Light for our path: Objection over judgment?

Light for our path

Other people, even fellow Christians, object when I point out sin and tell me that I shouldn’t be judging them. Is that right?

James F. Pope

You are speaking for many Christians when you describe your experience. You are concerned about sin in the life of someone close to you, you speak out in love and concern, and the person rejects your words with a “who are you to call me a sinner?” response. Invariably, then the person informs you that the Bible prohibits you from judging. So what are Christians like you to do? We turn to Scripture to see what God does and does not say about judging others.

DON’T JUDGE . . . 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). That was not the end of Jesus’ words on the subject, however. The words that follow indicate that the type of judging Jesus forbids is hypocritical judging. That kind of judging takes place when I rebuke others for their sins but fail to recognize and confess my own sinfulness—perhaps the same sins that prompted my rebuke.

Jesus used vivid language to describe that kind of judging. He has us picture a person with a log in one eye trying to remove a sliver from someone else’s eye. Who would want an eye surgeon like that? Similarly, Christians offer little help to others when their judging is hypocritical.

DO JUDGE . . . 

But the truth of the matter is that, apart from that warning about hypocritical judging, Scripture does direct us to judge. Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of that word judge that leads those whom we are rebuking to become defensive and combative. In the scriptural use of the term, to judge is to take someone’s words and/or actions, line them up with God’s Word, and reach a conclusion, a judgment: Has sin taken place or not?

That kind of “evidential judging” is what God directs us to do. Consider these instructions: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). How do we know if someone sins against us? We set the person’s words or actions alongside God’s Word and see how they match up. Then there is 1 Corinthians 5:12: “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” The expected answer is yes.

So in obedience to what God says and in love for fellow Christians, we speak to others about sin in their lives. We do that in a spirit of gentleness and love and concern—the same attitudes we want others to display when they point out sin in our lives.

JUDGMENT’S LIMITATIONS

Previously you read the second half of 1 Corinthians 5:12. The first half of the verse contains this question: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” The expected answer is: “It isn’t my business.” That is to say that it is not the responsibility of Christians to be the thought police (or word police or action police) of unbelievers. “God will judge those outside [the church]” (1 Corinthians 5:13). Still, we want to be salt and light to the unbelieving world, letting them know what God’s will is regarding sin and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus his Son.

So continue to be a beacon of truth in your relationships with others. If your Christian witness results in verbal abuse, consider that a Christian cross—a cross that is to be carried joyfully in life.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

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