Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Don't Judge

Who are you to judge?  That’s an interesting statement.  I think it’s an overly used statement, but interesting nonetheless.  I think it’s said too many times haphazardly and often isn't understood in its proper context.

In the same token, we often hear people say “Who am I to judge?” in response to some sort of action or behavior that some would say is wrong or inappropriate.  I think there needs to be a distinction between an action or behavior that is merely a matter of preference or something that obviously crosses a moral or ethical line.

But even when something crosses the line, the matter should be considered in view of context.  This is probably why the area of judging is often confusing and can create a lot of resentment and/or hostility.  The question for all of us is when is judging appropriate and when isn't it?

In truth, judging shouldn't be so confusing.  I think it’s only confusing due to the changes in our culture and the blurring of lines.  In the case of stealing, it seems obvious to most that what the person has done is wrong.  Or how about when someone takes a gun and begins shooting other people?  Nearly all of us would agree that this is wrong (I hope).  In both these cases, we’re judging.  If we didn't have some basis, or some moral standard, how could we possibly judge these people for their actions?  As it is we do have some standard(s) that we agree on.  On other issues, that is where it becomes a matter of contention.

There was a day and age when same-sex marriage would never have been an area of disagreement, albeit for a handful of people.  The majority would have said it’s wrong and shouldn't be socially accepted.  Today, however, it’s a different story.  The issue seems evenly divided, if not more for than against.  This type of “marriage” is hardly the only issue currently being debated.  Homosexuality and same-sex marriage is only the latest in a string of behaviors that our society has wrestled with.  Unfortunately, other areas as significantly important have been overlooked as of late due to the increasing, intense nature of immorality in our culture.

Think about it.  In our current climate, society pretty much glosses over the heterosexual issues that used to be hot button debates only a few years ago.  There was a time when pornography and prostitution stirred heated conversations.  A few years before that, divorce seemed to raise eyebrows.  Before even that, the issue of fornication (sex outside the parameters of marriage) would have received widespread backlash.  These weren't just issues of debate where one person merely scoffed and suggested on how unhealthy it was.  These were issues that people fought or died over because of how passionate they were in their points of view.  Now?  Barely a mention is given to them because it seems that society has deemed these issues passe and barely worth mentioning.  Or, in other words, immorality has become so widespread and people have become so desensitized that only greater immorality garnishes our attention.

In man’s viewpoint, it seems that what passes as something worthy of our attention wanes over time.  Like the Scriptures say, there is a way that seems right to man.  The sad truth is that what seems right one day has a completely different set of standards the next.  The moral compass of man is not grounded in anything permanent but what seems “politically correct” for that day, as it is currently expressed.

A true moral grounding is on something that doesn't change.  That something would be, and should be, God’s Word.  If we were to take this subject of judging, what would the Scriptures say?  In regards to the body of Christ, 1 Corinthians would tell us that there is a time and place for believers to judge another in the church.  In that context, however, I believe there’s a warning that in the same measure we judge others, we too can be judged.  We shouldn't judge hypocritically nor should we take it lightly.

There are certain issues, major issues that some would call non-negotiables, that were a Christian to do them or behave in a certain way, he or she would be judged by the church.  I believe that in the areas of sexual immorality, the Scriptures give us what God’s standards are and if one were to step outside those standards, he or she would be guilty of sin.  That is when a church leader or another believer should really pray about the situation and ask for God’s guidance in confronting the sin issue in the motive of restoring that believer into a right relationship with Christ.

There are other situations, though, that are more likely to be matters of preference.  That’s what I believe Romans 14:1-12 is referring to:

Do Not Pass Judgment on One Another

Romans Chapter 14:1-12

1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

                I believe Paul’s main purpose in this text deals with matters of Christians relating to one another.  Prior to this passage, Paul was pointing us to a lifestyle that is reflective of the amazing gift that Jesus gave us when He exchanged His righteousness for our sin and nailed it to the cross.  What kind of lives ought Christians to live in light of this gift?  In Romans 12 Paul said it was a life of sacrifice.  Paul then gave a description of a true Christian whose life had been changed by Christ.  He pointed to characteristics and behaviors that went against cultural norms.  For example, instead of seeking retribution, Paul called the Christian to forgive.  Instead of being haughty or thinking of oneself as being morally superior, Paul told the Christian not to think too highly of him or her self but to associate with the lowly and the less fortunate.

Paul’s concern, and ultimately God’s concern, is for believers to relate to one another in a way that honors God.  That’s why in Romans 13 Paul went into detail as to how the believer is to love other believers and by doing so fulfill the law of God.  So, with this in mind Paul added another dimension of the kind of love God is seeking from believers. 

In the passage above, Paul tells us not to pass judgment on one another.  If that was the only thing Paul ever said in regards to this subject, we might be able to conclude that as many say, “Live and let live.  Who are we to judge?”  But on the contrary, Paul spoke on the subject on other occasions but conversely spoke about how we ought to judge.  In 1 Timothy 5:20, Paul said that we should rebuke sin.  That’s judging.  Again, in another letter in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 Paul said judging should occur but appropriately within the realm of the church.  So, if taken in proper context, the judging that Paul is referring to in Romans 14 speaks to the way the believer worships God, not a sin issue that needs to be addressed. 

So how do we understand judging correctly?  The issues that Paul spoke on dealt with issues that had to do with the Jewish and Gentile cultures of that day.  But some of what Paul said can be applied to issues of our day.  For example, a few Christians think that others should dress up to the nines when going to church.  Others might think that only traditional music should be played in regards to hymns and praise and worship.  It’s these kind of issues that believers should allow grace.  If someone thinks differently about worship and it doesn't break God’s laws and precepts, then that Christian shouldn't be judged.  As Paul says, we live as if unto the Lord and how we live and worship is to honor the Lord.

It’s clearly evident that most people don’t understand this issue of judging.  People either don’t care or don’t take the time to understand.  If they’re not Christians, they probably don’t care to understand but wouldn't want anyone to judge them anyway.  They certainly wouldn't want to be held to God’s standards.  But for Christians, we ought to pray that God gives us wisdom and that if judging is appropriate in a situation that God’s principles are applied correctly.  And if judging isn't appropriate, pray to have the wisdom to know the difference and show God’s grace and love instead.

So, is it judge or not to judge?  Perhaps if this question nags you then you should take it to the Lord in prayer.  We will all be judged by God one day.  Pray that it’s in light of the sacrifice that Jesus paid on yours and my behalf.