How To Judge Your Neighbor

August 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Vatican PopeHow should you judge your neighbor?

Correctly.

Judging is unavoidable. We do it when we are identifying a wrong-doing and also when we identify a good deed (and in an amoral sense, we do it when we pick the right shoes to wear as well as reject the wrong ones). When someone says “do not judge,” they themselves are passing judgment.

The good news is that in terms of moral judgment, it is possible to judge correctly. To correctly judge wrong-doing is to make sure you’re not guilty of the same wrong-doing, and to make sure your judgment is not merely your opinion.

An oft misunderstood Biblical principal derives from Matthew 7:1, when Jesus warns the Pharisees, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” For many this seems to be a blanket condemnation of all judgment and consequently used to defend whatever action one would like to enjoy free of judgment.

But verse 2 continues, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus reminds His listeners that the standard we apply to others, God applies to us. How that fact makes us feel about our own deeds determines whether we have the right to judge. A drunk calling another drinker out on it is a hypocrite. And Jesus is directing this statement to the hypocrite: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (vs. 5).

Another time Jesus is speaking to a crowd of Jews, many of whom are judging Him for healing a boy on the Sabbath, a violation of Jewish law. Since the Jews practiced circumcision on the Sabbath, Jesus calls them out on their hypocrisy:

“Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:23,24)

Christians should not judge based on their own opinions but on God’s judgments proclaimed in His Word. However anyone, Christian or not, practices hypocrisy when he judges a sin he himself is entangled with. Though a believer is made right with God, our struggle with sin in this world remains a reality that hinders our own credibility and truthfulness in judgment. Better to take care of the plank in your own eye first.

A short-sighted understanding of “judge not” was revealed recently in knee-jerk reactions to Pope’s Francis’s recent declaration regarding homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?”

But the full text of the Pope’s comments reveals no significant revelation or his acceptance of homosexual behavior. In fact, both the Pope and the Catholic Church affirm God’s moral judgment against it, distinguishing between tendencies and behavior, identifying homosexual behavior as a sin requiring forgiveness. Pope Francis is referring to those who have gay tendencies (same-sex attraction) but pursuing God’s will in celibacy when he says, “Who am I to judge?” Those who actively live as homosexuals or those who lobby for gay rights are excluded in this.

Often “don’t judge me” is an attempt to dodge discussion about sin. But a discussion of sin is where the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ freeing us from sin’s bondage, begins. The call to love God above all else prompts believers to discuss sin that we are all guilty of. This requires righteous judgment. Secondarily, the call to love our neighbor sometimes means we help them identify and eradicate sin that will destroy them. But if we are given to sin, we may not be the ones to judge. In both, we are called to love.

The point of this post is not to give anyone license to judge their neighbor, but to clarify the conditions Scripture puts forth to make judgments. It’s important to define what it is, but also to take as much care in self-examination as well we do in examining others. It’s also critical to be certain our judgment is rooted in God’s word, not our own ideas.

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