Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Truth About Judging

We've all said it a hundred times.  The most common response when someone rebukes us is "don't judge me!"  This short, yet pointed defense works well in guarding our flaws and excusing our actions when we neglect to live in accord with Paul's evangel.  When we criticize others for "judging" us, we not only shield ourselves from correction; we effectively turn the tables by reminding those correcting us of their own sins.  In three short words, we communicate the essence of a few notable passages.  We act as Jesus instructing our accusers to cast the first stone if they are without sin.  We remind them to remove the plank in their own eye before making us aware of the speck in ours.  We label them hypocrites who dare to point out our shortcomings while they are guilty of so many themselves.

Often times it is right to discourage judgment in light of these passages, but Jesus' command to not judge is often misconstrued.  The most popular passage on judgment is Matthew 7:1-2, in which Jesus warns, "Do not judge, lest you may be judged, for with what judgment you are judging, shall you be judged, and with what measure you are measuring, shall it be measured to you."

Many Christians interpret this passage to mean that we should never rebuke others for any reason since we all sin and are wanting of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  But if this is true, Jesus and Paul would have a lot of explaining to do.  

Fourteen chapters after Jesus' warning, we read of Him overturning the money tables in the temple and fiercely rebuking the Jews for turning the house of prayer into a "burglars' cave."  Can you imagine what this moment must have actually been like?  Jesus' rebuke was so intense that He bypassed the verbal stage of correction altogether and went straight to physical confrontation.  His divine judgment rang loud and clear to all those who witnessed His dramatic reaction to the unholy corruption they had endorsed.  If Jesus' warning means never making others aware of wrongdoing, His actions in the temple are shocking, to say the least!  

Yet, Jesus' warning was directed to those in Israel.  It would behoove us to look at Paul's letters to see what, if anything, we can learn.  Interestingly enough, when we consult Paul we discover that he followed in Christ's footsteps when rebuking others.  Just as Jesus publicly confronted the Jews in the temple, Paul publicly rebuked Peter at Antioch for hypocritically disassociating himself with the Gentile believers in the presence of the Jews.  In Galatians 2:11, Paul writes, "Now when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, for he was self-censured."

Did Paul make Peter aware of his sin?  He most certainly did, and not in private, but publicly!  Clearly, not passing judgment does not mean never correcting others.

As with any topic, it is crucial to narrowly define terms as we examine judgment in the Bible.  Webster's defines the verb "judge" as "to form an opinion."  Judging, by definition, then, is often rooted in assumption.  We may base our assumptions on evidence, but without concrete fact we can never be sure the opinions we form are accurate.  If we are careful to base our judgments on facts, our judgments will be right and will ultimately help others.

So, judging others is wrong when our judgment is based on assumption rather than fact.  Likewise, it is wrong when we hypocritically pass judgment on others for committing the same sins we commit ourselves.  

Today, we might most easily identify improper judgements as stereotypes.  We might assume that someone is a criminal because he is covered in tattoos.  We may judge someone as ignorant because they don't have a degree or high school diploma.  We may form the opinion that a wealthy man is arrogant because of his career success.  When we form opinions about others based on stereotypes and assumptions, we do exactly what Christ and Paul warned against.  This habit is especially harmful because it creates a self-righteous streak within us in that we feel superior to those we judge.  This form of judging is clearly wrong, but judging rightly is a necessary practice in the life of every believer.  In fact, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:15 that "he who is spiritual is, indeed, examining all."  The purpose of examining all is to uncover truth.  We form opinions about all things by judging them in light of God's standards.

Paul strongly encourages right judgment and correction of fellow believers in several passages.  He instructed Timothy to "herald the word.  Stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely, expose, rebuke, entreat, with all patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2).  In Titus 1:13, Paul writes, "Be exposing them severely, that they may be sound in the faith" and in chapter 2, verse 15, to "entreat and expose with every injunction."  1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, "Now we are entreating you, brethren; admonish the disorderly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the infirm, be patient toward all."  Verse 21, then, declares, "Yet be testing all, retaining the ideal." Likewise, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Is there not among you one wise man who will be able to adjudicate (judge) amidst his brethren" (1 Cor. 6:5)?

To the Jews, Jesus said, "If your brother should be sinning, rebuke him, and if he should ever indeed repent, forgive him" (Lu. 17:3).  Jesus' words in John 7:24 settle the issue in plain terms:  "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment."

If we witness the tattooed man I mentioned earlier committing a crime, it is not a wrongful judgment to label him a criminal.  If he commits a crime, he is, by definition, a criminal.  Likewise, if we witness the wealthy man bragging about his success, it is not wrongfully judging him to say he is being arrogant.  Right judgment is based on fact, not assumption.  Jesus was justified in passing judgment in the temple because He personally witnessed the crime.  Paul was right in confronting Peter because he witnessed his hypocrisy first-hand.  Neither assumed anything in their judgment and neither accused their recipients of anything of which they themselves were guilty.  

When we examine judgement in proper biblical context, we discover what it really means to judge as a believer.  Contrary to popular belief, we are to examine and judge all things in light of the truth. Hypocritical judgements and those based on assumption are what Christ and Paul warned against.  Judgement based in fact and done for the purpose of edification, however, is a necessary act in the life of every believer because it encourages fellow believers to be sound in faith.  We must also remember that we may find ourselves on the receiving end of a rebuke at times, and in such cases we need to eagerly heed the loving correction of our brethren.

Be bold but loving as Paul was with Peter.  Be confident as Jesus was in the temple.  Be eager to listen to the correction of others instead of becoming defensive.  But be careful to never be hypocritical or to assume anything when judging others.  

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

No comments:

Post a Comment