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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Time to Judge: a Biblical Perspective on Judging Others

There's a great song by the Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" based on a great poem in the Bible. Thanks to the Byrds, many people memorized part of the Bible without even knowing it, including me.

"A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep..."

A time to judge isn't mentioned, but maybe it should be.

We are surrounded by a culture that preaches tolerance. We are told not to judge others. We are told not to be prejudice.

The church is often accused of being the most intolerant and judgmental group.

There is a biblical precedent for us to follow. There is a balanced approach. There is hope.

First, I agree that as a people, we need to see ourselves as part of a group that includes not excludes others. The more we can embrace one another as one of "Us" and not push one another away as one of "Them" the more this world will witness the love of God penetrating into our society.

All not some. Impartiality not favoritism.

Though, we all make judgments all the time. It is a necessary social skill. We judge others based on appearance, based on their ability to communicate, based on our relationship to them, based on their position of perceived power.

It is right and good and helpful to judge in some ways. I will not begin to address the plethora of examples that exist when judging others is wrong. I will only address one general principal and then focus on how to judge others when we are given the responsibility to do so. 

A Biblical Perspective on Judging Others

If we see the Bible as a guide to teach us how to model our lives, then judging others is part of our responsibility. Part of our responsibility is to...

Judge others as an expression of God's love.

Let me say that again to let it sink in...

Judge others as an expression of God's love.

Here's the explanation and please let me know what you think in the comments. Let's work through this together.

Matthew 7:1-5- Do not judge, so that you may not be judgedFor with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you getWhy do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Jesus is pretty clear, "Do not judge so that you may not be judged."

But, then, he seems to suggest that we will all judge. "For with the judgment you make you will be judged."

In other words, He is expecting us to judge others and it is the way we judge others that we need to be concerned about.

"And the measure you give will be the measure you get", so we need to choose a measure that is appropriate for judging.

And, we need to "first take the log out of [our] own eye, and then [we] will see clearly to take the speck out of [our] neighbor’s eye."

So, we need to be humble. We need to examine ourselves and deal with our own sin. Then, still humbled, we can assist our neighbor with the speck of sin that is causing them pain and if left uncared for could cause them disease or loss of sight.

Humbly, out of concern for our neighbor, we can offer to help them by judging them in love.

Romans 2 faces the same question from another angle.

Romans 2:1-6 - Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds.

First, God judges "in accordance with the truth." End of story. He is the only one who knows the whole truth, everything.

We judge based on partial truth at best. At worst, we judge based on gossip and lies and manipulation.

Second, we, too will be judged. Again, this reminds us to be humble and use a measure that we would choose for our own judgment.

Third, we will be judged based on our deeds. We will be judged based on our actions, our words, our lives.

For those of you who are accustomed to the Gospel, salvation through faith by grace, this may seem contradictory. But, it is not. We will be judged based on our deeds and it will be found that

There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 
    there is no one who has understanding,
        there is no one who seeks God. - Romans 3:10-11

We all need grace and mercy. This is the measure that we must use when judging others.

This may lead us to decide: "Forget it! I am just not going to judge anyone ever!"

Judging Is Loving

1 Corinthians specifically addresses when we must judge. If we are to love, then we must judge. To not judge, is to not love.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the worldBut now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

We are not to avoid immoral people, in order to do so, we would have to "go out of the world." That would preclude us from bringing God's love to the world.

We are to avoid spending time with immoral people who "[bear] the name brother or sister", who claim to be followers of Christ.

We are not to judge "those outside".

We are only to judge those "inside". We are to "drive out the wicked person from among [us]."

This is key. We are not to judge the world, it's actions, it's laws, it's immorality, it's sin, it's customs, it's traditions, it's anything. We are not to judge.

What good would it do anyway?

If someone does not know Christ and is not thinking about Christ, why would he or she care what God thinks about their actions.

Ask them. They don't care.

The opportunity we have is to show them the love of Christ through our words and actions. We are to be Christ's ambassadors, to bring light to the darkness, be salt of the earth, fishers of men and women. Whatever picture works for you. That is our responsibility and privilege.

We are not to judge those in the world. We are to love them.

Now, about those who call themselves brother or sister.

We must judge them. Why?

God's judgment is always for the same purpose. Look back at Romans 2:4 - "Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"

God's judgment and his kindness and his wrath and everything else that God does "is meant to lead [us] to repentance." When we judge others without love, without grace, without mercy, we are demonstrating that we despise his kindness.

We despise his kindness to us, forgetting how He has forgiven our sin.

We despise his kindness to others, forgetting that God's judgment is designed to lead them to repentance.

Matthew 18 concludes that if we attempt to address sin in the life of someone we love and are rejected, and then we bring a couple of elders and are rejected again, and then make the situation public to the whole church and still are rejected, then we are to treat the person as if they were an unbeliever.

In other words, if we humble ourselves, judge someone else in love, hoping to lead them to repentance for their benefit, and we do everything that the love of Christ compels us to do and they choose not to repent --- then we treat them as if they are not a brother or sister, not part of the church.

We treat them like they are of the world.

Which does not mean that we continue to judge them and condemn them and gossip about them.

It means that we no longer judge them. We stop judging them because we are not to judge those of this world.

It means that we love them with the love of Christ. It means that we go out of our way to show them God's love and kindness in hopes that it will lead them to repentance.

Judge others as an expression of God's love.

Judging others this way is obviously difficult and takes much love and time and commitment. It can only be done in relationship. Take heart. It can be done.

By the grace of God, it can be done.
Because this is the will of God, it can be done.

"There is a time to judge and time to withhold judgment."

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