Thursday, January 5, 2012

Judging is Biblical

Yesterday, I used the "J" word.


It's one of the things many Christians think we're not supposed to do.  We're supposed to be loving and supportive, even if it means ignoring flagrant sins in the body of Christ.

But how accurate are passages like "judge not, lest ye be judged" when we strip them of their Biblical context and hang them out to dry all by themselves?

Well, let's see, shall we?

Here's the famous "judge not" passage from the book of Matthew.  Sure enough, "do not judge" anchors this whole section, but do those three words exist apart from the rest of what Christ teaches?

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 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."  (Matthew 7:1-5)

This is not a trick question:  Does Christ actually teach us to not judge others?  Or, does He teach us to judge without hypocrisy?  It's the latter, not the former; right?  We're to "first" repent of our own sins "and then... remove the speck" from the person we're criticizing.  In other words, exhort your brother with humility and with a regard for your own sin.

Don't believe me?  Then check out a similar passage where Christ's doctrine of correct judgment is expanded:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  (Luke 6:37, 38)

What is expected of a believer who feels compelled to evaluate the actions of another believer?  And basically, since Christ is teaching His disciples here, we can assume these instructions are primarily for those of us in His fellowship, although they're also useful when evaluating people outside our community of faith.

Christ expects people to make judgments based on the Fruit of the Spirit, doesn't He?  Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self-control.  In the case of making judgment calls, that means that we can be stern yet loving, convinced yet contrite, and even angry, as Christ was on occasion, but always self-controlled.  After all, throwing out the money-changers from the temple required Christ to make a judgment call on their behavior, didn't it?

Paul helpfully explains why judging others is essential within the body of Christ:

"But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'" (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Wow - Paul instructs us to not even eat with people who get drunk or who are greedy.  In the Presbyterian church, drunkenness and greed get winked at a lot!  But we're not even to share a meal with people who make a habit of these acts.  Instead, we're supposed to "expel" them because they're "wicked."

We don't hear that preached very much these days, do we?  Might I be taking any of this out of context?  Paul says right there to "judge those inside" the church.  Seems pretty contradictory to me, if people still insist that Christ tells us to judge not.

Which isn't what Christ tells us, is it?  But then, perhaps we should look to Christ as our model for what a good judge is, and not just take my word for it!

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth."  (Isaiah 11:1-4a)

Christ judges with righteousness, and He treats us all as needy beggars, the poor of the earth.  I suspect this terminology hearkens back to how we are to judge each other in a forgiving and giving manner.

Which means that I have some work to do myself on the way in which I judge and evaluate the trends, people, and circumstances among evangelical Christianity.  You can judge me on that - I've never claimed to be perfect, and I don't mind being proven wrong.  But the emphasis has to be on the "proven" bit.  Just saying I'm wrong without backing that up with facts - which, you'll notice, I try hard not to do when I say others are wrong - is unBiblical, because nowhere in any of these passages does the Bible teach that unsolicited criticism for the sake of personal preference is helpful for the body of Christ.

Look, I struggle with the concept of grace like most believers do.  Some of us err on the side of not dispensing enough of it, and some of us dispense too much of it.  Very few of us dole out grace in appropriate measure most of the time.

But I've learned that I cannot use "do not judge" as a defense for something I may find disturbing, or challenging, or targeted at me personally.

Because the Bible teaches that we should.  As I wrote yesterday, Christ expects His followers to use discernment, to evaluate the words of those who claim to follow Christ, to exhibit holiness in their lives, to follow His teachings, to judge fairly, and to separate themselves from people who follow false doctrines.

Like you, I want to honor Christ by what I say and do.  So if you catch me lacking discernment, exhibiting a lack of holiness, judging unfairly, and advocating false doctrines, you need to judge me.  And if you do it properly, it will be for my own good.

Whether I like it at the time, or not.

By God's grace, we'll grow in grace together, and perhaps the more effective we become at judging, the less conflict our fellowship of faith may experience.  After all, judging doesn't always have to involve conflict, does it?  Making judgments is simply evaluating the reality we see.  We judge both the good and the bad.

Maybe the more we judge the bad, more good can take its place.

Note:  Perhaps you might be more convinced by this snappy post on Marc5Solas, or John MacArthur's use of the term defamation to more accurately describe the translation of "judging" in James 4.

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