“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”
Some days I’m just in a judgment kind of mood. That’s a confession of sin, in case you didn’t catch it, but it’s a sin I’m not alone in committing. Even some of the great ones I admire haven’t been immune to it.
Years ago I heard Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel admit (from the pulpit no less!) “You should be glad I wasn’t God yesterday, ‘cause if I was, I’d have sent everyone to hell!”
I loved it – a great and godly man admitted he had lousy days when he could barely tolerate people. And while that doesn’t give me permission to wish hell on folks, it comforts me to know I’m not alone when I do. People can be, among a lot of other things, irritating.
Like me. I know I occasionally (!) irritate my wife, clients, closest friends, sons, anyone. And vice versa, and so on.
Strangers driving carelessly irritate me; ditto for leaders expressing stupidity, friends flaking out on me, or enemies doing what comes naturally. Where there’s a human there’s a sin nature, and where there’s a sin nature there’s disappointment. Yet in the midst of all that, I’m forbidden to judge people. That’s one tall order, because how can I recognize someone’s wrongdoing without making a judgment, and how can I make that judgment without breaking specific commands from
Revisiting the “Judge Not” verse
Surely it’s not as simple as that. Jesus also commanded us to rebuke a sinning brother (Matthew 18:5), an impossible task without first judging what he’s done to be a sin. Paul was likewise put out with the Corinthian church specifically because they did NOT have someone wise enough to judge disputes (I Corinthians 6:5); he commended reproving and rebuking (impossible without judging) as fruit springing from a knowledge of the Word (II Timothy 3:16); and his admonition to the Ephesians to “reprove the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11) demands a judgment call. Clearly, then, we are called to judge between right and wrong, truth and error.
New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce points out the seeming contradiction when
“Judgment is an ambiguous word, in Greek as in English: it may mean exercising a proper discernment, or it may mean sitting in judgment on people or even condemning them.”
Proper discernment, fine. But there’s also a childish, maybe primal tendency to make someone “all bad” if they disappoint or hurt us.
We do that to our parents when we’re kids – “Mommy made me mad so Mommy’s horrible” – and sadly, we can do it as, and to, adults. When I devalue someone’s general worth or character because of one sin in their life, I’ve judged them, wrongly and unfairly. Wrongly because I don’t know the state of their soul so I can’t say how good or bad they really are, and unfairly because I inaccurately paint them with too broad a brush. Just because one sin in their life pushes my buttons, it hardly negates all other good qualities they may, and probably do, possess.
Committing Sin is Bad. Committing Sin Against Me is Horrible
To talk turkey, they may even be a but more than that. The sin in someone’s life which pushes my buttons is usually a sin which was directed at me, so “You hurt me” becomes, in my dirty little mind, “You’re hurtful to everybody, and there’s nothing good about you!” I’m sure that’s what author Sam Storms means when he addresses the “judge not” question by concluding, “Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men, but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God.”
Lots of people have let me down, so boo-hoo. I know you can say the same. And when we hear their names, or recall their sins against us, it’s easy to write them off or, worse yet, to envision pulling the Straight to Hell lever Pastor
That’s when the command not to judge, along with the warning that to the extent I judge others I’ll get a dose of the same, slaps me awake, reminding me I need a softened heart towards those who’ve sinned against me, a harder heart towards my own sins against God and others, and a godlier perspective on people in general. To that end I’ll try staying in agreement with David’s very smart, very useful prayer:
“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.”