Monday, January 19, 2009

Judge Not? (Matthew 7:1-6)

Question: "I was discussing sexual immorality with another Christian... and she said that I was not supposed to judge others! I was shocked since I believe God wants us to be holy as He is holy... Doesn't the Bible tell us that we can judge? Don't we all judge others anyway (esp. by their appearance)?"

Judging is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible. Many simply quote Matt 7:1, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged" and assume that is everything the Bible has to say about the topic of making moral evaluations. But they forget that this saying of Jesus was only the beginning of a paragraph (Matt 7:1-6) about making judgments and correcting others. Jesus taught that it is hypocritical to correct a friend's minor flaw while tolerating our own major flaws: "First take the log out of your own eye, then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." His point is that it would be hypocritical (for example) to correct my friend's failure to tithe while tolerating my own financial dishonesty and lack of generosity towards those in need. And we should not forget that Jesus often judged - he regularly corrected both his opponents and his disciples.

Paul gives balanced advice for making judgments and correcting others in Galatians 6:1-5. "If someone is caught in some sin, you who are Spiritual should correct such a person in a spirit of humility..." Correction requires first making a moral evaluation of behavior based on the teachings of Scripture. The point of judging should only be to help others, not to make ourselves look good. Judging is wrong (and annoys us the most) when it is done in a prideful manner, or is done in a way to hurt people rather than help them.

Scripture regularly advises us to evaluate the character and actions of others. Take a look at 1 Thess 5:14, 2 Thess 3:14-15, James 5:19-20, Matt 18:15-20, Luke 17:3-4, 1 Cor 5:9-13, 1 Cor 6:1-6. In each of these, Christians are required to judge other Christians for the purpose of restoration. We cannot become more like Christ unless we are willing to humbly judge each other's behavior and "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 10:24).

The picture: Christ the Judge, Michelangelo Buonarotti, 1537-41 (Sistine Chapel).

2 comments:

  1. This is one topic that comes up kind of frequently in my small group. Reading through your scripture references, Dr. Manning, has drawn out several questions from me. I'll just ask two of them here:

    1. Lk 17:3-4 - What about those who are consciously just trying to take advantage of us. They constantly sin against us and then just say "sorry" because they know we'll just keep forgiving them. Is there a boundary we can biblically set up so as not to allow people to just take advantage of us. I admit that this question is seasoned with a little bit of pride.

    2. 1 Co 5:11 - What about someone who is a Christian but is having a hard time shaking some of their "demons." Maybe they've been an alcoholic for years and are having a hard time quitting, though they may be honestly trying and they honestly repent each time they stumble? Would they be among the "wicked" described here?

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  2. Hi Keoki,

    Those are excellent and practical questions. As I read the passages on correction (Mt 18 and 1 Cor 5, for example), I sense a difference between those who sin and repent, and those who are unwilling to repent. In 1 Cor 5, it seems like the sinner is refusing to acknowledge that it was sin. In Mt 18, the sinner who repents is always welcome - no matter how many times he fails and then repents. The NT authors are more harsh on those who will not repent, or those who call bad good.

    When we have repeated sin with repentance, we might need to add in some wisdom principles. Proverbs warns us against trusting fools. If someone continues to sin in the same way and repent again, we should forgive, but we probably should not trust that person in the area of their failure. for example, one of my children has the tendency to hit another one whenever he gets angry, and then he apologizes. I may forgive him every time, but I will not leave him unsupervised with the other child until he gets over this problem. I also make sure I hand out some consequences - something appropriate to do even for adult moral failure.

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