Friday, January 27, 2012

“Judge not…”: The most abused verse in Scripture

I participated in a Bible study on Matthew at a Catholic church the other night.
The video-taped teacher quickly glossed over Matthew 7:1 “Judge not lest ye be judged.”  Or another translation:  “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.”  He gave a six second reprise of the the common admonition to refrain from judging because we are all sinners and who are we to point out sin in others.
Our post-Christian culture has aborted the real meaning of this verse in favor of abstaining from discernment of right and wrong, good and evil.   This goes a long way in explaining the decline of morality in our nation.
This mistaken interpretation was demonstrated by another class member who said “we should never judge an individual because he has his reasons for doing what he is doing that we may not be aware of.  We should never judge another’s motives.”
Wrong !  Wrong!   Wrong!
This verse needs to be understood in context.  Jesus is addressing the problem of  hypocrites.  Jesus never says “everyone” is a hypocrite.  And not everyone  is a hypocrite.  Even if you believe most people are hypocrites, maybe even ourselves, you probably know some fine people who are not.  He is pointing out that those who ARE hypocrites have no credibility when they call attention to the shortcomings of others.
So, is it ok for the “non-hypocrite” to point out the sins of others?  Absolutely.  When we cease being hypocrites – when we take the log out of our own eye - we are then in a position to take the speck out of our brother's eye. (verse 5).  As one commentary states:  “Believers DO have a responsibility to help one another repent of sins, but only after first dealing with their own serious sins.”
And yes, we are called to judge the character and motive of others.  The Holman Bible Dictionary declares:  “The interpretation of Matthew 7:1 that Christians should not make value judgments of the behavior of others is shown to be erroneous by multiple commands in Scripture to do exactly that.”
The Bible is replete with examples of a Godly mandate to judge.  The prophets of the Old Testament surely judged.  Look at Isaiah for example.  And in the New, look at Matthew 7:15-20, John 7:24, and 1 Timothy 3:10.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:10 called for distinguishing between spirits, evil and otherwise.  Paul in Romans doesn’t hold back in judging homosexuality as sin.  Are we not to judge the behavior and chosen lifestyle of the homosexual?  Or the thief, or the adulterer?
We shouldn’t judge the “motive” of others?  Really?  A finding of guilt or innocence of someone charged with a crime requires determination of “motive” in addition to “means” and “opportunity.”  The business person is wise to judge the motive and character of one he chooses as a business partner.
What would become of our culture if…
  • We eliminated judging character and morality as a couple of the most important criteria for voting for the best candidate?
  • All judges across the land were prohibited from judging because we are all sinners?
  • We determined that faithfulness and character in choosing a spouse was off limits?
  • Judging character and loyalty as the best reasons for choosing our friends was declared unscriptural?
  • We no longer could judge faith, loyalty, and dedication as the basis for choosing leaders in our churches?
This leads to the biggest cancer of all:  Moral relativity.  This is the cultural disease where we believe no one’s actions, words, religion, or politics are better or truer than anyone else’s.  They are all just as good.  They are all just as true.  The Muslim on the plane should not be judged because Islam is no better, no worse than Christianity.  And that Muslim probably doesn’t know any better, just like the child predator may not know any better.   That’s just their beliefs.  Their motives should not be judged.
You’ve GOT to be kidding.
Our rampant erroneous interpretation of Matthew 7:1 denies the concept of good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies.  This is the very thought pattern that is leading this nation into moral decay.  This is why our mainline religious denominations have accepted abortion, gay ministers, and gay marriage.  This is why we are tolerating all manner of vile entertainment and immoral behavior of teenagers and selfish greed among our electorate.
Just as we as a nation must become energy-responsible by adopting the policy of “drill, baby, drill”, we also need to become morally responsible by adopting a personal policy of “judge, baby, judge.”  But we can do this only after we do all we can to build our own character so that we are worthy to put into practice the judging God calls us to do.

Here is another great article on "The Cult of Judge Not."


Ron McCreary said...

Thanks for this. Surely you are right that we are called to discernment in many places in the Bible. There is even a gift of discernment. As you point out we can't live without exercising discernment.
I want to distinguish between discernment and judgmentalism. I would define judgmentalism as masking one's own shortcomings by highlighting the shortcomings of others. I think it's judgmentalism, not discernment, that Jesus warns us about in the Sermon on the Mount.
But even when we are doing our task of discernment there is a danger. We can be horribly wrong. We can mistake our own preferences and prejudices for the voice of the Spirit. That is why the exercise of discernment, like the exercise of all the gifts, requires a large dose of humility.
The exercise of discernment requires accountability. We cannot be free radicals making discernment as we think best. This is important especially when we are angry, frustrated, disappointed, upset. When our emotional red flags are waving we must be careful, I think, to check our sources, to be accountable to others for our thinking.

Gerardo Moochie said...

In our particular culture at this point in time, the GREATEST danger for Christians is not judging (righteously) enough. We have a great epidemic of Christians misinterpreting Matthew 7:1 in remaining quiet, refraining from speaking out against bad behavior and misguided friends, neighbors, and political leaders and speaking out in favor of Biblical morality. Our fear of "offending", or being called a "bigot" or not being "perfect" enough to call a spade a spade has us paralyzed. We are no longer the shining light on a hill, the salt of the earth. We have been silenced by the religion of moral relativism and cultural diversity. No - not every culture is equally good, equally Godly. We need to be able to discern the difference and judge the actions of those who follow amoral cultures, whether out of ignorance (e.g. "cultural Muslims") or out of malice (e.g. devout Jihad-inclined Muslims.) Or the example could be "nominal Christians" who do pervese things contrary to Biblical morality out of ignorance, or "devout Christians" who know better but remain in rebellion against God.

No, we certainly don't have the problem in our culture of judging too much. God forbid if we questioned someone's morality.

Of course we must be on a straight path ourselves to judge. But the extreme that most Christians seem to practice today is we dare not judge becasue we all sin and fall short. Going 40 in a 35mph zone, or being 10 minutes late to dinner, or glancing at a cutie across the street ought not to make us mute. That is simply an ignorant interpretation and is being unfaithful to God's mandates.

Unknown said...

[Jesus also said,] "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."
--- John 7:24

Unknown said...

[Jesus also said,] "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."
--- John 7:24