Christianity 201

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “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?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.

This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

June 13, 2014

Attacking Others Comes from the Sinful Nature

Matthew 7:17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The portion in chapter 7 of Matthew’s precis of the teaching we know as “The Sermon on the Mount” begins with a section on judging and later leads to the above verses about the relationship between the goodness of the tree and the goodness of the fruit. The fruit is seen here as a viable indicator of the nature of the life on the vine, on the branch, or even at the root.

This week someone attempted to post a comment to an older article here which consisted of a copy-and-paste rant about things and people in the modern church that this person sees as evil.  Some people take this as a calling. I normally spot these a mile away and delete them, but for some reason decided to engage this one. Honestly, I’m not sure why, and there usually is not much to gain.

I’m not sure if the people who travel from website to website posting such things feel they are somehow serving God or helping God’s cause by serving as his arbiter of all truth (like the Pharisees of old) or if deep down they are fully aware that their motivation stems from a much darker place inside and that they are merely trying to cause trouble.

The targets are always the same: Modern worship music, Bible translations, megachurches, the Emergent Church movement, the Church Growth movement, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Pope Francis, Billy Graham, churches that allow children to take communion, churches that don’t permit children to take communion, topical preaching, pastors who dress casual, pastors who wear robes, and of course, Rob Bell.

The fruit of such ‘ministry’ is anger and division.

The reality is that many such rants — including a few of my own — really have their origin in the flesh, not the Spirit.

The idea of ‘fruit’ is part of a much larger agricultural motif found in scripture; another element would be the principle of sowing and reaping.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

The part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians that we call chapter six also — like the Matthew 7 portion — leads off with a section about judging, and each phrase is instructive.

  • Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. — in other words, restoration should be done graciously
  • But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. — the person trying to offer correction may easily fall into the same arena of error or failure
  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. — the picture is of helping others, not attacking them
  • If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. — there is an obvious potential toward spiritual pride
  • Each one should test their own actions — this is key; personal responsibility before criticizing others
  • ..without comparing themselves to someone else, — our motives in comparison are often just to try to make ourselves look better
  • for each one should carry their own load — this is so important: you weren’t made to spend all your time and energy engaged in correcting everybody else
  • Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. — Peterson translates this that those who correct and those who are the correct-ers should “enter into a generous common life” that correction is both given and received with appreciation and gratitude.

Going back to Matthew 7, Jesus says,

“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?

Believe me, no matter who you are, myself included, the plank is there. If you’re married, just ask your spouse. If you’re a student, just ask your best friend or your parents. If you’re single, just ask the people you work with. We all have faults and we need to recognize that before we attempt to ‘fix’ everyone else.

To my commenter, I wrote this:

…[T]he problem is not that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that MOST churches are seeker-hostile. The problem is not that some churches are emergent, the problem is that MANY churches are stagnant. The problem is not that some churches are led by false teachers, the problem is that SOME churches are so busy bashing other churches that they really don’t teach anything. The problem is not that some churches have grown to become mega-churches, the problem is that TOO MANY churches are dying, and can’t see the reason why.

Addressing potential solutions is far better than decrying our personal assessment of the problems. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Scripture Leads us Back to the Right Path
The Righteous Judge is Non-Judgmental


August 10, 2012

Don’t Judge

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Luke 6:37 (CEB)
“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

The following poem is not part of the body of religious literature, but falls into the category of  “inspirational” writing.  The version that I have the text of was donated to a museum with a collection of early settlers’ tools and furniture and was believed to have been brought to North America by a Pioneer. There was not title on that manuscript.

Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
or stumbles along the road,
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
though hidden away from view,
or the burden he bears, placed on your back
might cause you to stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today
unless you have felt the blow
that caused his fall or felt the shame
that only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
that were his if dealt to you,
in the selfsame way, at the selfsame time,
might cause you to stagger too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins
or pelt him with word or stone,
unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,
that you have no sins of your own
for you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice
should whisper as softly to you
as it did to him when he went astray,
it might cause you to stumble too.

This poem teaches us that we simply do not know the whole of what may have caused someone to end up where they are, or who they are today. Most times in the body of Christ, our greatest challenge is that we really don’t know each other. The poem may be considered to be of secular origin — though the Pioneers were often very devout — but the principle is rooted in scripture.

Elsewhere in the gospels we read:

John 7:24  (NASB)

24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Probably one of the best verses which challenges us to consider how we might respond to overwhelming circumstances is this one:

Jeremiah 12:5 (KJV link; text below is GNT)
5 The Lord said,
           Jeremiah, if you get tired racing against people,
      how can you race against horses?
   If you can’t even stand up in open country,
      how will you manage in the jungle by the Jordan?