Thursday, October 17, 2013

Judge Not

This is the second, and very much delayed follow up post to an image I posted on my Facebook back in June. The image is below and I think it communicates beautiful truths in a clever and artful way. It is from Greg Boyd's ReKnew ministry. You can read the first follow up post at this link. You can read the Facebook discussion at this link.
ReKnew Poster
A statement on the photo that caused caused some controversy was this: "Don't judge." I'm a little surprised it was controversial among some Christians since it's a direct quote from Jesus. Jesus at least twice says "Do not judge" (Matt. 7:1; John 7:24). Sure, there is a context to each of those statements, but I believe that each of those contexts support the obvious meaning of "Don't judge". I believe that we can take that simple instruction from our Lord at face value. Don't judge.

Regarding those two passages, I talked in more detail about John 7:24 in a post titled "Principles and Rules". Basically, I believe that John 7:24 teaches us not to judge people, but to carefully discern scripture, not seeking to condemn people. I wrote a paragraph about Matt. 7:1 in the second of a two part discussion of the relative weight of sins. I believe that the message of Matt. 7:1-5 is that we should recognize our own sins as big deal sins so that we don't become hypocrites, getting our righteousness from picking at others' sins while ignoring our own.

Do not judge people is a theme repeated in the New Testament. Several verses teach this. (Rom. 2:1, Rom. 14:4; Jas. 4:11-12; Luke 6:37). There are several others, too. The New Testament says multiple times, "Do not judge." To my knowledge, it never says, "Judge your brother." I do readily admit that sometimes righteousness demands pointing out and standing against evil. However, condemning people is not our business.

When you think through this simple prohibition, "Don't judge", it makes sense. I can't judge my brother for two reasons. First, I cannot know his heart and circumstances. Second, I don't have the power to save or to destroy anyone. Thank God that He alone has that power! I know I would get it wrong because I sometimes do judge and I more than likely have gotten it wrong. Don't judge is a fairly simple and a very fruitful commandment.

One may ask, "Doesn't Matthew 7:5 say to remove the speck after removing your own log? So, if I'm not guilty I can and should judge my brother." That's a fair question, and I understand how someone could read this passage that way. (I once did.) However, in this passage, Jesus is NOT telling us to judge others as long as our sins aren't worse than theirs. Jesus is not saying, "Get rid of your big sins so you can judge others for their small sins." When I think my sins are not as bad as others' sins, I become guilty of pride, one of the most deadly sins. If we are to remove someone's speck, how do we go about doing it? Jesus gives us advice for this just a few verses later when He recites the Golden Rule. I'm afraid that rather than providing my brother with the love and support he needs to make correction, I've been too busy proving that he's wrong and that I'm right. Then, I've played the "concerned for your soul" trump card which raised the stakes and caused me to justify all kinds of foul behavior, including whispering, backbiting, gossip, slander, withholding affection, and public humiliation. And that brings me right back to Matt. 7:3, where the one picking at a speck has a log in his eye. I can't count how many times I've seen and participated in gossip and evil speaking, justified by the "I'm concerned for his soul" line. I've learned that whenever I hear "concerned for your soul," I should prepare to see someone engage in foul behavior with the full blessing of his/her conscience. Judging people will lead to acting very ugly without the least bit of guilt or remorse to restrain the ugly behavior. That's the warning in James 4:11-12.

In the past, I've said, "I'm not condemning anyone to hell. I'm not issuing statements about anyone's eternal destiny." Then, I've followed that statement with, "I'm concerned for your soul." This is doublespeakHow else can someone interpret "I'm concerned for your soul," other than, "I think you're going to hell"? 

One reasonable concern with obeying the instruction "Don't judge" is that it can be taken to an extreme of never saying that anything is wrong. To be sure, that simply isn't what I believe or teach and I don't believe it is a necessary outcome of avoiding judging. We must call evil by its name. In fact, in this post I have said that slander, gossip, judging people, etc. are wrong. Sin is always destructive and if ignored will lead to destruction. We don't do well to ignore sin. "Don't judge" is not the same thing as "Ignore sin." That is a false dichotomy. However, we have no business judging the hearts of other people and absolutely no business issuing statements about the eternal destiny of others. In this post, I have called judging wrong and evil, but I have avoided judging people who practice those things. I believe one can have a pure heart and a strong desire to do good and right and still judge others. God can use those people and even their judging for good in ways that I can't predict. I don't believe judging is right or good, but I don't condemn the people who practice it and defend the practice. I don't know their hearts (I assume that they are pure) and I have faith that God is merciful.

Many, maybe even most, sins stem from pride. Judging, saying "I'm right and you're wrong", saying "God approves of me but He doesn't approve of you," saying "you're going to hell if you don't stop disagreeing with me because I agree with God," all of those things feed pride in an ugly way. Judging is a way to lord over our fellow man. It is a way to exert power over someone. That exerting of power is exactly opposite to what the kingdom of God is about (Matt. 20:25-28). Judging, in the sense of claiming to know motives and condemning people, is taking on a role that God has exclusively reserved for Himself. Judging is a destructive manifestation of pride.

Another objection to "Don't judge" is to explain away this simple instruction by saying that the instruction only applies to hypocritical judging. True enough, hypocritical judging is condemned in the Bible, and is a particularly ugly form of judging. But there are other condemnations of judging that do not refer to hypocritical judging, specifically Rom. 14:4; James 2:12-13; James 4:11-12. Judging our brothers leads to all manner of evil things and we are warned repeatedly against judging in the New Testament. To ignore that warning will lead to division, slander, gossip, hurt and divided families, arrogance, withholding affection, dangerous doctrines of exclusion and ungodly restrictions, and all manner of other sins that I can't foresee. Judging either leads to pride or comes from pride, and pride leads to destruction. We don't have to wait until the judgment day to see this destruction. I see it all around me right now and I don't claim to know how that's all going to shake out on the judgment day. Behave and speak like you will be judged by a law of liberty. Judgment is without mercy to someone who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

To be fair, some people may attempt to abuse this instruction not to judge. Some may say “Don’t judge me” meaning “Leave me alone in my sin. I like it here.” If we love them, we will not ignore their sin. On the other side of this coin, consider that many who say "Don't judge me" may do so as a defense mechanism because those who have judged them have been ruthless and harsh and arrogant in their judgment. There is a way to encourage people to forsake their sin without judging them, and the Bible gives us instruction about that in passages like Matt. 7:12 and Gal. 6:1.  Also, I'm NOT saying, "Don't judge me." Someone's judgment of me doesn't really make much difference. It may hurt my feelings, but that isn't really important. My point isn't "Don't judge me". My point is "Don't judge". It's not good to judge. It inflates the pride of some and discourages others.

It's fairly easy to say to someone, "You're wrong. You're dishonest. You're in sin. If you decide you'd rather go to heaven than continue what you're doing or believing what you're believing, you're welcome to join us again." It's a lot harder to look a person in the eye, see and try to feel their pain, empathize, and without condemnation say, "I believe in you. I know you're struggling, and I love you. I'm here for you no matter what." I pray that I can become much better at believing in people and overcoming sin with them, more like Him.

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