Thou Shalt Not Judge
Somewhere in our history, many adherents to American Christianity have chosen to adopt a twelfth commandment (Thou shalt never drink alcoholic beverages is the eleventh). “We, Christians, are never to judge!” these adherents cry. They quote Matthew 7:1,
“Do not judge others, or you too will be judged.” (NIV)
It’s plain as day, right? Black and white. End of story. Except it’s not. Taken out of context, this is a statement advocating a system that says all sense of morality should be left up to the individual to interpret for him/herself. What is right and wrong for me is based on my own understanding. Of course, if you quote that scripture, the inherent assumption is that everyone needs to make that call based on Judeo/Christian values. Now, as a self-proclaimed Christian I certainly subscribe to Judeo/Christian values and believe that God wants every human to become a disciple of Jesus Christ and follow in His footsteps. But I also fully and completely reject this system of “individual morality.” Those who espouse it make it sound really good in theory, but I have never met a person who truly desires it in reality.
Everyday we make literally hundreds of judgment calls. We decide which actions are right for us and which are wrong. This fits with the “never judge” theory right? Wrong. How do we come to these determinations? Yes, the Holy Spirit guides us in the process, but every person sees the actions of others and makes a call as to whether or not that action was right. Let’s look at this “do not judge” value statement on a larger scale. One of my brilliant former high school teachers made the connection that to truly practice this philosophy we must declare that the actions of Adolph Hitler were okay. After all, who am I to judge him? Taken literally, we absolutely all MUST judge. Society completely dissolves without judgment. Heck, “do not judge” is a judgment statement!
Judgment vs. Condemnation
One common thought you will read on my blog is that the English language does a pretty good job of muddling just about every debate possible. We often have mangled, borrowed, and otherwise abused words to the point that we no longer really understand their meaning. Take “judge” for example. Nowadays, when someone yells angrily at Phil for judging, what they are most likely angry about is whom they believe that he is condemning. When someone says,
“I believe that ________________ (insert lifestyle/action) is wrong,”
the offended person hears
“I believe that ________________ (insert the name of the person with the lifestyle/action) is wrong at his/her core and deserving of judgment (i.e. condemnation, punishment, etc.).”
Instead of simply weighing an action or lifestyle to see if it lines up with my ideologies, it is assumed that I am weighing the amount of punishment that person should get. I am naturally either afraid of and/or hateful of the person.
Biblical Judgement Calls
Allow me to place some context on the “do not judge” references in scripture. We read in Philippians 4:8,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)
In order to determine what meets this criteria, do we not need to make a “judgement” call? So, follow my logic. I am listening to music on Spotify and I come across a song by an artist and the core message of the song does not sit well with me. I follow Philippians 4:8 and determine that the song content is not something I need to be thinking about. I judge it and choose not to consume it. Am I making a value statement about the recording artist? Am I choosing to condemn him/her because his/her music does not pass my judgment test? No, not at all.
The instructions found in Matthew 18 that tells how to handle offense by a brother are a method for handling an action that we have judged to be offensive, are they not?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13,
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (ESV)
This verse clearly states that we are to judge the others inside the Church while God judges those outside. Does that mean we have no responsibility to those outside as well? If I am being completely honest, I have not fully wrapped my mind around when/where we are to judge. I do know this, however. The power to condemn rests solely in the hands of God.
We are all sinners. We have all fallen. We are all broken. Perhaps by using the past tense too often when referring to our flesh we have begun to believe that we are somehow above the “outsider.” I sin… present tense. I try not to, but I do. I have sinful thoughts, sinful actions, and at times a sinful heart that is constantly being submitted to God. I, for one, am thankful for the brothers and sisters in Christ that I have who help me see the sin in my life so that I can know where I am failing to wholly submit my life to Christ.
What about the fruit?
There is one more very important aspect of this discussion that I am intentionally leaving out of this post. Judging a tree by its fruit is an incredibly important Biblical principle. How I am supposed to practice this is something I really struggle with and I have chosen to devote an entire post to it. I guess I will leave it as “to be continued…”
We all judge. No matter what we may like to say on our blogs and Facebook statuses, we all make a myriad of judgment calls everyday about actions, lifestyles, etc. Perhaps, instead of getting so upset when we feel like we are being “judged” by others, we should instead focus our energies on showing God’s amazing and incredible love that He has more than shown to us. Based on my understanding of Scripture, there are specific circumstances when we are supposed to judge (relying solely on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to do so). I do not fully understand it and I may never on this earth. Next time you feel tempted to throw the twelfth commandment around, I recommend that you engage in a serious study of Scripture for a deeper understanding. Also, make sure you understand which English word you are actually arguing about.
At the end of the day, never forget that every human being has tremendous value to Jesus, no matter how “horrible” you feel their life choices are. He died on the cross for that individual, not just you, and I can promise you one thing: He’d do it again in a heartbeat.