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In defense of righteous judgment

Nothing gets my ire up like someone misrepresenting God’s Word. Unfortunately, it’s the community of professing Christian believers who are most often guilty in this area, and one common failure is with righteous judgment.

The seventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (a similar passage is found in Luke 6) begins:

“Judge not …”

Well, that seems pretty clear, so I guess we can stop reading and claim that a believer should never judge anyone. As with most instances when we miss the point with God’s Word, there’s a great deal of context following those two words which provides a more accurate picture of what Jesus means. First, let’s finish the verse:

“ … that ye be not judged.”

Already we have a qualifier. We shouldn’t judge others so that we won’t be judged. ‘But we’re all sinners’ comes the response. True. But the phrase doesn’t mean judged in the broad sense; it’s narrow, we’ll see.

“For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged …”

If we judge others, we’ll be judged by the same measure – or by the same standard.

“ … and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

So not only will we be judged by the same standard we use to judge others, but also to the same extent.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?”

Notice – eyes and eyes there. You’ve got a problem; I’ve got a problem of the same nature. It sounds like we’re talking specifics here.

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Whoa, back up there, dude! You’re calling someone a hypocrite! How judgmental of you! Well, yeah, that’s Jesus for you. That kind, loving, peace-preaching guy with the long hair and sandals was actually pretty divisive much of the time. Just three chapters over He states,

“For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”

Though often misrepresented, the message of Matthew 7 is quite clear. We are not to judge the specific sins of others using standards by which we are unwilling to live. An unconfessed adulterer (one with that beam still in his eye) is wrong to judge another adulterer. An unconfessed thief is wrong to judge another for his thievery, and so on.

If there were any doubt that Matthew 7 refers to specific sin rather than our species-wide sin nature, Jesus removes it in John 7.

“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

The religious leaders of the day sought to kill Jesus because more people followed him every day. They found every excuse possible to judge him, and here he was addressing their judgment of his having healed a man on the sabbath.

To paraphrase verses, Jesus is saying, “If you don’t judge a man for being circumcised on the sabbath, why do you judge me for healing on the sabbath? Don’t judge the appearance of that act; judge the act itself.”

In addition to the many times when Jesus utilizes righteous judgment (and yes, I realize He was entitled), he also directs the believer to do so.

In various passages of the Gospels, the use of righteous judgment is required in order to identify and react to fornication (Mt. 5:32), evil (Mt. 5:39), hypocrisy (Mt. 6:5, 16), false prophets (Mt. 7:15-20), resistance to the Gospel (Mt. 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-12), deception (Mark 13:5-6), and hatred (Luke 6:22, 27) – all while still showing love (Mt. 5:43-48). In fact, love is the primary reason we are to engage in righteous judgment (Mt. 18:15-19).

A blatant example is found right back in our original context – Matthew 7.

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

This passage is obviously not referring to literal dogs, pearls and swine. Jesus is telling us that there are times when discretion is the better part of valor, and in those times we need to just keep silence for our own safety. But don’t allow the main idea to cause you to miss a fine point – in order to know when those times come, we need to discern when we’re in the presence of dogs and swine. That requires judgment. So let’s just dispense with that whole argument that we should never judge others.

The truth is that a claim of “well, I try not to judge others” is often simply an excuse used to avoid further debate while taking the apparent high road against a judgmental adversary. But how can one claim a moral high ground in debate without relegating the opposition to a morally lower ground?

Judge not, eh? Sorry, that’s a fail. And yes, I know that’s a very judgmental thing to say.

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