People always have questions about whether or not they can judge others, or whether or not others can judge them. Too often do I hear stuff like “Jesus said, ‘judge not lest ye be judged,’ so you can’t judge me!” or “You can’t tell me what to do! Your Bible says that you aren’t supposed to judge me!” or from other believers I might hear, “I know I’m not supposed to judge but can’t I at least speak up against….” The truth is that we all make judgments about everything we come in contact with and that’s perfectly fine.
A while back, a good friend of mine, from outside the faith, called me to ask about a Facebook post that I made. The post was about how sick and tired I am of Christians who are afraid to call sin what it is. His question about the post was this: “How can Christians speak out against sin when they cannot judge?”
I told him this was folly. Instead of going into ten Bible verses or any of that stuff which would’ve been irrelevant to him, I explained the differences between judging and being judgmental. I told him that to judge was simply to look at an apple and say “this is an apple” or “this is not an orange” and there is nothing wrong with judging. (I could even make a bad judgement and say that the apple is an orange.) However, being judgmental would be to see the apple and get mad at it, or look down on it, for not being an orange.
Christians are called to judge the world, to judge sin, to judge others; but, we are warned AGAINST being judgemental.
The main problem in how we understand this comes from how these terms have evolved throughout our culture. The Bible uses these terms in very different ways than we do at times.
- In the book of Judges, in the Bible, a judge is a hero who fights and executes justice on Israel’s enemies.
- In the Psalms, God’s people praise His judgements. In this they simply mean that His punishment on their enemies, His judgment of what sin is, and etc are indeed worthy of praise.
- In the books of the prophets, they speak of judgement as in the execution of punishment.
- Jesus, in the Gospels, speaks of judgement as in being judgemental.
- In Revelation, we see the word return to mean justice, execution, or judgmental depending on context within the book.
So, to say the least, the Bible’s take with handling words that deal with judgment varies greatly and can be very difficult.
Doing studies on the Hebrew and Greek words that we translate into these words sheds some light on specific contexts but does not help with our current predicament of a confused people concerned with when judging is or is not okay. The truth is that the only real way to tackle this issue with any clarity is to look at what these words mean in modern context, then see how the subjects of the Bible relate back to our world.
JUDGE, JURY, AND EXECUTIONER
If we look at these three terms, then I think we can make it clear where our responsibility lies as Christians. Firstly, to judge is simply to decide what something is or is not. WE JUDGE EVERYTHING!
- I see a TV show and I judge if I like it or not.
- I see food and judge whether it looks appetizing or not.
- I see a man killed in cold-blood and I can judge that evil has been done.
Paul claims that the church should be able to handle these issues amongst themselves instead of having to go to secular courts with their issues.
Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases (1 Cor 6:2 ESV)?
He goes on to claim that we, Christians, will even judge the angels! Here, to judge is simply to settle what is the right action to take, then execute said action between the two parties involved.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate men, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The people at the church of Corinth were so scared to make any sort of judgments themselves that they had “believers” amongst them participating in sins, which would prevent them from ever achieving true salvation. If we cannot call sin, sin, then with our silence, we have sentenced the world to an eternity in Hell!
Jimmy Needham sings a song, Part the Clouds, where he sings about the dangers of not judging sin. If we want people to find salvation, then we have to be able to call sin, sin and holiness, holy.
We might as well just fold our hands
If we can’t call a spade a spade
‘Cause we will miss the heart each time
If we won’t ever shoot them straight.
These pleasantries shading me
And you too along
Let’s part the clouds
And show the world the Son.
In the movie, 10,000 BC, a man uses this line to describe what it means to be a great leader,
A good man draws a circle around himself and cares for those within. His woman, his children. Other men draw a larger circle and bring within their brothers and sisters. But some men have a great destiny. They must draw around themselves a circle that includes many, many more.
I believe that everyone has a circle and those in your circle are those on your “jury”. We must be able to see sin for what it is and holiness for what it is; however, we must also know when it is appropriate to speak up.
- Some of us have a big enough circle that we can let our judgements be known to our families, some of us are well-respected with our friends also and we can share our judgements with them, as well.
- Some have been appointed to positions where their circle includes even more people.
- Some of us are well-respected amongst everyone who know us, even.
The problem comes when we speak out against people who do not know us well-enough for our judgments to be useful. Acting as jury with people who do not know us well is when we can pass into the territory of becoming judgmental.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV).
Jesus was concerned that we would become hypocrites, if we did not understand this concept. We must first get our own lives together. After that, we can expand our circle to include our family (1 Timothy 3:4&5 ESV). When we have our family together, then we can expand our circle to our church or other friends. Jesus warns of what will happen if we speak out judgements to those outside of our circle. God’s reputation is negatively affected when His people act as part of a jury they have not been invited into nor earned their right into.
In the book of Samuel, the prophet Samuel ironically asks,
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
He then proceeds to answer Himself.
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV).
We have talked before of how God prefers mercy to sacrifice; here, we see that He also prefers obedience to sacrifice. You have heard the phrase, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” God says just the opposite, “It is better to seek permission and obedience than it is to ask forgiveness.” Ultimately, this is where execution must lie. We execute our own decisions. Our juries can add input, our families may add context, the Bible may inform our judgements; however, the execution of how we live or what we do must be left up to our own self. We are responsible for the outcomes of our decisions.
Some may say that God punishes sin and that makes Him the executioner, and in one way He is. He judges what is sin and He punishes sin, as His execution of that decision, for He has the authority to do so.
Similarly, a cop makes the decision based on the law to take one into prison as punishment for breaking the law. However, the person who ended up in prison is responsible for their decision to break the law and thus they have (in one sense) become their own executioner.
In the movie, The Avengers, an evil demi-god and loveable trickster, named Loki, came to Earth to take over the planet. He had destroyed buildings and killed many people. At the end of the movie, his brother Thor (a valiant warrior, soon-to-be king of the realm of Asgard) took Loki back to prison in their home realm. Then, continuing the story in the movie, Thor: The Dark World, Thor and Loki’s mother was killed, whilst Loki was still in prison. Later, in the movie, blaming his own absence for his mother’s death, Loki got angry at Thor and asked, “Who put me there? WHO PUT ME THERE?” To which, Thor replied whilst pinning Loki to a wall, “YOU KNOW D**N WELL WHO! YOU KNOW D**N WELL!”
I believe God shares a similar sentiment, when we blame Him for the consequences of our decisions. We know who is responsible for our own decisions. IT IS US! When we indulge in sin, we invoke God’s punishments. God would rather show us mercy and love than have to punish us, but we often choose not to obey and thus WE choose punishment.
[Responsibility is tricky though. When someone is raped, and gets pregnant, then are they responsible for the life created when they did no wrong? Are Christians responsible for the souls of those whom we allowed to believe their sin is okay? Is a non-Christian who has never heard of Christ responsible for not believing in Christ? If someone is told by their jury that one thing is the right decision, then that decision invokes punishment, is the jury responsible or the executioner? I will attempt to address these questions in the next post.]
If we do not judge right from wrong, then we are all left in the dark. If we do not share these judgments with our circle, then we have done them a disfavour. If we impose ourselves onto juries where we do not belong, then we often misrepresent God. And, if we do not take responsibility for the execution of our judgments and actions, then we may fault in who we blame. In blaming God for the punishments that we invoke, we miss our opportunity for change and thus we continue to invoke more and more punishment until we either accept responsibility for ourselves and change or we enter into eternal punishment.
We must study God’s Word to find His judgments and make them our own. After we have judged ourselves and executed right action in our own lives, then we must decide who is in our circle of responsibility (our jury) and we must take care to share the truths we know ourselves with them also.
Victory is won through many advisors (Proverbs 11:14 ESV).
I have many people in my life who share their judgments with me. We keep one another accountable for the truths we know. We question one another when bad actions are executed in our lives. Through my jury, I am able to make better decisions and have more success in my actions. My challenge for anyone reading is to take a pen and paper, then write down who is in your circle (your jury). If your jury is not one that you trust to hold you accountable, or if you do not have many people on your jury at all, then you know what to fix in your life. You can change your circle. You can change your actions. You can call sin, sin and holiness, holy.
I hope this post brings some clarity on a Christian’s role in judging others and themselves; however, I fear all I have accomplished is the building of a foundation for the next post I am writing: The Responsible Party.
Know where your judgements come from, make your jury one that will help enable you to have victory in your life, and take responsibility for the executions you make.