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“Who am I to judge?”

judgmental

Some time ago there was a young guy who was hanging out with my neighbor at the time who was a professing Christian. Really nice, sweet guy‚ÄĒthe give you the shirt off his¬†back type. One morning I drove him over to the Tim Horton’s on the corner (because, Canada), and we somehow got on the topic of same-sex relationships. He had a very live-and-let live attitude about the whole thing, not because he had a conviction that such things are or are not acceptable, but because he hadn’t given it much thought. And since he didn’t¬†want to be seen as being judgmental, he simply¬†said, “Who am I to judge?”

Everybody judges

It sounds very noble to say something like this, but it’s actually kind of silly. Why? Because everybody judges.

All the time.

We can’t help it.¬†We judge people about everything.¬†People who¬†love¬†Starbucks are either¬†coffee snobs¬†who enjoy being robbed every morning, or they have discerning tastes and don’t like coffee that tastes like an ashtray. Apple users are either with it and hip, or they’re desperately trying to be. Star Trek fans are‚Ķ okay, there’s no winning on that one. But the same goes for Star Wars fans, too. So let’s not kid ourselves: everybody judges.

(And you might have just judged me for writing that just now.)

Judge whom?

The real question is not who am I to judge, who am I to judge: Ourselves? Non-Christians? Fellow Christians?

On judging non-Christians. I do my best to avoid blanket condemnation of¬†non-Christians. Why? Two reasons: first,¬†we are told not to by Paul. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? ‚ĶGod judges those outside” (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Second, because of the example of Jesus.¬†Though we are told that “someday” on the final day of judgment, believers will participate in Christ’s judgment of the world‚ÄĒand even the angels (1 Cor. 6:2-3)‚ÄĒJesus reminds us that in his first coming, he did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). During his earthly life, he was a friend of sinners, after all. Thus, we should be wise to do likewise. This does not mean¬†participating in sinful behavior, nor approving of it; however, pursuing genuine relationships with non-Christians means we should not be condemning of them as people, even when we take opportunities to challenge behaviors. An “I think I’m better than you” attitude has no place in the Christian life, as I think we can all agree.

On judging Christians. Among Christians, the practice of judgment¬†changes. We are not told to withhold judgment. In fact, we are told quite clearly that we are to judge among ourselves, and to¬†“purge the evil person from among [us]‚ÄĚ (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Therefore, we are to judge with right judgment and not according to appearances (John 7:24)‚ÄĒa good lesson for us all whenever we see blog posts and articles bringing to light issues with¬†well-known pastors and churches.[1. That is to say, we ought to avoid letting our bias toward someone cause us to dismiss an issue out of hand, or assume it is entirely truthful and accurate.] We are wise to use¬†Matthew 18’s process for dealing with personal sin‚ÄĒthat is, deal with personally and fairly, with unbiased witnesses being¬†included where required.¬†But we are also reminded that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).¬†Some of our sins don’t require¬†confrontation or even a conversation. These we can let go; but only we can judge what those are for ourselves.

On judging ourselves. Where we see Scripture’s¬†strongest commands about judgment relate to judging ourselves. As a general rule, we are to deal with our own sins before those of others (Matthew 7:1-5).¬†We should never be so presumptuous to think we’ve got all our junk together or that our sin is somehow less serious than the sin of another. We never hold anyone to a higher standard than we would ourselves (7:2). If we don’t deal with ourselves first‚ÄĒand if we don’t hold ourselves to the same standards we hold others‚ÄĒwe should not be surprised that Jesus would call us hypocrites.

We all fall down

When it comes to judgment, we all fall down. Sometimes we’re too harsh on non-Christians. Others, we give Christians a pass when it’s not appropriate. Most commonly, and though we would never say it, we act as though we’ve already achieved perfect sanctification, and sin is no longer an issue for us (but everyone else, oh my stars‚Ķ). But this doesn’t mean we should give up. Instead, we should learn how to judge rightly, which begins with self-evaluation.

Some questions we should always try to consider:

  1. What is it about the situation that I find offensive? Trying to pinpoint the exact issue and why it is offensive to us is helpful in keeping us focused on the specifics and avoid generalities.
  2. Is this incident a one-time event or the latest in an ongoing pattern of behavior? The answer to this question may completely change our response to what we’ve experienced. The offense of one who is not characterized by being harsh with his words should probably be different¬†than that toward the one who is known for being domineering and hostile.
  3. Is my reaction in line with the nature of the offence?¬†There are some things we should be angered by,¬†but sometimes our reaction doesn’t match the incident. We should be careful to consider why this is so.
  4. How can I best address the offence in a way that honors Jesus? Sometimes this will mean taking drastic action (such as calling the police in the case of sexual abuse or any other illegal activity); other times, it may mean dropping it entirely and seeking to live at peace with those around us.

Certainly, these questions are not exhaustive, but they are a good starting point. Christians are not free to abstain from judgment. If we are seeking to be faithful to Christ, it is important for us to judge with right judgment in as much as we are able and with the Spirit’s help. Lord willing, we will be up to the task.

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