CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Clear Thinking on Judging

Nov 1, 2016

If there is a need for some clear thinking on the issue of judging, it is because there is so very much unclear thinking. I never cease to be amazed at how much sloppy, irrational and just plain unbiblical thinking there is on this matter – and I am referring to Christians here.

Of course non-Christians would likely get this wrong. But the fact that so many people who are Christians – and have been for decades – still cannot think straight on this topic is a real cause of concern. I keep encountering folks who should know better by now who are still rehashing the same tired nonsense about how Christians must never judge.

I have written on this so often now, but it seems to be one of those issues that must constantly be addressed, since it keeps being mangled by believers who really should not be getting this so messed up. I am reminded of the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Heb. 5:12).

judge-3So here we go again. Let me present a common scenario: I will get believers telling me that Jesus said we should not judge. Yep, sure enough, there they go, running to Matthew 7:1 again, as if that passage is some sort of slam dunk for their case.

It is nothing of the sort of course, and as we have to keep on saying, plucking a text from its context is a mere pretext. The passage is absolutely clear if folks would simply take a minute or two to read the entire chapter. That would cover a multitude of sins in this regard.

What Jesus said about not judging has absolutely nothing to do with making moral assessments, judgments and evaluations. What he is saying is just this: if you condemn another person for something you are doing yourself, you are nothing but a hypocrite. That is what he is saying. But I explain that in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/08/thou-shalt-judge/

But then these folks will make other silly remarks, such as: ‘Yeah, but we are all sinners, so we therefore cannot judge anyone’. Good grief. Of course we are all sinners. What does that have to do with anything? So we cannot say Hitler was wrong because we are sinners?

We cannot say abortion or rape is wrong because we are all sinners? We really cannot say Jack the Ripper was wrong, or Attila the Hun, or Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot? Really? Sorry, but this is foolish thinking and sloppy morality. What kind of morally perverse universe would we be living in if we could never say anything about anyone, because ‘we are all sinners’?

Some of these folks will then backtrack a bit at this point. They realise they are dead in the water with such foolish thinking, so they will change tack. They will then say, ‘Yeah, well maybe we can judge actions, but we must NEVER judge people!!’

I am always amazed when Christians declare with full conviction something completely opposed to what the Bible actually teaches. I have to seriously question if they in fact have ever read their Bibles. Never judge anyone? Is that so? All I can do here is remind them that we have hundreds of passages in Scripture about judging, with plenty of them about judging and rebuking people. Here are just a few of them:

-Luke 3:19-20 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
-Luke 9:55-56 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
-Luke 12:56-57 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?
-Luke 13:31-32 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal’.”
-Luke 17:3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
-Luke 20:45-47 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
-Acts 13:9-11 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.”
-1 Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
-1 Corinthians 5:3-5 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
-Galatians 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
-Galatians 3:1, 3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Are you so foolish?
-Philippians 3:2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.
-1 Timothy 1:19-20 Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

There are plenty more such verses. Yet these folks will still try to weasel their way out of things, and insist that we can maybe judge or rebuke someone, but only privately, never publicly. But all they need to do is reread the verses above – most of these were very public cases of judging and rebuking.

Yet they still will not give up. They will next cherry pick a few more passages, totally twist them out of their context, and think they have still made their case. One such verse they will run to is Romans 2:1 which says: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

Um, even if we read no further, it would be clear that once again, the sin of hypocrisy is being condemned here. If you condemn another person for something that you also happen to be guilty of, then you have condemned yourself! It is that simple.

It says nothing about not engaging in righteous judgment, which Jesus commanded us to be involved in (John 7:24). The rest of Romans 2:1-16 is the full context of this verse, and in it Paul lays out how the pagan stands condemned before God. And the double standard in judging is a big part of this. In the remaining verses (17-29) he goes on to show how the Jews are also condemned before God.

The opening chapters of Romans are all about showing how the whole world is guilty before a holy and righteous God. After that foundation is laid, Paul then goes on to give the good news of what Christ has done to redeem condemned sinners, whether Jew or Gentile. Once again, we have nothing here about not judging. It is only hypocritical judging that is being discussed.

Since the verse most used and abused about judging comes from the Sermon on the Mount, let me conclude with a few comments from the commentary of Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this text:

“It is almost true to say that such a thing as discipline in the Christian Church is non-existent today. When did you last hear of a person being excommunicated, or of a person being kept back from the Communion Table? Go back to the history of Protestantism and you will find that the Protestant definition of the Church is, that ‘the Church is a place in which the Word is preached, the Sacraments are administered, and discipline is exercised’. Discipline, to the Protestant Fathers, was as much a mark of the Church as the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. But we know very little about discipline. It is the result of this flabby, sentimental notion that you must not judge, and which asks, ‘Who are you to express judgment?’ But the Scripture exhorts us to do so.”

Referring to 2 John 10-11 he says: “You see what the apostle is saying. If a man comes to you who does not hold the true doctrine, you must not receive him into your house, you must not bid him God speed and provide him with money to preach his false doctrine. But today it would be said that that is a lack of charity, that it is being over-punctilious and censorious. This modern idea, however, is a direct contradiction of the Scripture teaching with regard to judging.”

“Surely our Lord’s emphasis is this. He is not telling us that we are not to make these assessments based on judgement, but He is very concerned about the matter of condemning. In trying to avoid the tendency to condemn, people have swung right over to the other extreme, and so again they are in a false position.”

“If our Lord had finished His teaching with those first five verses, it would undoubtedly have led to a false position. Men and women would be so careful to avoid the terrible danger of judging in that wrong sense that they would exercise no discrimination, no judgment whatsoever. There would be no such thing as discipline in the Church, and the whole of the Christian life would be chaotic. There would be no such thing as exposing heresy and pronouncing judgment with regard to it. Because everybody would be so afraid of judging the heretic, they would turn a blind eye to the heresy; and error would come into the Church more than it has done.”

“The simple answer is that, while our Lord exhorts us not to be hypercritical, He never tells us not to be discriminating. There is an absolute difference between these two things. What we are to avoid is the tendency to be censorious, to condemn people, to set ourselves up as the final judge and to make a pronouncement on persons. But that, of course, is very different from exercising a spirit of discrimination, to which Scripture is ever exhorting us.”

[1933 words]

15 Responses to Clear Thinking on Judging

  • Hello! How ever are we supposed to know even what to wear? When we don’t make a judgement or an informed decision about the weather, one could freeze or burn when not properly prepared for what’s ahead, who doesn’t listen to the weather report? We would be silly not to use all the information available to us on a certain topic, wisdom is at hand, don’t think that we can rely on star signs and readings from astrologers as God says only He knows the future. Dear Lord “Teach us to number our days aright that we may get a heart of wisdom”. Psalm 90:12 How are we supposed to pass exams or the tests of life when we are not to judge between the right and wrong answers in a multiple choice question for instance?

    It is necessary to know and exercise right from wrong, especially when driving a vehicle on a road way for instance, depending on the country you are traveling through, there are rules about that to protect lives, not everything is relative or should be left to choice, our lives depend on answers to such questions and mostly thy are common sense matters. This is a big topic though and the goal posts seem to be changing all the time, even time/daylight savings, man tries to control by changing the hours of our waking and sleeping to suit themselves.

    Young people today are lading themselves in jail basically because they have little knowledge between right and wrong and parents are not much help either, they generally leave it up to a judge to correct the actions of their young and depending on whether or not the Judge is sympathetic or wants to make an example of an offender children end up with a criminal record and a stay in a correctional facility which is sometimes becomes a cycle that their lives keep repeating for lack of good judgement and good guidance and a sense of responsibility to themselves and the community.

    Who hasn’t heard about when discipline is applied it is a form of love, with great privilege comes great responsibility, God disciplines those he loves, we are all responsible to make good judgements and this is all related, not relative, one aspect depends on the other and God is in control of everything He is judge over all and we will all face His judgement. You can probably say it better, is this not true though Bill?

  • Yes I am with you Sandra.

  • I’ve been really struggling for a sad and depressing year with young adult children who have now decided “Christianity is too judgmental” and that “nobody should judge others as we are all sinners”. My beliefs are belittled and mocked at for example when I say that “homosexuality is a sin” because they know a “nice gay person” and I “just don’t understand”.

    When I state that we need to judge because it saves us from making mistakes and that God will ultimately judge, I am told that I don’t know God and He doesn’t want us to fear Him.

    Can you write a post on how Christian parents can deal with their adult children rejecting traditional Christianity or if you have already written one, can you please show me where it it is, because it’s doing my head in!

    I am praying fervently that they wake up and return.

  • Hebrews 5:13 ESV “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness”. Two levels of maturity. Child and mature. Skilled and unskilled. If Christians are immature it is either because they rebelliously refuse the counsel of Gods’ word or the preachers and teachers are not giving the goods! It takes application to live a healthy life in the natural and also in the abundant life of righteousness by the grace of Christ. We have not been taught – generally speaking – that the gospel is to be obeyed. Society outside the church is the worse off in these days especially of militant humanism which has become the substitute for Gods’ prophetic voice declaring His righteousness. We must have new Luthers, Calvins and Knoxs and Whitefields in our churches to call us all back to Gods’ true grace. So we all must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God – or lose the lot because the others have all the temporal clout we only have God…

  • “Christianity is too judgmental!!” Who is being judgmental with such a statement? Who are such people to accuse Christians of judging others when they do the very thing? If it is a son or daughter who is accusing a parent then perhaps they forget the love a parent has shown from the time of their birth and who must continue to want the very best for them. Do they judge the person they speak to or do they judge the founder and author of Christianity – God himself – Jesus Christ? Of course the underlying unstated belief of many unbelievers is tied to being free from all moral laws to make their own moral judgments. Jesus way was to teach only parables to such people as they need a heart change toward God before they can go onto to learn anything more.

  • Reply to Anon re: adult children rejecting Christianity – this I believe is part of the last days’ suffering. See II Timothy 3:1-3. Millions of devoted Christians who taught their children faithfully, now are rejected by them. Remember, like Samuel, they are not rejecting you but God. I have prayed many years for my son who has turned aside from the right way and has now disowned me b/c I warned him in love about the seriousness of the downward path he has chosen. And the awful thing is the rest of the family, a few who are Bible-toting “committed” believers, go along with him and I am labeled as a judgmental person and am a non personna in their eyes. The cruelty of these actions is widespread and I believe it is part of the cost we are paying in these last days. I have often thought that Christ has allowed this in my life to strengthen me for what is still to come. And to seal me even closer to the One Who will stay with me to the end . . . And Who hears His sheep’s daily prayers for lost children and is faithfully working in these situations. Take heart and trust the Lord with all your heart.

  • Dear Anon,

    Hi, all we need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus. Believing the message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is central to the message of the gospel and essential for our salvation. It is by grace we have been saved through faith and faith is being sure of what we know to be true. It is one thing to accuse another of being too judgemental and another to do the very thing one is accusing that person of doing themselves. The best way I can think of dealing with a family member who doesn’t show love or respect to a parent thus not honoring their parent the way God commands us to in His Holy Word, is to love them in return. It is our actions that betray and condemn us and actions speak louder than words, I’m sure you’ve heard all that before. Family can be the greatest place to share the love of God and even better when we have family to share the faith and hope of God as well. God invites us into His family to share the faith, hope and love we have in Him, where we learn to trust in our God and by the grace of God we learn to live the way He wants us to live, His way!

    The best way to show unbelieving family that I was serious about my faith, was to attend Bible college and learn all I could about this Jesus who others I met relied on to provide all their needs that he often meet in answer to prayer as well as how to share him with my unbelieving family members. At Bible college I learned a lot from some very gifted and Godly men and joined a great church family with whom I shared my life for a number of years, growing together by the grace of God in his knowledge and wisdom. When I tried to speak with a certain family member about the Lord and what he had done once, they told me that they wanted to speak to somebody more qualified in that area so I returned to Bible College. It wasn’t until the Lord gave me the right words to say, in answer to much prayer, that he enabled me to share the gospel and discover that that was the first time that the special member of our family, ever remembered reading the Gospel of John. After asking whether or not my dear family member remembered hearing Psalm 23, the reply was yes and I was told I could read it at their funeral, I cried and said Jesus wept! Then I knew the gospel of John made an impact as my family member agreed, and I felt honored further to read the Psalm at my dearest family members funeral, knowing that we would meet again some day.

    Bible college is not for everyone, Jesus does tell us to study God’s word diligently though so that we can work out our salvation through Christ and all that God has done for us by him. We also learn about regeneration by the Holy Spirit and how to be sanctified by our faith in Christ. Love is the most important of all, there are many verses in God’s word about love, we can love others into the kingdom of God and by constant prayer, we have a loving God who hears and answers prayer. The Spirit moved me while hearing a message about the grace of God in a service at the church where I was born again in which the Lord speaks to me still by His grace, mercy and great love for I am His workmanship just like you and your children are. May God bless you richly as you put your faith and trust in Him, with blessings and love from yours in Christ, Sandra

  • “Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth; I did not come to send peace, but a sword; I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother . . . A man’s foes will be those of his own household; whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me . . . He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” We do all we can to show love and kindness to family and to pray with tears, but that doesn’t change the fact that until God changes them, they hate Christ within us. “If the world hate you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. . . . You will be hated of all men for My sake.” Jesus showed the greatest and most gentle love and kindness, and yet He was despised. We are at war, but God enables us to continue to love our enemies who are ever increasing in number as we face the coming end of HisStory.

  • God’s
    Riches
    At
    Christ’s
    Expense

    We are blessed to be a blessing!
    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14

    Love in Action
    9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

    14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

    17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

    21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    My first and best all time favourite passage of Scripture. Our pastor preached a message on it at my profession of faith service, it is so great to be able to experience living this way and be able to hold to the teachings in God’s Holy Word. Thanks for letting us share our stories Bill May God bless you richly as you continue to work for the Lord

  • Another timely message Bill…MLJ is always good value. Thanks

  • Thank you Bill for your Godly wisdom and for being a true elder in the faith. I think you are a shepherd as well as a watchman on the wall.

  • Hi Bill, I read this essay when it first came out. When you referred to it again from the responses to your current article on Church Discipline, I decided to read through it again. I got a lot out of Sandra McMahon’s contribution from Nov. 3rd. As I’ve written before, Bible College answered so many questions in my later adult years. (You were one of my great lecturers at Richmond Temple during that time). “Richmond Temple is now known as Bridge Church” . Bible College also stimulated a deep love in me for immersing myself in Scripture. My own experiences of witnessing to others, or having to judge other people’s conduct, is “coloured” by Scripture. So many times, I have found myself in difficult situations, where The Holy Spirit has brought to mind a piece of appropriate Scripture that has framed my responses. I still get “shot down in flames” , but, that is life! Bill, I want to thank you again. The exegetical research that you’ve put into these type of articles has been of enormous benefit to me personally. Kind regards, Kelvin.

  • Many thanks again Kelvin. Bless you.

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