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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Judging Others

Many people (mostly in Christian churches) try to avoid rebukes and correction from spiritual authority over them and their fellow Christians. This has been done with one simple phrase, “Who are you to judge me!” Even when they are quite obviously in the wrong – they will still claim that they are being judged since the person who caught them is not perfect.

Unfortunately, this defense is quite effective in modern culture. They’ll even use Scripture to disarm their accuser. Matthew 7 is where they find most of their defenses. Jesus said there to “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Another favorite to deflect accountability is Matthew 7:5, where Jesus said to “Remove the plank in your own eye before you attempt to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” But let’s be clear, using Scripture like this to disarm someone who is attempting to hold us accountable is a perversion of Scripture. It is a misrepresentation of Jesus’ words.

Jesus never told us to refrain from correcting each other. In Matthew 7 He was referring to a habit of forming judgment hastily, harshly and without an allowance for every palliating circumstance. He was referring to the practice of expressing such an opinion harshly and unnecessarily. Note that He did not mean judgment in the courts of law – since Christ-followers are urged in the Bible to obey the law (Titus 3:1). Neither did He refer to the judgment of forming an opinion about someone’s deeds based upon Biblical standards. Jesus himself judged the Pharisees and called them a brook of vipers (Matthew 23:33).

In fact, Jesus spoke specifically about something He called “righteous judgment.” He said in John 7:24 that we are to, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." So what He condemns in Matthew 7 is unrighteous judgment – which is not based on any facts, where no investigations have been carried out to confirm the knowledge and, most importantly, where Biblical principles are not being applied.

One of the characteristics of God’s Word is that it is useful for reproof and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). You could not correct a person unless you have reached a conclusion concerning the actions of that person – and how those actions fail to confirm to Biblical principles of righteousness. In fact, it is precisely that conclusion that you need to reach in righteous judgment.

Those who are within the church have the right to judge the behavior of their fellow Christians based on God’s Word. Moreover, we each have that sobering responsibility. The Bible specifically gives us that mandate in Galatians 6:1, which says, “Brothers, if one of you is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”

So perhaps the only question for today’s Christians is how we should restore the fellow Christian who is caught in sin gently. Certainly that would include confronting their bad behavior. Matthew 18:15-17 defines a very specific process or handling such a confrontation. But those people whom don’t want to be accountable will pervert this Scripture as well. For it starts out, “If your brother sins against you …”

They will say that their sin has no impact on the rest of us in the church. This is not true. Sin has a ripple effect and it hurts many people. Proverbs 3:5 tells us to “Rely not on your own understanding …” This is especially true when it comes to the implications of sin. We should never purport to understand all there is to know about sin. One thing is clear … sin weakens the church. Therefore it is an offense against each and every person in the church (defined as the global body of Christ).

The Scripture teaches that judgment of the church and those within it is limited to those in its care and not to the unbelievers. God is the one who judges those outside the church. But God provides us with very clear mandates to hold each other accountable within the body of Christ. He makes the process clear. Whenever we need to judge a fellow Christian, we should (in keeping with Galatians 6:1) do it with a meek spirit that is quick to restore the fallen comrade to a true path – considering the fact that we also could be tempted. But we should do it.

The cardinal rule here is to pass judgment the way you would want to be judged if you were in the shoes of the fellow caught in a sin. So don’t be ignorant about what needs to happen. Don’t be quickly disarmed by someone whom you are trying to confront. The purpose of righteous judgment in the body of Christ serves the unity of that body by seeking the immediate restoration of the offender to a right relationship with God himself.

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