It is commonplace in recent years to hear individuals both in the church and of the world that we should “judge not lest we be judged”. This, of course, is typically taken from our Master’s discourse in what is commonly referred to as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 7:1). The notion that the church is not supposed to observe anything or anyone and consider whether it is good or evil is, for lack of better phraseology, asinine. Even from a worldly notion that would simply use common logic (on the best of days), to apply the statement as these individuals commonly perceive it to not judge, is to judge a person for judging. In other words, it’s a circular argument.
The misinterpretation of the passage is because of two primary reasons: 1) Our English translations fail to capture the difference between the word ‘judging’ and the concept of ‘judgmentalism’; 2) It is convenient to use as a defense when an error is being distinguished and determined.
As with all passages, context must be determined in order to understand exactly what was being asserted in regard to the speaker, audience, and author. The context in which Jesus is applying this in dealing with those that we would typically call ‘finger pointers’; i.e., those who ‘think themselves to be righteous’ (Luke 18:9) – the arrogant who think they have no fault. The people who are continually pointing out the wrong in others and fail to acknowledge the wrong within themselves are classically ‘judgmental’ by definition. Every contextual situation in Scripture of the call to ‘not judge’ is in dealing with those who are practicing the upturned nose of judgmentalism.
However, if we do not judge/discriminate (which has been totally distorted by the world in definition), we are told that we will be ‘tossed about by every wind and wave of doctrine/teaching’ that comes our way (Ephesians 4:14). The apostle Paul addresses this directly to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5. He directly calls for the congregation to ‘judge those who are within the church’ (in the form of a rhetorical question – 5:12) and to ‘remove the wicked man from among yourselves’ (5:13). This is because there is a person inside the congregation that has his father’s wife.
As you can see, Paul is calling for the people in the congregation to pass judgment. In other words they are to use their minds for understanding what is right what is wrong and not ignore the elephant that is in the room. If we attempt to apply the ‘judge not’ mentality here, then the immoral relationship openly stays in the congregation and no one would be allowed to say anything about the situation at hand. This is the very ‘gun’ that the world (as well as the world within the church) attempts to hold faithful Christians hostage with the threat of being labeled as ‘judgmental’.
I am called to judge by the position that I hold. At times I wish it were not so because of the weight of the burden in the criticism that comes from outsiders looking in on me, as well as my fellow leaders. I have been called to judge things that caused my family a great deal of anguish and illness. With much angst I have attempted to be faithful to the Lord in the best of my ability according to His word in the situations. Even the mere recall causes my heart tremble at the severity of the situations. However, for most Christians, this is not unique to the local leadership in which I serve. Most of the critics would buckle under the weight of these crosses many of your leaders carry. And as leaders, we most often perform these tasks ‘behind the scenes’ to draw as little attention as possible and to protect the common flock.
Nevertheless, the task belongs to the church as a whole. Whether we ‘like it or not’, we are required to look, consider, and act – in gentleness and agape love (love which always does what is in the best interest of the other person). In fact, this is the definitive measure of what we commonly refer to as ‘Wisdom Literature’ (i.e. Proverbs). ‘My son stop and listen’ means to ‘look before you leap’. Think about the end product, use the telescope – where will this lead. And what we use to measure righteousness and unrighteousness, clean and unclean, the holy and the profane, is the entirety of the Scriptural. Jesus Christ exemplifies this by pointing to the ancient texts on multiple occasions as the verification of our guiding ‘light’.
To fail, deny, or practice apathy in the matter of righteous judging shames the very sacrifice of Christ and bows to the throne of cultural tides. In the simplest west Texas terms I can muster; “Through the eyes and heart of the Word, use your head, church.”
Keep the Faith (Gal. 3:23),