Judging: misunderstanding Jesus & Paul

The question was short and clear.  What is judging?  Almost immediately, a senior citizen from our weekly Bible study group offered the standard answer, “condemning.”

She is only partially right. A common thought seems to be, as long as I am not denouncing someone or something I am not judging. To avoid judging involves far more than just abstaining from condemning something or someone.

To be sure, when Jesus taught, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) the reason he provided for refraining appeals to our desire to avoid being condemned. Jesus then pointed out the irony of focusing on another’s small problem when massive problems may affect our own lives.

However, even Jesus proceeded to prod the crowds to discern what constitutes both good and bad (Matthew 7:17-20). If we wish to heed both Jesus’ warning against judging, as well as Paul’s admonition to “judge nothing before the appointed time” (1 Corinthians 4:5), our understanding needs to rise above the notion that we can fulfill these guidelines by simply retreating from negative assessments about our world.

In fact, part of the function of scripture involves enabling God’s people to teach, reprove, correct and train one’s self and others how to live righteously (2 Timothy 3:16).  This requires knowing and applying to our world what God has revealed as being both good and bad. Disciples should be able to identify what is wrong. How else can they “test the spirits” to identify false teachers (1 John 4:1)?

So what then is the essence of not judging, if sometimes scripture might require us to denounce something?  To avoid judging begins with our refusal to jump into God’s judgment seat to approve and to condemn. As disciples, we are to live as those who realize we do not determine what is acceptable nor do we determine what God rejects.

Yet, how often do disciples of Christ quickly hop into God’s chair when God has been silent to declare, “I think that is perfectly fine” or “I feel there is nothing wrong with this”? Since discipleship requires dying daily to ourselves and our will in order to follow Christ (Luke 9:23), it would appear God’s people should be willing to follow God’s leading, rather than insist upon their own opinions to either condemn or approve where God has been silent.

There is an old adage which values not judging. “We speak where the Bible speaks. We are silent where the Bible is silent.”


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