Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Christians and Judging

A few weeks ago I got into a conversation about whether it was right to speak out on a certain topic to other Christians. I won't give the full content here as that isn't important but suffice to say the situation involved various Christians acting in a way that was unbiblical, unacceptable and causing problems. At the time I suggested to the person that quite simply someone needed to tell them that what they were doing was unacceptable, now in this situation I was probably wrong for reasons I will explain later. The argument I was confronted with however was that to bring it up was to be judgemental and that Christians were not supposed to be judgemental. The main verse cited at the time was Matthew 7:1-5:

1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Now, the verse above clearly states that we shouldn't judge, however, like we see frequently, to take only one passage of the Bible does not give us a complete picture. We could read this to mean that we should never say anything to a fellow Christian who is doing something wrong unless we are perfect. Doing so would then be judging them after all wouldn't it? To hold this view completely would be to say we can never say or arguably even think anything about another Christians behaviour. Whilst most wouldn't go this far, taking the extreme example, if a Christian commits murder or child abuse for example should we ignore it so as to not be judgemental? I am sure people can see the problem here, but interpreting as described above actually necessitates such a conclusion.

Is this really what the Bible means by judging, does God really want us to never tell anyone what they are doing is wrong? Lets take a look at another few verses, firstly from Matthew 18

15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

Now this is interesting, just a few chapters later we are given the advice that if your brother sins against you, to go and tell him. We are given instructions here for the process of escalation we should follow in these situations, but that is a different topic. My point here is that we as Christians are not told just to keep quiet in these situations, so the question here is, how is this situation different? In what cases are we right to tell people when they have sinned and in what cases are we wrong?

Looking at the case in Matthew 18, we see that the brother has sinned against you. It seems from this verse at least that in the case where the sin is against you, you are allowed to bring it up. The next part of this is important however, 'if he listens to you, you have gained your brother' Now to me, this seems to give some guidance on when we should bring things up, it sounds like it should be brought up in serious cases. The implication here is that the sin against you is strong enough that, for it not to be brought up, means a breakdown in the relationship between you and the other Christian.

Is then this the only guidance we have biblically on the topic? Is it only right for us to speak out against sin when it is directly against us and enough to cause a breakdown between us and the other Christian? Well, lets look further, there are numerous references in the Bible to this topic, a few of them are:

John 7:24 - Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

Luke 17:1-4 - And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."

Galatians 6:1 - 1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Proverbs 7:25 - Better is open rebuke than hidden love.

2 Timothy 4:2 - preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

As we can see, there seems to certainly be biblical instruction that we aren't always to keep silent. We see in the above several things however, what is described here is a world different to simply telling people they're wrong. Judging is telling people they are wrong for your benefit, it is belittling other people. Christians should not do this. What Christians should do is correct others with gentleness. We should tell others when they are doing something sinful when it is for their benefit. We should be correcting them to restore them. The over-riding rule in Christianity is to love. Before you correct the person ensure that you are acting in love.

I said at the start of this that in my situation I may have been wrong. I say this as my concern in the situation was perhaps impure, I was angry with the situation and whilst the situation was wrong, it was perhaps not my place to get involved. My intent would have been to simply angrily tell the people they were wrong, not lovingly and gently attempting to correct. The balance here is not easy and had I gone shouting my mouth off I would have been wrong. My being incorrect on this occasion however, in no way changes the biblical instruction, we should correct our fellow Christians, and doing so should be an act of love.

1 comment:

ems d said...

Yep - we should always be looking to build each other up -encouraging others to be more like Christ. As mildly annoying as I find the WWJD bangles, they do serve as a reminder that we are to live as Christ would live. Therefore if we see a brother (sister) that is not doing that, we should -with the intention of bringing them closer to a christ-like walk talk to them.

On a practical note (haven't got a biblical reference but know it to be biblically sound) I always think it is important though in that sort of situation to thoroughly pray through if and when it is right to speak. That way God is in our actions.

I have the problem of saying too much so this month I am learning Proverbs 21v23 He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.