How to Be Judged

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~ Matthew 7:2

Does that sound to you like God will judge me the way that I judge others?

Is that what it means?

That if I measure out wrath and condemnation, then wrath and condemnation will be measured out to me?

Because if that’s what it really means, I want to be as compassionate and gracious and non-judgmental to others as I can possibly be, so that when God judges me, that’s the way He exercises judgment on me.

I do not want to be condemnatory, insulting, and judgmental of people regarding things that I feel I understand but that they do not understand in the same way. Because I do not want God to be condemnatory, insulting and judgmental of me regarding things that He truly does understand and that I didn’t.

Truth will always be truth. Plain truth will always be plain. But when it comes to matters about which God has not specifically spoken, don’t I need to judge for myself what is right and rely on His grace … by showing it to others?

If I judge others, and do so harshly, what does that say about me? That I have the very same authority as Christ? That I have the very same understanding that God has? That I am qualified to write scripture as Paul did, or Peter, or Jude in condemnation of teachings and teachers that clearly diluted the very truth of the gospel? That I am big enough to endure God’s harsh judgment of me?

If I see my primary calling in life as one that must and should call down fire from on high upon each and every soul who does not welcome me or my viewpoints, do I do so to earn praise … or do I deserve a rebuke? Do I win souls by igniting internecine warfare? Is that what God has called me to do as my primary focus as a follower of Christ?

Whether or not one agrees with or likes the figures, The Barna Group has found that 87% of those who do not call themselves Christians perceive those who do as being judgmental. When I reinforce that perception with my behavior – especially toward other Christians – am I being winsome in spirit; attractive with the aroma of Christ in my life?

I don’t imagine that I have a reputation as a conservative Christian. But on this point, I am completely conservative. I take Jesus literally, at His word here. I think He means what He says. I believe His Spirit inspired Paul to write to Christians across Galatia: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (6:1). I think it’s possible that the temptation he’s talking about is not so much that a spiritual person will fall into the same sin as the one he/she is trying to restore, but to fall into completely different sins of pride, self-righteousness, anger and arrogant hypocrisy.

Being found guilty of that laundry list is not how I want to be judged. By others.

Nor by God.

Judge | Judge Not

One of my favorite performers is a multi-genre composer/singer/instrumentalist named Susan Werner. She’s ambivalent about church, but perceptive about faith. On her latest album – a foray into folk/gospel – she takes pulpit-pounders to task in the lyrics of Why Is Your Heaven So Small?:

You say you know; you say you’ve read
that Holy Bible up on the shelf.
Do you recall when Jesus said,
“Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself?”
For I know you’d damn me if you could,
but, my friend, it’s simply not your call.
If God is great and God is good,
why is your heaven so small?

I am awful about judging people. Awful about doing it. Awful in being qualified to do it. I can blame part of it on the “vote-’em-off-the-island” culture I’m in, but not completely. As Randy Harris is fond of saying, “We all think we’re right.” Too often, I think I’m righter than everyone else.

And more times than I like to remember, when I have tried (sometimes tactfully and lovingly; sometimes not) to remind someone of what Jesus said, I have been thoroughly trounced with all kinds of doctrine about the commands to correct the doctrinal heresies of others – even to the permissibility of being judicious, sarcastic and even insulting.

So let’s get to the bottom of it, shall we?

When should we judge and when should we abstain?

What should be the object of judging, and what should be the purpose for it?

What should we do with scriptures like Romans 14:10 and 1 Corinthians 5:12 which do not seem like they should fit in the same Bible, let alone flow from the same author’s pen?

I want to keep this brief rather than comprehensive, and I very much want to hear from you. So I’m going to bullet-point what I perceive about a few different scriptures – and I apologize that these are excerpts; I’ll let you be responsible for examining them in their respective contexts:

  • Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37 – “Don’t judge.” The unspoken word here is “others,” I believe. There are acts that we should judge; some we should condemn. Don’t judge others. We’re not qualified to determine their eternal destiny. Leave it to Someone who is.
  • Luke 12:57 – “Judge for yourselves what is right.” That’s an action, not a person; otherwise He would have said “who is right.” Right? Judge for yourselves – as a community, plural – not one for another; not one against another. This was spoken to a crowd, remember. The advice was to sort out disagreements without requiring the need for civil judging authority.
  • John 7:24 – “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” Jesus healed someone. It appeared that He was doing work on the Sabbath, and the conclusion was that He had therefore sinned. By healing someone, for goodness’ sake. How twisted and un-right was that judgment? In trying to judge Him, they ignored the significance of the act itself, which was righteous.
  • Acts 4:19 – “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” (See comment directly before this bullet.)
  • Romans 14:1; also Colossians 2:16 – “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” There are disputable matters – matters of conscience. They cannot be limited to eating meats or celebrating holidays, for if logic were truly applied, matters of conscience would have to include any matter about which one strongly believes, but on which scripture is completely silent. On these matters we we are not to impose our beliefs on others as law, nor to judge them as if they could somehow violate our personal consciences!
  • 1 Corinthians 2:15 – “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.” Things, not people. And this is not a get-out-of-court-free verse. It simply says that the spiritual man recognizes that God judges him.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:3-6 Here Paul disdains the kind of judgment (favoritism) that Corinth was showing toward himself, Apollos and Christ. He reminds them not to judge before the appointed time, when “each will receive his praise from God.” And he adds, “Do not go beyond what is written,” so that they will not try to out-do each other in pride and side-taking. This is a question of judgment about who is better than whom – and it has no place in the family of Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 – Don’t miss the context of these verses: the whole chapter. We’re talking about grave, wicked sins within the church, committed with impenitent impunity: sexual immorality, greed, slander, idolatry, drunkenness, swindling. These are wicked acts. These verses are NOT about differences of opinion on how to win souls or worship God or when/how God is required to apply salvation. They are NOT about dining in the building, having a building, spending the church budget, having a paid full-time minister, or … you get the idea. But let’s get this right: neither a difference of opinion nor a conviction of conscience regarding a matter on which scripture is silent makes a person wicked in and of itself. Yet far too many have let their confidence in their conviction grow to arrogance and judgment of others that can result in their own destruction – and suck their target right down the same bitter hole. It’s how Satan works: Divide and conquer.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:2 – “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” The phrase “will judge the world” is in future tense. Don’t jump the gun. The instruction here is the same that Jesus gave in Luke 12:57 – settle differences between brothers outside of civil court. Can it be any plainer?
  • 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 – “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” This is not talking about the judgment of favoritism (1 Corinthians 4:3-6), but of making self-assessments and looking after each other as well. Once again, “ourselves” is plural. We’re talking about the community of Christ. Jesus talked about how to look after each other’s souls many, many times (Matthew 5:21-26; 18:15-20; John 13:34-35; et al).
  • I Timothy 1:3 – “…command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer ….” And what were these false doctrines? Paul described them in the next verse as “myths and endless genealogies.” They were lies. Probably pre-Gnostic fables that some were trying to merge with the truth of Christ, diluting its power. They were not about the kind of things that so many folks have turned themselves inside-out (and scripture, too) in order to condemn as “false doctrine” – which, too frequently, is man’s doctrine and not God’s. Opinions, matters of conscience. Not scripture. Not the heart of Christ.
  • 1 Peter 2:1 – “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Not every difference of opinion is a heresy. Carousing in broad daylight – that’s heresy. Slandering celestial beings – that’s heresy. Denying the Lord – that’s heresy. A different style of worship; a different method of discipling; a different way of using material advantages to God’s glory – chances are good that these are not heresy. Do you see the difference in scale and size and scope? (See final remark in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 above.)
  • Galatians 5:12; Philippians 3:2; Matthew 23:33 – Sarcasm and insults had their place in the repertoire of God’s spokespersons who were dealing with those who directly opposed God, and did it in His name. Whether they were Pharisees insisting on the letter of the law devoid of its Spirit or sheep-in-wolves’-clothing among early Christians insisting on Jesus-plus-circumcision or Jesus-plus-secret-Gnostic-wisdom to be saved, Jesus and Paul let them have it – and so did others. If you can be as absolutely certain of your doctrinal perfection and personal piety and spiritual insight – and of the ultimate hypocrisy/moral depravity of your target – as they were, I say, let ‘er rip.

    Insult them and make snide comments about them and damn them to hell just as if you could.

    – But if you really want to reach souls, persuade hearts, turn sin-scorched people to God’s healing (as opposed to just changing their mind about your opinion or interpretation or item of conscience), maybe it’d be more productive to lovingly share a message of grace; a confession of having been seared by sin, too; an appeal to heart and soul as well as head and hands.

Otherwise, you may get bitten in the butt (as I have) by the lyrics of a Susan Werner song or two.

How to Judge Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“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?”
~ Matthew 7:1-3

It’s the verse above the one I chose to theme my blog that gives me even more pause. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Does Jesus mean that when I judge others, they will judge me the same way? Or that God will judge me the same way? Or both?

He doesn’t say.

But I tend to think He’s talking about God’s judgment of me. If others judged me the way I judge them, that would be almost-miraculously fair of them. They would somehow have an accurate sense of how I judge them, and they would use the same measure in judging me, laying aside their own measure of judgment. Very selfless! Perhaps even commendable!

And not very likely, is it?

So if judge others and condemn them for infractions of what I deign to be the law of Christ, doesn’t that mean that God will judge and condemn me for infractions of what He knows to be the law of Christ?

If I am self-righteous in my judgment of others, doesn’t He have the right to be truly righteous in His judgment of me?

At the same time, if I show grace and mercy to those with whom I disagree – even if I am right! – will not God show grace and mercy to me in judgment about matters in which I have been wrong, and He has ultimately been right?

If I withhold judgment of others that I deem is God’s privilege alone, will He not exercise that judgment? Do I really need to worry that someone is getting away with something I feel is wrong, but about which He has not chosen to speak?

And, as a general rule, when scripture encourages us to judge, doesn’t it usually add the words “for yourselves”?

What an incredible burden judgment places on me. How underqualified I am to exercise it. How scarred with splinters are my own eyelids.

Sometimes they are so swollen that I can only look within.

Do I see His grace there?

Do I see the crown of righteousness that He will award me – purchased with blood from the crown of thorns He wore?

Do I see the only One righteous to judge?

Do I look forward to the day of His appearing?

Or do I see a cold, blind, judging self, dressed in filthy rags, proclaiming the apparel of others more pathetic and tattered and grimy?

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. ~ 1 Timothy 4:8

I believe Jesus tells me exactly how to judge others:

“Don’t.” ~ Luke 6:37

If You Were Caught In A Sin …

Would it be more helpful to you if the one who caught you came to you privately to talk to you about it, and put an arm around your shoulder, and offered to pray with you about it and shared a weakness of his/her own and asked you if you both could be accountable to each other before God about the sins that challenge you both … or would it be more helpful to you if that person went to your boss, your dean, your spouse, your minister, or your elders and told them what you had done?

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” ~ Matthew 18:15-20

Before you respond with 1 Corinthians 5, let me concede that God can and often does make good results come of wickedness exposed for what it is.

Look what He did with a crucifixion.

Then consider the possibility that a single sin observed does not necessarily indicate a life proudly steeped in its stink and still calling itself Christlike – the kind of situation that Paul is dealing with in Corinth.

Then return to my original question: If you were caught in a sin … how would you want to be treated?

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. ~ Galatians 6:1-5

No, there’s no excuse for not following the directions. It’s not acceptable to say, “I’m not spiritual, so it’s the job of someone else to restore gently.” You’re a child of God if you’ve received His grace and His Spirit lives in you: you’re spiritual.

It’s not acceptable to say “I’m justified in judging this person because I haven’t committed that sin.” That’s comparing one’s self to someone else – when neither of you is sinless.

It’s not acceptable to say, “I wasn’t sinned against; it was himself/herself/the church/God that was sinned against.” If you are a part of that person’s church family, the sin brings reproach upon the family name of your Savior.

It’s not acceptable to say, “I don’t know what to do; I’ll just turn it over to someone else.”

Jesus told his followers what to do (above). He gave us step-by-step instructions on the matter because He knows exactly what we need and He knows this is the only way that works.

If we love the other person as a fellow sinner, we fully follow the steps in the order that they are given, as necessary. How we would want to be treated if caught in a sin is going to be how others want to be treated, too. That’s not a guarantee that pursuing it will immediately yield a melted and penitent heart – which is why there is more than one step to the process. Even loving, respectful confrontation may well lead to anger, denial, hateful words, accusations, or worse.

If Jesus had never outlined the steps, we should have known them in our hearts – because we know how we ourselves would want to be approached when guilty. (Not that anyone of us would really want to be approached about it at all!)

And if for no other reason than the golden rule (what I believe to be the “law of Christ”), then we owe it to each other – in view of God’s grace through Christ – to take the steps.

In order.

Not skipping any.

Humbly.

Cautiously.

Prayerfully.

Spiritually.