Published September 28, 2010

Paul's Epistle...
"Judge Not?"

Have you ever had a conversation that goes something like this...

You: "Friend, you know that what you are doing (or the lifestyle you're living, etc.) is not pleasing to God. In fact, according to the Bible, it is sin."

Your friend: "What is that to you? In fact, doesn't the Bible say, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged?' So who are you to judge me?"

Who, indeed. Your friend is right about the Scripture quote. But I'd guess he or she would have no idea where to find it in the Bible. Or who said it. Or the context. And the sad thing is that many Christians wouldn't have any idea, either. Sadder yet, they might accept it on face value as a valid point.

So what did Jesus mean when He said this in Matthew 7:1 (which is a favorite Scripture quote of people who don't want to be reminded that they're sinning)?

Actually, the context of this teaching from Christ explains what He means. The very next verse (verse 2) says, "For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Jesus is saying that if you judge someone else, you'd better be prepared to accept that same standard of judgement against yourself. In other words, if you're guilty of the same thing that other person is doing (or, for that matter, otherwise sinning), you're just as guilty — and have no standing to pass judgement. He is more concerned about your attitude concerning your own sinfulness and shortcomings than He is about judging others.

Here's Christ's solution: "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye... Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matt. 7:3, 5). Your immediate concern should be to be sure you are in right relationship to Christ, that you are living according to the principles in His word, and that you are letting the Holy Spirit guide you and inform you in your judgements of others' actions.

Christ taught that "if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault..." (Matt. 18:15). This certainly implies that you have made a judgement regarding your brother's sin. The Apostle Paul approvingly noted in 1 Corinthians 5:12 that the church at Corinth was judging those who were believers when they fell into sin. To his son in the ministry, Timothy, Paul told him to "Preach the word! ... Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." (2 Tim. 4:2). Aren't rebukes the result of judgement? But notice how it's to be done – with longsuffering (patience) and teaching (of God's word) so that it's not only a rebuke, it's a call – with understanding and love – to repentance.

During a recent interview, Michael Booth recalled a quote from noted Bible teacher John MacArthur. Michael said, "He was asked one time, ‘Does it concern you if you know you're about to preach a sermon that you know is going to offend someone?' And he said, ‘Absolutely not. Because it's the truth.' Our responsibility is to tell the truth and then remove our hands from it and let the power of sovereign God deal with people. We're not responsible for the results. And once a singer or preacher or musician can figure that out they will be released in a tremendous way to go forth, proclaiming the truth."

When David sinned, did he need a friend who would comfort him and excuse his failures? Surely he didn't want someone who would confront him with the truth. But what he got was Nathan, a friend who clearly knew what David had done and challenged him regarding his sin. Nathan's words fell on David "like a ton of bricks," and David clearly got the point, exclaiming: "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13). But the judgement, in the end, was God's judgement, not Nathan's.

And there's the key to this whole issue.

If we rebuke someone for some sin, and our rebuke is clearly based on Scripture (God's word), it is not simply our own judgement that is involved. Rather, it's is God's judgement. You are simply passing on what God says about a particular sin. The Old Testament prophets did this, and often didn't cherish the role. But God spoke through them. If what you say is in total accord with God's word, He is speaking through you to condemn sin. Passing such judgement, with love, is entirely appropriate. Simply, if God calls something sin, it's sin. The judgement has already been handed down.

When we judge, though, the end of such judgement must be to bring the sinner to repentance. Any other reason – haughty pride on our part or a feeling of superiority or simply to "put down" or criticize – simply isn't acceptable. And, since Christ taught against it, such a reason would itself be sinful. Any such misguided judgmentalism demeans the Gospel. Even our own personal opinions should not form the basis of judgement – unless those opinions are wholly and clearly based on God's word. A "holier-than-thou" attitude just won't cut it.

We must remember, too, that there is only one final judge. Billy Graham put it this way: "Only God knows our hearts, and only He has the right to judge who will be saved and who will be lost. The Bible says that ‘He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His truth' (Psalm 96:13). And because only God is our judge, we must never put ourselves in His place and say that we know a particular person will definitely be lost. Even at the last minute, that person may turn in faith to Christ and be saved – and then we would have been wrong... A prideful, judgmental attitude has no place in the life of any true Christian."

So, do we judge? That depends. In an episode of the Star Trek series, Kodos the Executioner asked Captain James T. Kirk the question, "Who are you to judge?" Kirk replied, "Who do I have to be?" Interesting. In our case, to answer the first question, we need to know the answer to the second. We have to be in a right relationship with God and be informed as to what His word has to say about whatever issue is being judged.

We certainly are to discern right from wrong, based on God's word. And confronting those who sin – which they will inevitably consider as being judgmental – is necessary, but must be done in love with a goal of having such a person repent and turn (or turn back) to Christ. The world needs this today more than ever. But we cannot – and must not – pass final judgement on a person's salvation. That is up to Christ alone.

- Paul

Comments on this?

Note: The above was written in response to questions from readers regarding a previous column, "Tolerating Toleration," which ran in this space July 27th. You can read it here.

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