June 30, 2015

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged: Principles of Reciprocity Not Judgment

This statement seems so basic, especially for a Christian but it seems to be such a challenge for a Christian to articulate a response when confronted with it. It's a shame that I need to keep repeating myself about it too. What is it? It is the truncated and often misused...

“Judge not lest ye be judged..."

At the risk of repeating myself like a broken record over the last week, I present to Christians what should be obvious to most Christians but is not. I also present it to non-believers who constantly misuse it to gain the upper hand illogically in emotionally heated debates.

Matthew 7:1~ “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

These verses are very troubling for most people. I'm not sure why...its usually ripped from its proper context. They have been perhaps the most misquoted verses in the Bible.

Most of us have been told thia by someone caught in their own sin or by a person supportive of sinful behavior, "Don't judge lest you be judged!" This really means: "Don't censor our sinful behavior unless you want someone to attack you personally. Shut up! It's just that simple, you have no right to make a moral character judgment!”

Let me state outright that a proper interpretation of this statement from Jesus is not condemning judgments or moral evaluations. In fact, in verse 6 (if people would take the time to read it) Jesus tells us that we must make judgments or discernment.

Matthew 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

The context here is not one of judgment or no-judgment, it is a context of hypocrisy. Jesus is telling us plainly that hypocrisy can reach its coils deeply into our relationships with others without us ever being aware of it. Jesus is saying that we will nearly always be harder on other people for little things than we are on ourselves for the big sins. Hence we read Matthew 7:3‘s:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

It is the godly principle of reciprocity at work here in Jesus’ statement. Do unto others as you would have done unto you or as Matthew 7:2 states:

"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you"

Jesus is telling us that we are to judge or discern but to do so…evenhandedly. As a matter of fact the Bible often tells us how to discern or judge by specifically telling us what is right or wrong either in the Law or in principle by the scenarios that unfold or the stories that are told in Scriptures. It is by using the Bible as our determiner of what is truth or not truth, right or wrong that we can even judge evenhandedly or as it is understood in terms of philosophy and morality…to judge objectively. By objective, I mean judging based on moral absolutes. Why? Because God is the only absolute or objective lawgiver and He is the Word of Scripture.

Judge according to God's standard set forth directly in the Bible. How’s that done? It is done with grace, love and mercy. James below essentially affirms again in Scripture exactly what Jesus stated in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:2, its just stated a different way.

James 2:13 ~ “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” 

The truth is that if we make no moral judgments, life would be a miserable confusing mess which is exactly what we are now seeing in the world culture. A culture that is subsequently contaminating the thinking in the Church too.

We often hear the statement as I said before, in a situation that condemns a sin or an evil. The “Judge not,” seems to imply: “Don't ever say something is wrong. It isn't up to you to judge or make that discernment.”

This is both wrong and dangerous biblically and philosophically.

The logical conclusion of such an attitude would be to treat good and evil alike and disregard a moral distinction thereby making both irrelevant. The person telling me not to judge would then have no more right to tell me that I was wrong when I make a judgment. Things would therefore become morally relative. With no moral absolutes, who is to convict me of my "wrongness"? This also means that everything is eventually permissible including pedophilia, incest, murder or cannibalism (as absurd as that seems). If things become morally relative the person telling me not to judge is then making a moral judgment on my right to judge. By their own measure they are breaking their own rule in their own measure of morality…thereby becoming the hypocrite they so greatly abhor.

The problem with people that state we are not to judge is that they think of right and wrong, not as matters of fact, but as matters of preference. This is philosophically incorrect. Properly understood morality/ethics says that there indeed has to be right and wrong. Again, if there is no God or absolute moral lawgiver everything becomes relative. Who can then say anything is wrong without an absolute measure of morality?

Answer: No one, logically not even courts.

The idea of moral obligation is true no matter what your religion. At this point it becomes an issue of logic not theology. You philosophically must appeal to an authority otherwise it is merely your “relative" opinion or a subjective truth. This is intellectually untenable.

This is pertinent today because of the gay marriage issue and the Christian resistance to it. We have all felt this pressure if we are truly Christians. So how do Christians still continue to judge biblically even when the law of the land (lex terrae) has turned against Christian morality and principle?

Jesus showed or told us the three ways.

(1)   We cannot and should not judge another if we areare in similar or worse sins. The Bible tells us which ones those are. Adultery, theft, homosexuality, idolatry, coveting, etc. The adulterer has no authority to approach a homosexual in judgment. Likewise the thief is in no place to criticize those that have material goods and don’t need them.

(2)    Our judgments must be tempered first with Scripture, secondarily mercy/grace and then with logic and sound reason when it comes to more difficult moral and ethical situations. Let’s admit outright there might not always be a clean and tidy way to remedy a sinful situation. Sin is messy and so are the lives destroyed by it.

When I say mercy/grace what I am saying is sometimes sin is so obvious in someone’s life nothing need be said. At other times, when minds and consciences are tainted by sin, a word of truth and clarity must be spoken, but in a gracious manner. Christians should never be screeching me-me's, abrasive, arrogant or a clanging gong like I’ve seen so many do including myself when I was spiritually immature.

(3)   Lastly, there are some people with which you will simply not be able to have a discussion with and here is where many Christians are hard pressed to use correct discernment and make the right decision on whom to engage. I suggest for many in society including government officials and judges…these are the dogs and swine mentioned in Matthew 7:6. 

These are the sinners that are lost totally in their sin and are unreachable by human means. By attempting to give them or persuade them with the Word, they will tear it to pieces or trample it underfoot like rabid animals. These people have abandon themselves to “vicious courses”. By trying to show someone their moral failings that are too far gone by human standards, we merely waste our breath when we really should’ve been shaking the dust from our feet.

We are called to judge or discern but we are not to be judgmental or condemnatory. We are not the ones with the ability to condemn. If it wasn’t for Christ dying for us we too would be in the same condemnation.

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