BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
Many years ago, in one very busy week, I became very tired of judging people. That week I spent about 45 hours judging almost 40 different people. That’s not actually a confession – I had to do it. I spent four full days on a panel evaluating the grammar, logic, rhetoric and Biblical worldview of the final speeches of the seniors at a Christian school, and then topped it off later that week by leading a committee that examined the theology, knowledge, training and experience of three men seeking to be ordained as pastors by the presbytery. To adapt a line from the Grinch, I judged and I judged until my judger was sore!
It’s kind of refreshing to not have to make any apologies for making those kinds of judgments, because there are so many kinds for which I do have to apologize. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…” (Matthew 7:1-2). This statement has confused many Christians, especially in this culture where the only rule that seems to be absolute for everyone is, “Thou shalt tolerate all beliefs, practices, and ideas of others.” Is Jesus saying the same thing when He commands us not to judge others?
Well, as we are learning in adult Sunday school, one of the primary rules for interpreting the Bible is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Since it is God’s Word, it can’t contradict itself. So, as the Westminster Confession says, “…when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture…it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (WCF, chapter 1, paragraph 9). In the very same chapter, Matthew 7, Jesus later says, “Watch out for false prophets…by their fruit you will recognize them…a good tree cannot bear bad fruit; and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” In other words, Jesus expects us to make judgments about the lifestyles of those who presume to teach or lead us, to determine if they are from Him or not. In Ephesians 5, Paul lists sins such as sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking, and then says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” If we abide by our culture’s prime directive and make no evaluations about the lifestyles and beliefs of others, how can we possibly be obedient to our Lord’s commands?
When Jesus says, “Do not judge…” He clearly doesn’t mean that we should avoid forming opinions about what is good, bad, true, false, beautiful, ugly, right, or wrong in the lives of others around us. What does He mean, then? Again, the immediate context of Jesus’ words is important. He goes on to say, “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 7:3). He’s addressing our sinful tendency to overlook our own faults and to seek to condemn others for theirs. It’s not the discernment of sin in others that is wrong; it’s the motivation that we have for pointing it out to them or others. Are we, in our self-righteous pride, trying to usurp the place of Christ on the throne of judgment and declare the other person unworthy – seeking to exalt ourselves by condemning others? If so, then we are sinfully judging others, and calling down harsh judgment on ourselves.
Jesus goes on in Matthew 7 to tell us what we should do when we evaluate the lifestyle, attitudes, and words of others and discern sin. He says, “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” You need to get on your knees before God, ask Him to show you your own guilt, and acknowledge your absolute dependence upon His grace. Then, in humility, you can go to your brother, motivated by love, and help him to see and repent of his sin, too. That kind of judging is the good kind, the kind that brings life and joy to you and those around you.