“Those who are unwilling or incapable of discerning or judging between good and evil are in this manner revealing either their disobedience or their immaturity.” — Pastor E.L. Bynum
In our last “episode”, we began to address the issue of what it means to “judge” others. Specifically, we took a practical, nonsectarian look at why people cry, “Don’t judge me!” and why we should, in fact, make fair judgments about others’ behaviors & beliefs, always with the welfare of them and others around them in mind.
Now, what about Christians, in particular? Aren’t we supposed to be extra loving and kind and stuff? Surely we don’t want to make people feel bad, right? Besides, aren’t we all sinners? Shouldn’t we leave the judging to God? Let’s look at the usual verse that is thrown around in these discussions, as it is often quoted:
“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” — Matthew 7:1 (KJV)
Simple, right? Jesus Himself said it right there! How can you argue with that, right?
Not so fast, smart guy!
This one came up the other day in the defensive tweets by Fantasia Barrino that I blogged about. While complaining about being (unfairly) “judged” about something in her life, she seemed to indicate that she thought both “Weed” and “Gay Marriage” should not be legal. When her gay and gay-friendly fans took her to task for this, she responded, “It has been brought to my attention that something I said was taken out of context. I, Fantasia Monique Barrino, don’t judge anyone because I don’t want to be judged.” As I’ve pointed out, whether or not what she said & did was consistent, she actually did judge that same-sex marriage should not be legal. But, she and her management tried to do some damage control by claiming she was being taken out of context.
What I want to focus on now, though, is that Fantasia appealed to Matthew 7:1, claiming that she was following a supposedly biblical exhortation to never “judge” anyone. Many people, Christian and otherwise, think this is what the verse means, and it’s used as a sort of shield against criticism or accountability. But, I suspect they have not looked at the verse in context (ironic?) nor carefully considered the broader teaching of the Bible regarding “judging”. So,… let’s do that.
“The Christian message starts with a judgment and it will end with a judgment for those who do not heed it. Jesus was hated, in part, because he testified of the world’s evil deeds (John 7:7). But it is never in bad taste to tell people the truth when the truth really matters.” — Greg Koukl, President of Stand to Reason (www.str.org)
Mr. Koukl here reminds us that judgment is an essential part of the Christian message. Humans have a sinful nature and are prone to doing bad things — i.e., anything that goes against what God has taught us is good and pleasing to Him, as based in His own good and holy nature. Following Moses and the OT prophets, Jesus pointed this out — i.e., He judged people’s hearts, minds, & deeds. This is a good thing, and followers of Christ are called to do the same. After all, people need to know they are sick before they will even consider the cure.
That’s right. Christians are called to make judgments, including on moral matters. When teaching a crowd during a temple feast, Jesus urged them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” In the first half of I Corinthians 6, Paul exhorts the local church to handle their own lawsuits among themselves — i.e., “decide between [your] brethren” and make judgments — rather than turning to the courts run by the “unrighteous”. Verse 3 says, “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?” In other words, this is where we get training for the world to come.
Another great NT example of Christians exercising judgment is Peter’s condemnation of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. When Simon offered to pay to receive the Holy Spirit, because he saw an opportunity for more power and riches, did Peter say, “Who am I to judge?” and grant Simon his wish? No way! Peter laid into him, saying:
“May your silver perish with you, because you though you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have not part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” — Acts 8:20-23 (NASB)
That’s a whole lotta righteous judgment, right there!
(I should point out that the circumstances of that scene are a bit different than most of us will ever experience and should not be taken as a model for how Christians should confront non-Christians in our lives. More on this below….)
Now, let’s look at the entire paragraph (though in a more modern translation) where the initial verse I quoted from Matthew is found, some of which may sound familiar:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7:1-5 (NASB)
This is part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus described what it means to live as one of his faithful followers, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We are called to have a strong moral foundation that is reflected consistently in every part of our lives. As an example, he pointed out the hypocrisy of some — probably the Pharisees, in particular –, who liked to pretend they were holy, yet never held themselves up to the same standards as those whose shortcomings they were more than willing to call attention to.
Notice that Jesus did not find fault with the judging, per se. The “speck” and the “log” are still present. Rather, it was the hypocritical judgment that He, er, judged to be wrong. He insisted that the hypocrites first remove the log from their own eye (i.e., acknowledge and confess their own sin), so that they can be righteous judges of their brothers’ failings. Dr. Eric Bargerhuff puts it this way:
“[T]he measuring stick they used to measure the lives of others will be the same measuring stick held up against their lives by God Himself…. [T]he greater judgment is reserved for the one who has purposefully overlooked his own mammoth sin while pointing out the smaller sins of others. Jesus emphatically says this must change, so He gives two commands: Stop judging others in a hypocritical fashion, and get the sin out of your own life.“
The Bible also gives us guidelines for confronting our Christian brothers and sisters with their sinful behavior. It should be done with tact, sensitivity, and humility (Gal. 6:1). It should first be done in private, then, if the person remains recalcitrant, involving increasing numbers of people from the local Church body. (Matthew 18:15-20) Of course, this all has to do with “judging” and confronting our fellow Christians. What about non-believers?
One of the hardest things for (some) Christians is to not look down their nose — or, turn up their nose? — at non-believers who have certain lifestyles or are otherwise, well, simply doing things that we understand to be sinful. Hello? Of course they are! Why should we expect them to even attempt (as we do) to live according to biblical principles, if they don’t recognize the wisdom and authority of the Bible, let alone that it is God’s Word? Duh!
From the above discussion (and the previous post), we can agree that making judgments about someone else’s behavior is not wrong in itself. But, when it comes to family, friends, and associates who are not Christian believers, we cannot use this as an excuse to get up in their face about it, being accusatory and confrontational, threatening them with eternal damnation, etc. This sort of behavior (and the usual, accompanying attitude) is at best not helpful and at worst can damage one’s relationship and any hope one has of leading that person to Christ. If/When the opportunity presents itself and they are open to discussing such things, then feel free to do so — again, not compromising, yet with tact, sensitivity, and humility. God will work on their hearts according to His own schedule, not ours.
So, repeat after me: Fair and righteous judgment, tempered with a gentle & humble spirit, is good. Unfair or hypocritical judgment is bad, no matter who the parties in question are.
* Thanks to Greg Koukl and Eric Bargerhuff for clear analysis and “inspiration” for the post.