Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do Not Judge (except when you should!)

“Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1a)

These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.  His words carry absolute authority in our lives. We should obey them, and we risk serious consequences when we do not.  In some ways this seems simple.  Yet, in other ways obeying this command is not simple.  In order to rightly obey this command of Jesus, we need to understand what it means and what it does not mean.

We need to remember a general principle:  interpret Scripture with Scripture.  With regard to prohibitions like “Do not judge”, this means that we should use the Bible to determine which of the following it might mean:
“Never judge in any way under any circumstances.”
“Never judge except in certain rare cases specifically allowed by the Bible.”
“Never judge in certain ways, but in other ways we should judge, as explained by other Bible verses.”

Some prohibitions are indeed absolute and without exception.  Here are two examples:

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

There is not a single positive example of someone committing adultery or worshiping another god from Genesis to Revelation.  Those commands are absolute and have no exceptions. On the other hand, the command to not do any work on the Sabbath (see Exodus 20:10) did have exceptions.  Jesus himself made this clear (see Matthew 12:12).

Is the command of Jesus, “Do not judge”, more like the command to not commit adultery (a command with no exceptions) or more like the command to not work on the Sabbath (a command with exceptions)?

Types of Judging We Should Do

Here are four passages which either directly state or strongly imply that in some cases we should judge:

#1   NIV Matthew 7:5 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.

This verse seems to imply that after we pay attention to our own sin and can see more clearly, then we should in fact be prepared to help others remove sin from their lives.  This seems to involve a type of judging where we see something in someone else’s life and carefully conclude that it is a sin that they need help to remove.

#2   NIV Matthew 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?

How can we obey this verse unless we examine the fruit in the lives of those who claim to be prophets and in some cases make a judgment that a person is a false prophet? The same principle seems to apply to false teachers (2 Peter 2:1).

#3   NIV Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Obeying this verse does require us to make a type of judgment.  Namely, we must make a judgment that someone has sinned against us, or at least that we have good reason to believe that they have.

#4   NIV 1 Corinthians 6:1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?
 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?
 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

In this passage, leaders in the church are not only allowed to judge, but are given the responsibility to judge between Christians who come to them with a dispute.

How Should We React if Someone is “Judging” Us in One of the Ways Described Above?

We should humbly listen and consider whether or not their words have any merit. It does not help to angrily protest “Don’t judge me!”  We should remember these wise words:

NIV  Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

Types of Judging We Should Not Do

Now that we have some idea of what “Do not judge” does not mean, let’s think about what it does mean.

1.  Based on Matthew 7:2, we should use the same standard with others that we want to be used with us. If we want to be judged strictly and harshly by God, without grace or patience or mercy, than we judge others that way.  Of course, that would turn out really terrible for us.

2. Based on Matthew 7:3-5, if we think we see a problem in someone else’s life, before we try to help them we should examine our own lives. Although God DOES want us to help others get free from sin, we need to prioritize getting rid of our own sin.  This often will leave us with little time to judge others.

3.  According to 1 Corinthians 4:5, we should not judge people’s motives or their hearts. Only God can do that.  It’s not our job.

4. According to Romans 14:1-13, we should not judge people who have different opinions or practices on issues which are relatively minor or not clear in the Bible. We can discuss such differences gently and humbly, but we should not do so in a judgmental way.

5.  Based on Matthew 21:31-32, we should not judge what kind of people are more likely to believe the gospel and become followers of Jesus. Many people whom the world views as “terrible sinners” are humble and eventually cry out to Jesus and receive salvation.

6.  Based on Galatians 6:1, if we do catch someone in sin, we should restore him gently. This rules out harsh, mean judging.

7.  When in doubt, “Do not judge”.  The fact that Jesus warned us not to judge tells me that most human judging is sinful judging.  There are so many ways in which we can blow it.  We can judge when we should show mercy and be patient.  We can judge too harshly.  We can judge hypocritically, ignoring our planks while focusing on specks.  We can so easily cross the line from judging words and actions to judging hearts and motives. Often our judgments are just plain wrong.  So, yes, there are exceptions and times when we should judge in some ways.  But be very, very careful and always remember the words of our Lord:

NIV Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

We have seen that in some ways “Do not judge” is a complex command.  But let’s remember that it often means, plain and simple:  Don’t judge!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

1 comment:

  1. A very helpful distinction we really need is to remember that we can try to judge actions with the restrictions you've listed. Carefully, and crucially that we should only do so with love, mercy and forgiveness!
    He said: "Show mercy, and mercy will be shown to you."
    "Forgive, and you will be forgiven." !

    But there is judgement we should never do, no matter what, under any circumstance, ever.

    We can never judge *people themselves*. Judging people is what He said not to do. It's serious sin to do.

    So, it's the difference between an action and a person.

    A person is not an action. I can make a mistake, or do wrong, and neither is who I am, but rather a wrong for me to correct and/or repent of. But those wrongs are not me, just a wrong action.

    An action is not a person.

    We can try to rightfully judge actions with the cautious you have listed.

    We can never rightfully judge persons. Christ alone has that specific authority, given to Him by the Father.