Monday, December 14, 2009

Can Christians Judge Others?

A while back, a friend of mine brought up the question whether a Christian should judge another Christian. It often comes up when someone thinks that you're treading on their toes, and sometimes people have a point, that you really have no place determining for yourself what their status is. I think there are times when you should, and times when you shouldn't, judge another person. The quote that usually is used, taken out of context, is Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged," which I believe is referring more to a condemning attitude that might be leveled toward your brother. Or then, John 8:7, "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." (And then Jesus, sinless, chose not to cast it.) This is also in the context of condemnation; the men were exploiting the woman as a manipulation to test Jesus' response. But elsewhere there are other references. You know, don't you, that you don't take one or two verses and make a whole theology on need to look at what's called the whole counsel of Scripture. Doing so gives a more balanced view, and sometimes there is a passage that sheds light on how those others are really intended to be applied. I think that the confusion that is so prevalent regarding judgment brings us all to stay more silent than we should, rather than helping one another where we may be weakest, and we might so need a little human intervention. I think we all need our brothers to speak up at us now and then!
So a couple of days later, I was reading with my son Tim, and just "happened" (as it so often happens) upon a verse that answered that question that my friend asked about judging others. Who appoints us to judge anyone? Why, God's word does, actually. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says, "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. I did not at all mean the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolators, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what do I have to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."
We have to judge in many ways. We have to be able to discern and determine for ourselves how our own walk is, who we can imitate and follow because of their faithfulness to Christ, and who we must not imitate or follow because they aren't adequately following Christ. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in their walk; everyone gets discouraged or distracted or confused at times. But when we judge that someone is straying, and we address it (in love, of course, 1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love...), then we have the capacity to strengthen the knees that are weak (Hebrews 12:12-14). In fact, addressing sin in a brother is, as I see it, how to demonstrate our Christian love for one another, in a potentially eternal life-saving way. James 5:19-20 says, My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. Of course we will be considered enemies of some when we do so, but that is just very much worth the risk when you consider the potential for good. One proverb has assured me through this, because more than once I have been thought an enemy before for being so judgmental as to speak up for wrongs I see being committed. It is Proverbs 27:6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. A Christian who lets a brother progress in the wrong direction unaddressed for fear of his response is not a friend, but an enemy. To whom are you most faithful? If you address a sin problem in a brother even to your own detriment and the end of that friendship, you have been a faithful friend not only of the brother, but of God Himself. If you don't address a brother's sin because you don't want to risk the loss of an earthly relationship, you are not being a friend of your brother or of God, but only of your own selfish desires.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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