Friday, August 17, 2012

To Judge or not to Judge?

“Who are you to judge? You’re a Christian, don’t you know one of the main commands you have is not to judge?” If you have been a Christian for any length of time, it is likely that you have heard something along these lines. Statements like this are especially common when Christians talk about things they think are right and wrong; especially when it’s about controversial things. And there’s a very real sense in which the people who make these statements are correct. Jesus did tell us not to judge. But far too often, I don’t think the people saying this understand what Jesus really meant by this. Quite frankly, far too often, many Christians don’t really understand what Jesus meant when he said this.

So what’s going on here? Are Christians to judge? Are they not to judge? How do we reconcile Jesus’ commands not to judge, with all the other commands we see in the Bible about what is right and wrong? Are we never to judge another person's actions or choices? Should we just sit back as people do things we know are wrong, and support them anyway? Is that what the Bible teaches us to do?

The answers to these questions can be found in the Bible, though if we’re going to get the sweet spot of what Jesus means, or what the Bible as a whole teaches, about judgment and judgmentalism, then we’re going to have to dig pretty deep. The Bible certainly goes deeper than one command, ripped out of its context, on this issue. The fact of the matter is this; judgment is not given a blanket condemnation by scripture, it is encouraged and necessary at times. Let me show you what I mean. Every single one of us judge, every single day. The question is whether or not we are judging in the right kinds of ways.

First of all, common sense tells us that we must make some judgments in life. When I look in the refrigerator and pull out those leftovers, I must make a judgment as to whether or not they are still fit to eat. It does no good to say, “Jesus has told me not to judge, so I’ll just ignore the green stuff growing on that casserole.” Furthermore, common sense tells me that I must make some judgments, not just about inanimate objects, but about other people. If you are a young lady, and the schizophrenic drug addict on the street asks you to marry him as you walk by, it’s probably best that you judge him as not fit husband material. Finally, we all must make some moral judgments. All of us agree that murder is wrong and should not be committed, or that child molestation is a horrible act. To not judge those things as wrong would be not only to misunderstand Jesus’ commands and misuse common sense, but to go against the basic moral compass that each of us have.

Secondly, scripture itself, and Jesus himself, tell us that it is right and good to make certain kinds of judgments, of both actions and people. Let’s take a little bit closer look at the passage in which Jesus utters those famous words, “Do not judge.”

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log 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)

Now notice this first of all. Jesus very clearly says, “Judge not.” And he says it for a reason. Do not judge, unless you want to be judged yourself. The way you judge other people will be the way that you will be judged. That’s the basic message of the first part of this passage. Now, let’s go a bit further. “Why do you not notice the speck in your brother’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye?” (Verse 3) This verse is the key to understanding this passage. It gives us a distinction between making right judgments, and being judgmental. And judgmentalism is wrong. Jesus basically says this: “You are so quick to notice the sins in others, and so blind to your own sins. Worry about yourself first, and then come back and worry about what your brother is doing.” And this is important for Christians to understand. If you are constantly pointing out the sins of others, and you’re doing so in a way that ignores the depth of your own depravity, then you are simply disobeying Jesus.

This is where so many people who confess the name Jesus find themselves. They bark about the sins of others, and the sins of society, and they ignore their own. They show no repentance over their multitude of transgressions, but are quick to condemn the sins of others. There is no other way to describe this except that it is wrong, and is completely contrary to a direct command of Jesus.

But be careful before you throw away your judgment completely. Because notice what Jesus says next. In essence, he says, “Go take the log out of your own eye, and then you can help your brother get the speck out of his.” What does Jesus mean by this? He’s simply saying that we need to address our own sins first; see ourselves for who we really are, and then we can go back to our brother, and help them with their sins. Now, if we truly begin to address our own sins, and truly begin to see ourselves for who we are, we’re going to have a completely different attitude when we go back to our brother. We will be more humble. We will have no attitude of moral superiority. We will recognize ourselves as just as desperately in need of the grace of Jesus as the person with whom we are talking. And we might just be able to get somewhere with that person because of that attitude change.

So the real thing we need to on guard for is not judgment, but judgmentalism. What Jesus is describing here is not every day judgments we make about what is right and wrong, but our attitude toward people who are sinning. It’s important for us to get the distinction. Let me give you some ideas to think about.

-        It is not judgmentalism to believe something is wrong, based on what the Bible says.
-        It is judgmentalism to believe you are morally superior to someone who has a different sin than you.

-        It is not judgmentalism to tell a person what they are doing as sin, after you have examined your own life and repented of anything you are doing that is also sin.
-        It is judgmentalism to ignore your own sin, and then go after every sin you see in other people.

-        It is not judgmentalism to believe that you should not be involved in certain things, even if it is the Bible does not clearly condemn them.
-        It is judgmentalism to believe that everyone should live up to the standards you have set for yourself, even when the Bible is not clear that your way is the right way.

Let me end with this thought. If you are a Christian, this kind of judgment that confronts specific sins is mainly meant for other Christians. Listen to what Paul says as he talks about sexual sin in the church. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) What is Paul saying? I think he simply means this: those on the outside of the church need to hear two things: they are great sinners, and Christ is a great Savior. It does no good to try to morally reform them without a Jesus-wrought change of heart brought about by repentance and faith. Once a person comes into the family of God, then humble, love-filled truth can be spoken about specific sins, and the need to turn from them.

So I hope you’ll keep these things in mind as you think about right and wrong kinds of judgment. It’s mainly about your attitude and your heart when you deal with these things. And take Jesus' warning seriously; you will be given the same kind of judgment you dish out to other people. How do you want to be judged? That is how you must judge others.