Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Did God say we are not to judge?

A controversial topic?
Today, we are going to dwell at some length a controversial topic found at many places in the Bible, in various “shades”. In this article, I will be touching on some of the dimensions of the topic, but I believe it is still not the exhaustive exposition of the entire topic. I have been “chewing” on this topic for some time now; and as it is controversial, the views expressed here are my sole responsibility and does not necessarily reflect the positions of my church or any Christian affiliations that I belong to. Wherever possible, I have supported my viewpoints from the Scripture.

Jesus’ words
The starting text is taken from Matt 7:1-5:

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matt 7:1-5)

The Greek word (G2919) for “judge” here, is the word, “krinō”. There is another Greek word (G350), “anakrino”, the meanings of which coincide with certain meanings of “krino”; more specifically, it pertains to judgment between/among men. In terms of perspective, if we were to view “krino” as a set of meanings, “anakrino” is a sub-set of krino, much like the Hebrew words for “gods”, H430 (elohiym) and H426 (elahh). So as to illustrate, and for information (those wanting the full exposition of what was meant by Ps 82:6 and John 10:34 of “Ye are gods”, should read my separate article of “Ye are NOT gods”), H430 is the set which contains “god” as in God of Israel, “gods” as in deities, and gods generally, AND “gods” as rulers, judges and magistrates, whereas H426 is the sub-set, strictly having the meaning of “gods” as in deities or gods generally.

The use of krino and anakrino is best analysed by looking at how they were used by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 4:3-5 which I have put down, further down, in this article, but without exposition, for the exposition would take another article.

We will concentrate on the word, “krino” in this article, touching on some of the shades of its meanings. There are 2 major sub-sets of meanings which I would like to mention, one being the judging between/among men (which is the similar to the meanings of “anakrino”), and the judging, of the nature like that done by God on Judgment Day. The former (judging between/among men) is this:

a) to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong
- to be judged, i.e. summoned to trial that one's case may be examined and judgment passed upon it

b) to pronounce judgment, to subject to censure
- of those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others

The latter (judging like that of God on Judgment Day) is this: to separate, to pick out, to select, to choose, and to put asunder of. In common Lexicon, this sub-set of meaning is listed as the first and foremost meaning for the word, “krino”.

Therefore, at times, the word, judge, “krino” was referring to the latter meaning, but at others, the former meaning. But it is possible, even though we are to judge in the former manner, we have a tendency into the latter. There is only one who judges according to the latter meaning, and he is none other than Jesus Christ. In a sense, none of us, men, are to judge in the latter meaning, at least not currently. In the future, some of us would, when we judge angels and even the world with Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:2-3). Although one can, at times, say that, when Scripture indicated that we are not to judge (krino), it was asking that we do not judge in the latter manner, but to regard all instances as such, would be inappropriate. As an example, if we look at Matt 7:1 and Luke 6:37a, we will find, it will lead to an illogical position:

"Do not judge {krino}, or you too will be judged {krino}.(Matt 7:1). “Do not judge {krino}, and you will not be judged {krino) (Luke 6:37a).

If we do not judge in the latter meaning above (“play God”, as some may say it), it means we will not be judged by God? It cannot be, all of us will be judged (krino) by God, regardless.

In my view, therefore, while we bear in mind we are not to try {not that we really could} to judge in the latter meaning above, the word “judge” (krino) can be considered with the usual meaning that we commonly know and use: to judge should include the examination of a case, and the passing of opinion (judgment) thereof; it may include the giving out of the penalty, which we commonly take it under a separate word, sentencing. I do not think judging in Scripture excludes sentencing. It can include the sentencing element as well. Of course, often times, in our daily lives, we exclude the sentencing part, in our discernments or judgments; we only needed to come to a conclusion of whether something is right or wrong (usually with the intention of whether or not, we are to do a thing).

Discernment and sound judgment
This brings me to another word, discernment. What is discernment? I read this in Proverbs 3:21 –“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight;”

From here, and from my research from dictionaries, I conclude that discernment and judgment are quite separate. You can have a judgment without discernment, but you need discernment for a sound judgment. In this manner, as a noun, we can understand that discernment is the acuteness of understanding and judgment, or the keenness of understanding, perception or insight. As a verb or action word, it is the act or process of exercising the keenness of insight or acuteness of understanding. Because discernment includes acuteness, being penetrating, and shrewdness, SOUND judgment and discernment are quite synonymous, but NOT MERE judgment and discernment.

In the dictionary.com, when explaining what discernment included, acuteness, being penetrating and shrewdness are given these meanings: "ACUTE, PENETRATING, SHREWD imply a keenness of understanding, perception, or insight. ACUTE suggests particularly a clearness of perception and a realization of related meanings. PENETRATING adds the idea of depth of perception and a realization of implications. SHREWD adds the idea of knowing how to apply practically. Because discernment includes acuteness, being penetrating, and shrewdness, SOUND judgment and discernment are quite synonymous, but NOT MERE judgment and discernment."

And there is the thing called wisdom
Of course, the highest level word is the word, “wisdom”. We read in 1 Kings 3:11-12 of what King Solomon asked of God, and how God was pleased to give:

11 So God said to him {Solomon}, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. (1 Kings 3:11-13)

When you have wisdom, you will exercise discernment, and you will arrive at sound judgment.

No, I do not think God was saying do not judge at all
Clearly, just from the above, one must see that it cannot be that God implied that we are not to judge at all. The very giving of wisdom is so that one can exercise discernment. And the purposes of exercising discernments include arriving to a sound judgment. You may think that I quoted King Solomon, and therefore, we, commoners, are being excluded, but you can read in James 1:5 that the Apostle James said that those (we) who lacked wisdom, they (we) are to ask from God, and God will give it to ALL generously, without finding fault.

Furthermore, God is never abhorring sound judgments. Proverbs 3:21, in fact, exhorts us to preserve sound judgment …., do not let them out of your sight. “Do not let them out of your sight” does not mean you are to make sure a certain sentencing is being carried out. It means you are always to be arriving at a SOUND judgment (which means that you are always to exercise discernment). If you are to be always arriving at a sound judgment, it implies that you are always to be judging (and always to be exercising discernment). If you do not judge, there will be no judgment, and there would not be any sound judgment, will there? In fact, no judgment often is judgment, and often, poor judgment, because there was no exercise of discernment – because you just left a matter be.

People’s New Testament’s commentary
The Bible commentators for the People’s New Testament, although in less encompassing manner, nevertheless are pointing to Jesus’ words being not targeted at forbiddance of judgments. These are written of these Matthews verses:

(1) He {Jesus} does not prohibit the civil judgment of the courts upon evil doers, for this is approved throughout the whole Bible.

(2) He does not prohibit the judgment of the church, through its officers, upon those who walk disorderly, for both he {Jesus} and the apostles have enjoined this.

(3) He does not forbid those private judgments that we are compelled to form the wrong-doers, for he himself tell us that we are to judge men by their fruits. (See Mt 7:15-20.) {the passage talked about recognition, rather than judgment but if one argues that one exercises judgment in recognition, then it is also judgment at work. But my own belief is that beyond recognition, we got to be careful about judging people’s fruitfulness based on circumstances known to us. You will understand my reservation, later in the article}

The Apostle Paul also did not bar all judgments
The Apostle Paul distinguished between what should be and what should not be judged, and how we are to judge, rather than giving a blanket disapproval of all judgments. A sample of verses of Paul will serve to illustrate this, but to go in-depth, would require separate articles:

What business is it of mine {Apostle Paul} to judge {krino} those outside the church? Are you not to judge {krino} those inside? (1 Cor 5:12)

Do you not know that the saints {believers} will judge {krino} the world? And if you are to judge {krino} the world, are you not competent to judge {kritērion, similar in meaning to krino, preside over} trivial cases? (1 Cor 6:2)

Do you not know that we will judge {krino} angels? How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor 6:3)

But if we judged {diakrino: self-examine and contend with} ourselves, we would not come under judgment {krino}. (1 Cor 11:31)

When we are judged {krino} by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world (1 Cor 11:32)

I care very little if I am judged {anakrino} by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge {anakrino} myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges {anakrino} me. Therefore judge {krino} nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Cor 4:3-5).

Some other teachings by the Apostle Paul have been covered in this article itself, including Romans 2:4 and Romans 14:4 (see section on “How to judge”).

So what did Jesus mean to say?
So, what exactly was Jesus trying to say with those words in Matt 7:1-5; to judge, or not to judge, or what? This is what I believe Jesus was trying to say: The overall spirit of this teaching of Jesus is that one should not be self-righteous. More particularly, one should not be self-righteous when judging.

Judging must be done based on the righteousness of God, no matter how obscurely it may appear to some (and that was why Solomon asked for discernment for justice administration, we need godly wisdom to administer justice in manner pleasing to God. And God said if we do not have it, ask and He will give it {James 1:5}.)

Simple definition of SELF-righteousness is this: being confident of one's own righteousness, esp. when smugly (contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness; complacently) moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.

It is best not to look at Matt 7:1-2 in isolation; if you must do so, in my opinion, one should regard it as an expression of a truth by Jesus. And that truth, in my view, is: God does judge us on how we judge; in the same manner we judge others, we will be judged, and with the measure we use, it will be measured back to us.

It is when one looks at Matt 7:1-5 in totality that one can come to the conclusion that Jesus was warning about judging based on self-righteousness. It is precisely because we have to judge that Jesus said to check ourselves first before we try to examine another. Jesus was saying self-righteous people are complacent; in terms of the metaphor used, they pay no attention to the plank in their own eyes, yet they look at the speck in another brother’s eyes. So, Jesus said not to be a hypocrite, do not be complacent; remove first the plank from our own eyes before we try to remove the speck from a brother’s eyes. In other words, judge ourselves first, before we judge others. Indeed we need to judge ourselves so that we would not come under judgment (1 Cor 1:31, even though this passage is on self-examination on taking Holy Communion, it is applicable nevertheless {The Apostle Paul did say, he did not even judge himself, but that was because he was living his life according to the Spirit; he was led by the Spirit. To judge himself was to judge the Spirit, that he would not do, but even then, he advised against being presumptuous}.)

How to judge
Of course, righteousness of God is a big phrase. Practically, what are we to do or not to do, in judging? Below are some of my views:

1. Do not be rash. Avoid judging without full examination of charges. Exercise discernment (Proverbs 3:21), bearing in mind that discernment is the process of arriving at a sound judgment.

2. We should not judge by mere appearance (John 7:24).

3. Be merciful. Judgment should be tempered with mercy (James 2:13)

4. Avoid a spirit of fault-finding or censorious judgments. Remember for the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Matt 7:2). You may not have many faults in a particular area, but that does not mean that you do not have any in some other areas. What are censorious judgments? In Dictionary.com, censorious means severely critical; faultfinding; carping {fussy or petulant (impatient irritation) faultfinding; querulous (full of complaints)}

5. You may need to abstain if you have a vested interest. Your judgment might be biased or you may, in fact, find yourself being a hypocrite.

6. Do not think more highly of yourself than you should. Do not be caught in blind leading the blind (Luke 6:39-40, concerning this same topic; also Romans 12:3)

7. Avoid condemnation (Luke 6:37). Condemnation actually is a very strong word. Legalistically used, it means damnation to death, especially in olden usage. It also means unfit, undeserving, incorrigible, beyond reform, hopeless, incurable. Even God rarely condemned, please do not do that as far as possible. Judgment does not necessarily mean no sentencing, but avoid condemnation.

8. As far as it is up to you, forgive (Luke 6:37c). Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:23-35) illustrated un-forgiveness can be equated to wickedness, and are abhorred by God, and God’s wrath can even be meted out currently (in present life).

9. Embrace the spirit of giving (Luke 6:38). God is a “G”, G for Giver. Satan is also a “G”, G for Glutton. Choose, be a son of God or son of perdition.

10. Do not frame an innocent. This is unjust judgment. This is wickedness; abhorred by God. Those who practice wickedness can even face God’s wrath being meted out currently (in present life).

11. Desire and learn the ways of God. “….. but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). If we want to judge based on God’s righteousness, we must desire and learn the ways of God.

12. Ask God for wisdom (James 1:5 - If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.).

13. Follow the Royal Law – Love your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8). Also, do not do unto others, what you do not want others to do unto you. Rather do unto others, what you would like others to do unto you (Matt 7:12)

14. Be involved when you should (but try not to be a busybody). The way I crafted the preceding phrase is done intentionally, although Matt 7:1 or the parallel verse in Luke, Luke 6:37a perhaps, was tilted more to a call to be a less of a busybody. The reason for the emphasis for the front portion is because of the increasing complacency of Christians despite increasing depravity of society. Proverbs 3:21 has to be emphasized more. If Christians couldn’t care less, and refuse to do their part by the exercising of sound judgments to influence society, society will be overtaken by values contrary to the righteousness of God. If we all abdicate, guess who will be judging?

Concerning the parallel verse in Luke, Luke 6:37, especially the first part, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged”, I believe we should not take it to mean if we do not judge at all (which is impossible), we will not be judged. If for nothing else, you will be judged by God as a useless fool because you have not used any of the faculties He has given you as a man. I believe people should interpret it like how I said of Matt 7:1-2. At most, taken alone, I can accept that if something is not our fight (not everything is our fight, and I do not think God holds us to everything that happens or does not happen in this world), we should leave it, not judge it, i.e. do not be a busybody and get yourself into a situation that at the end of the day, you need to face God’s judgment on you, concerning the matter. But remember what I said about Christians being complacent. I believe for many of us, we have to watch that (complacency) more. For those still not convinced, there is such a thing as a sin of omission as opposed to the familiar, sin of commission.

15. Refrain, when it comes to service for God. The Apostle Paul pointed out that in the area of the quantity and quality of services we do in serving God, or the extensiveness of one’s contribution thereof, or even, whether we are really designated by God to serve in certain areas, we should exercise restraint in judgments. Paul spoke that God is the master and because we, the servants, are doing his biddings, only He has the full pictures of what He wants us, individually, to do, whether we fall short of His expectations or not. It is not so easy for outsiders to judge and it is best we do not judge although people in leadership positions inevitably have to assess the performances of the people under their charge, like in the church settings, of the Senior Pastor having to assess the performances of the people working in the church. In Romans 14:4, we read this:

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4).

Even in the church setting, ultimately the Big Boss is not the senior pastor but God.

16. Concerning disputable matters. In disputable matters, the position tends to be closer to that for service for God; we should try to refrain from judging. I advise putting our position across if it does not lead to quarreling (the Apostle Paul advised against quarrelling), but I would not be hung-up that the person must accept my views. In disputable matters, even if we think we are right, we should try to see it in the manner said by the Apostle Paul, accept him whose faith is weak; we were once there, too! Also, some matters are peripherals, like matters of eating and drinking, per se. I also believe that sometimes, one may not agree with a point of view now, in the future, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, as the person grows in the Lord, he may change his viewpoint. In such a situation, adopt the same attitude as that called for concerning looking at the services of servants of God, who are we to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. If his master allows him to stand, who are we to question that?

So, in a matter that strictly does not involve or implicate others (it would be different if it harms or stumbles another), all we can do is to instruct, gently wherever possible, and if that person does not want to listen, especially if he is an adult, we should let it go. If you still feel you want to do something, intercede for him (on your own, not with him, perhaps). It is not our fight; to his master he stands or falls. If he stands because his Lord makes him stand, who are we to judge?

17. Concerning false teaching. While at times, it is not clear-cut whether or not, a particular teaching is erroneous, meaning it can be a disputable matter that should be handled as said above, but at other times, if the teaching is concerning core theology of the faith and is heretic or apostate, we are to speak against such teaching. It is just not right in such a scenario to hide under “Do not judge”. The Apostle Paul did, although the word, “judge” was not used, exhort believers to “judge” if particular teaching was true (Acts 17:11, in praise of the Bereans). It is first of all, for our own good, and secondly, we should not let wolves in sheepskin to come into the pen and stumble others; though of course, we are to correct gently if possible, without quarrel. False teachings are going to be thing to be contended with (2 Tim 4:3), but Scripture did not exhort us to do nothing.

18. Respect God’s richness of kindness, tolerance, and patience. God’s long-suffering is intended that people are given time and opportunities to repent. We ourselves are included, meaning if we had not seen the wrath of God meted out against us, it does not mean that we are necessarily above others, and that we can judge others in self-righteousness (Romans 2:4)

19. Remember, ultimately God is the Judge, and the final verdict belongs to God, and everything is final only on Judgment Day, or when God said it is final.

As a conclusion, I believe God did not say we are not to judge at all. But we are NOT to judge in self-righteousness. We are to judge ourselves first before we judge others. In matter of strictly between the master (the Lord), and the servant, i.e. in connection with matter of services for God or disputable matters, it is best not to be too judgmental.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, I have a long way to go. You know I am not trying to judge but to gently instruct; may I always remember that teachers of the Word (not that I can regard myself as a teacher) are judged more strictly according to your Word in James 3:1. Forgive me, Lord where I have over-stepped the line, and may you lead me in this area.

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