Judge Not? Well, Not So Fast
1Corinthians 5: 12-13 It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you." (NLT)
We sometimes get things so backwards in western Christianity. The church often seems bent on condemning the world at every turn. Railing against the sin that is so evident in the world is easy. They make an easy target because as Paul teaches us in his first letter to the church at Corinth, the things of God are foolishness to them. We see things such as the recent gay marriage law passage in New York and you can almost hear the church scream sinner! They've taken prayer out of school Godless heathens! A famous television preacher falls from grace judge not lest ye be judged!
What? As our key verses teach us, this is considerably backwards. The world already sits under the judgment of God. Our key verses find Paul writing to the Church at Corinth who apparently was experiencing some of the same judgment issues of the modern western church. In fact, here are the preceding verses to the key verses above:
When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn't talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don't even eat with such people. 1Corinthians 5: 9-11 (NLT)
You would have to leave the world in order to avoid people in sin! The Bible describes them as walking in darkness. What does that mean? That means they have no idea where they are going beloved. What we might see as obvious, they simply do not see! It makes no sense to stand in judgment of someone who is blind for not being able to see!
But perhaps the more disturbing side is the other side. Whenever a legitimate concern is raised about a brother or sister the resounding chorus seems to always be "judge not lest ye be judged;" which comes from the Gospel of Matthew:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7: 1-2 (NIV)
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and poorly interpreted verses in the Bible, "judge not" actually deals with the subject of hypocrisy and is not meant to be a "carte blanche" against judging. How can we know this when these verses seem so explicit? The context reveals the truth:
"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? How 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? You 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. Matthew 7: 3-5 (NIV)
The Bible is written very clearly. Here Jesus gives a vivid example to make His point. There are several points He is making here, none of which condemn judgment per se. First of all, we are to not practice hypocrisy. Jesus actually uses the word hypocrite to describe someone in this scenario. It means that if you are steeped in sexual sin in your life then you should not be advising or judging a brother or sister who is failing in a similar area of their life. Why? Because you have no moral authority! If you actively cheat people in your life you should not be passing judgment on another who does likewise. You should not be a hypocrite! Jesus often spoke against hypocrisy:
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23: 23-24 (NIV)
What is the point of adhering to the letter of the law when your entire life violates the spirit of the law? Jesus uses exaggerated comparisons to make the point so evident a gnat and a camel or a plank and a speck. And that brings us to the second point Christ is trying to teach us worry about our own walk before someone else. Jesus understood human nature. We don't want to look at the plank in our own eye. We don't want to take a cold hard look at the areas of sin we need to excise out of our lives. It is always so much easier to see the sin in someone else than ourselves. Because it distracts us from having to examine ourselves. That was the point Jesus was trying to make in His example. How many times have we seen someone being "judgmental" when we all know full well they have not mastered that area in their own lives? What is the number one reason why people leave the church? It is not judgementalism but hypocrisy. The number one complaint even from the unbelievers in the world about Christianity is hypocrisy. Jesus uses the exaggerated language of trying to take a speck out of your brother's eye when you have a plank in your own to also show that our hypocrisy will not be missed. The person you stand in judgment on will clearly be able to see the plank in your own eye! How could he miss it! That is the point Jesus was trying to make.
But how do we know that this still does not mean we should not judge? Look at verse five:
Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye. Matthew 7: 5 (NLT)
Jesus does not say take the plank out of your own eye and leave your brother alone! He does not say take the plank out of your own eye and don't judge your brother! No. His instructions are that we are to resolve our own issues and then help our brother out. Jesus acknowledges the speck as well as the plank both are important!