments. Peter was fallible with his racial hangups and fear of men (Gal. 2:11-14), but he judged Ananias and Sapphira before he was confronted by Paul about his shortcomings (Acts 5). Paul admitted that he wasn’t perfect (Phil. 3:12-14), but he judged churches throughout the New Testament by telling them what they should or should not do. As Paul pointed out in Phil. 3, the person who makes judgments and discerns should be someone who demonstrates they are striving to be better in Christ (pressing toward the mark), as opposed to someone who is making excuses for their sins by telling us we shouldn’t judge. To avoid justifiably judging and discerning is to reject the tools and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Bible speaks against that (Eph. 4:29-30; 1 Thes. 5:19).