May 7, 2012

Judging Rightly

My sermon yesterday was from Luke 6:37-45 on Jesus' teaching about judging other people's sin.  This is often one of the most mis-quoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible.  Almost everyone quotes this at one time or another.  People who don't know any other verses of Scripture except "Jesus wept" are fond of pulling this one out whenever they need some sort of vindication or justification for their personal sin.  However, is that what Jesus meant when he said "Judge not, and you will not be judged"?  Was Jesus advocating an attitude towards others that never calls into question unwise decisions, misguided living, or blatant sin?  Was Jesus advocating that each person's life is completely a personal matter and that nobody ever has a right to question another's lifestyle choices? 

Certainly not.  This is another classic example of not understanding Scripture in context and only taking one verse and building a theology off it.  Jesus also taught in the verses following in Luke 6 about fruit and judging the health of a tree by the quality of its fruit.  Our society and law requires an accurate system of investigation and judgment in order to maintain law.  How do we justify that the pedophile who destroys many lives by his actions is guilty and deserving of punishment while the guy who unwisely drinks more alcohol than he should and destroys his personal life and relationships around him does not deserve some sort of correction?  How do we say that the corporate head who leads his company in millions of dollars of unwise investments that cost taxpayers billions to bail out is worthy of condemnation while we should turn our eyes from the average Joe who cheats on his taxes?  The reality of life is that because we are all humans, we are accountable to one another for our choices and actions because we do not live in a vacuum.  All of our choices have consequences to ourselves and others.   

Jesus does not condemn judging when it consists of accurately assessing a situation and then seeking to help someone who is making choices that are harmful to himself or others physically or spiritually.  Its basic and inherent to the Christian heart that has been transformed by the gospel to want to be a conduit of grace and forgiveness to others.  As a matter of fact, I believe if you are cold and indifferent to other people's sinful choices then you probably don't understand the gospel.  What Jesus condemns is a cold, judgmentalism that seeks to justify yourself by constantly putting down other people, standing in a condemnation over them.  This was the righteousness of the Pharisees.  They were religious without grace.  They wore their religious badges proudly, but missed out on the sessions about mercy and justice.  Sadly, this is also what many in the unchurched culture see from those who attend church.  They see us as piously looking down our noses in condemnation while we forget that at one time "we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." (Titus 3:3).  We forget the truth and power of Ephesians 2:3-4 which says:
"among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
Jesus illustrated the kind of judgment we should exercise with the familiar illustration of the speck and the log.  He said for us not to try and help remove the debris in other's lives until we are actively aware and removing the obvious debris in our own.   This is why we all need an constant understanding of our personal depravity and the excessive goodness of God's grace.  While God doesn't want us to dwell in self-pity because of the sinful choices we've made, he wants us to keep the reminder of what we have been forgiven of to motivate us to engage in aggressive and violent war against the sin in our members so we can have leverage by which to help others in their sin.  This is the essence of judging rightly.  People will be much more open to the reality of their sin and to the truth of the gospel when they see God's people come from a position of graciously forgiven sinners instead of pious, condescending Pharisees.  This isn't easy though.  The longer we move from our justification experience, the easier it is to forget the terror of standing before the righteous Judge.  The more we craft an image of God as a gentle, benevolent grandfather, the harder it is to remember that our continuing sins are still a terrible affront to his holiness.

How about you?  How easy do you find it to judge without being judgmental?  Do you lean too much to the judgmental Pharisee side or too much to the tolerant, non-confrontational side?  Have you learned the tender art of speaking the truth in love?