Our ability to make distinctions, to weigh and evaluate things based on values and evidence is part of what makes us human. We can’t help ourselves! Can you imagine going a day without making a judgement? Well, there’d be little worth imagining, you wouldn’t get out of bed!
So, when Jesus taught his followers “Judge not, lest ye be judged” was this what he had in mind? That to be Christlike is to float like flotsam on the waves of culture? Daring not to raise a voice warning of the perilous drag of the undercurrent? Never questioning another’s actions or beliefs? Thankfully, no. We are saved from this understanding by reading the passage in question through the lens of context.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV
The context here is a dispute between two kinsmen. Jesus criticises the judgement of the man who scrutinises the faults of his brother without paying any mind to his own failings, which are multitudinous. He goes on to advise that the man first attend to his own failings, then he will see clearly to attend to his brother’s. Jesus doesn’t teach that all judgement is wrong, he teaches that hypocritical, self-righteous judgement is wrong.
So, the Christian is permitted and even encouraged by scripture to exorcise judgement. However, the manner and object of this judgement is critical. The great author and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn well known for his seminal work, The Gulag Archipelago, put it like this;
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either but right through every human heart.”
Conviction of sin, awareness of ones own fallibility and the knowledge that one can only be made right with God through Christ’s atoning sacrifice; these things are to be in the forefront of ones mind when bringing a word of judgement. Moreover, while scripture commands Christians to exorcise judgement within the church, judgement of those outside the church is not our job, that role belongs to God.
“For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges…” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
The manner in which an individual outside of the church chooses to live is their choice and it is not my job nor my desire to pronounce judgement over their life. The seat of judgement in their case belongs to God and I dare not take it.
However, it is clear that we don’t emerge out of a cultural vacuum with our beliefs and lifestyle choices. We are influenced by culture, by the prevalent ideologies that permeate it. To be ignorant of the belief systems and dogmas that present either a direct or an indirect challenge to Christian faith is perilously foolish, to celebrate them in the name of ‘inclusion’ is sinful.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV
As a pastor, I understand that I’m just a humble sheep-hand assisting the Shepherd in leading His sheep to pasture. However, on occasion, the sheep-hand is called upon to protect the flock from predators, wily and bloodthirsty. These predators don’t always look like predators at first glance but once recognised they must be dealt with swiftly and firmly. If we leave seemingly harmless pop-culture ideologies unchecked they will eventually ravage the church. We must expose evil, no matter how popular it may be.
We are responsible to judge the doctrine of the age. Those in church leadership who abrogate this responsibility in some misguided attempt to be more inclusive heap up judgement for themselves from Christ Himself. A cursory reading of His words to the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2 ought to be enough to chasten the heart of even the most lukewarm of believers.
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
Revelation 2:12-16 NIV
In conclusion, the ability to judge with clarity and in humility is central to the life of a Christian. That said, we are not to pronounce judgement on those outside of the church nor judge those inside the church with a prideful, arrogant heart. Those in authority who refuse to judge the spirits and philosophies of the world or even blindly affirm them will incur the judgement of Christ.
by Graham Phillips