Judging Others – SOTM Series (12)

Part 1 – Setting the Stage

Part 2 – Beatitudes (1)

Part 3 – Beatitudes (2)

Part 4 – Salt & Light/Law

Part 5 – Murder/Adultery/Divorce

Part 6 – Oaths, Eyes & Enemies

Part 7 – Hiding In Plain Sight

Part 8 – The Lord’s Prayer (1)

Part 9 – The Lord’s Prayer (2)

Part 10 – Fasting

Part 11 – Don’t Worry, Be Righteous

Having blogged for several years around topics of faith and theology, there is a phenomenon that occurs quite regularly that at the same time saddens me and amuses me.  Someone posts a particularly harsh critique of another person (or groups) theology.  That person/group respond by challenging them not to judge (sometimes quoting today’s text).  The critic responds that, when the critiqued tell them (the critic) that they are judging, by in turn are doing the judging.  The endless argument ensues about who is actually judging and who is actually “speaking truth in love”.  Usually neither party is doing the latter, but it still illustrates the often sticky reality of this portion of Jesus teaching.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

As we have seen in the previous two chapters of the Sermon (Matthew 5 & 6), the righteousness Jesus is describing is His righteousness.  There is no merit in our own righteousness beyond that which is the reflected righteousness of Christ.  And we can only reflect that insofar as we are in loving and obedient relationship to Him.  Therefore, if the righteousness is not ours to boast, then who are we to judge others?  Why do we continually do so anyway?

There are many motivations that inspire us to judge.  Some do so in an attempt to boost their own moral position, to distract from our own failure to live up to the expectations of Christ, and to undermine someone we have identified as a threat, an enemy or a proponent of “bad theology”.  Some motivations are not so negative.  Some judge to root our legitimate sin, to expose corruption or to correct blatant moral and/or doctrinal failing.  Surely these issues need to be addressed?  Jesus is not suggesting that the legitimate concerns need be ignored.  Far from it!  Rather, He reminding us that, if we believe ourselves worthy of the role of judge, we are blinded to the reality of our own sin, brokenness and equal need of forgiveness.

Stanley Hauerwas writes:

“The disciples are not to judge because any judgment that needs to be made has been made.  For those who follow Jesus as if they can, on their own, determine what is good and what is evil is to betray the work of Christ.  Therefore, the appropriate stance for the acknowledgement of evil is the confession of sin.  We quite literally cannot see clearly unless we have been trained to see ‘the log that is in [our] eye’.  But it is not possible for us to see what in our eye because the eye cannot see itself.  That is why we are able to see ourselves only through the vision made possible by Jesus- a vision made possible by our participation in a community of forgiveness that allows us to name our sins”

Just prior to this portion of the teaching, Jesus said: “”The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness”.  Just as the single-minded devotion to Christ and His Kingdom is compromised by anxiety and attention on material wealth and stability, so to is it compromised when we seek to become the “morality police” for everyone else.  Why?  Because His Kingdom and His righteousness are defined quite clearly- to love God and love others.  Judging is left to the only one more qualified, the God of infinite grace and mercy.

Again, Jesus is not suggesting that we turn a blind eye towards sin.  Too many of us use this Scripture to avoid or reject necessary correction from the community of faith.  Rather it is the heart and the context of that correction that distinguishes it from judgment.  First, repeated the ever present theme of the Sermon, Jesus is pointing to the motivation of the heart.  We are not to judge out of anger, self-righteousness or impatience, but to correct with love, grace and patience.  Second, as Hauerwas makes clear, this correction is an expression of love born out of a genuine community of faith, where relationship with God and each other is our foundation.

Like the blog wars mentioned above, when we allow ourselves to be drawn into the endless cycle of judgment, we are ultimately treated the same way as we treat others.  The standard by which we treat others is the standard by which we will be judged.  The ramifications of this truth are staggering.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

Perhaps it is through over-familiarity with Scripture, but most people hardly pause at these words of Jesus.  And yet, when you consider them, they are incredibly harsh.  The loving Jesus of grace and mercy are referring to people as dogs and pigs?  What could He mean by this?

Jesus knew that, rather than judging people, we were to extend to them what we ourselves received.  That is, the undeserved grace of the Gospel, both actively proclaimed and demonstrated by His people to a watching world.  He also knew, however, that the fact that we do not judge (and instead love) was no guarantee that we would be well received.  Even in the face of generosity, hospitality, love, peace and grace, some will reject us, even scorn us and cast us out.  How then are we to respond?

Again, the temptation to judge would be most present (and seemingly, most justified).  Jesus makes it clear that we are not to do so, but rather to move on (Matt. 10:15).  However, when we see this verse in the context of the wider teaching on judgment, we realize that He is not calling these Gospel-resistant people dogs and swine. which would be a very harsh judgment in itself.  Rather, He is confronting us (again) with our own self-righteousness.  It is we who make the Gospel worthy only of dogs and pigs in our refusal to “shake the dust from our feet” and move on.

The very difficult tension between judgment and loving correction is not easy to navigate.  The complexity of correction and discipline in the church is very, very difficult.  Jesus is not laying out a comprehensive teaching on these topics in this passage, but rather reminding us that, in all things, we must serve in full humility and grace.  These must be the guiding lights when engaging these more complex issues.

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