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TEXT: Matthew 7:1-6
SUBJECT: Church Discipline #7: Judging
This afternoon we will continue our study and discussion of Training in Godliness. Way back when, a man asked the Lord an angry question: Am I my brother's keeper? God did not answer the question, but rather the man who asked it: What have you done? The only kind of person who wonders if he ought to keep his brother is the one who doesn't mean to. Many years later, our Lord told a man to love his neighbor. The man didn't mean to do that, but knowing he ought to do it, he replied, And who is my neighbor?
The fact of the matter is: we're all connected to each other and-whoever our brothers and neighbors are-they have a claim on us. On our love and on our care. The task is staggering; there's too much to do; and to do it we have to start somewhere. Jesus Christ and His Apostles tell us where to start: at home and in the church. These are the people we must care for first.
This is hard to do because it's takes a lot less of me to send a check to a starving girl in Bangladesh than to talk to a man at church who needs to be talked to-and won't like it one bit!
Do it we must, however, because the Lord tells us to, and as His disciples, we need to obey Him, and have the privilege of being like Him in some small way.
This training in godliness is both positive and negative. We preach the Gospel, serve the Lord's Supper, pray for and encourage each other, and set good examples of holiness, and when we don't, we admit we're wrong, apologize, and get back at it.
If Christians were only ignorant of our duties, this would be enough. The sermon or Bible study would show us where we're wrong, and we would say, 'Ah, I didn't know it was wrong to drink myself to sleep every night. I'll never do it again. Thanks, Brother!' But, of course, we're more than uninformed, aren't we? We're also sinful and stubborn and defensive. Deep down, we may know heavy drinking is wrong, but, 'Who does he think he is to tell me that? Tee-totalers don't understand me! Besides, nobody's perfect!' Maybe the man who's never had a drink is not the best person to talk to him, but someone ought to! And, because the Lord tells us to quit being filled with wine, the boozer ought to obey; if he needs medical or other kinds of help, fine!
The moral to my story is: We are our brothers' keepers at church. The 'keeping' can be overdone; it can turn into nitpicking and legalism-I know that. But anything can be abused. Since many of us eat too much, why not abolish food? If a lot of men lust after blonde women, force them to dye their hair black! (What to do with men who prefer brunettes, I don't know). I'm sure some guys go for bald women or like veils, hats, and ski masks! The point is: while calling people on their sins (publicly if we have to) can be abused, the way you fix it is not by getting rid of it altogether, but by doing it God's way, the way He tells us to do it in His Word. Galatians 6:1 is the best summary I know of-
If a brother is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.
If all church training were done this way, it would not have the bad vibe it does for so many people. Though, let's face it, some would still be squeamish about applying it, and the impenitent would resent it bitterly.
THE NUMBER ONE OBJECTION
If you call people on their sins, the objection they're most likely to raise is: You're judging me! 'Judging' has become the magic word to end conversation and thought, like witchcraft used to be, and heresy long before.
For people who know their Bible a little bit, there's a verse hauled out to prove it is wrong to judge them. It is the verse that began our study, Matthew 7:1 (first part)-
Well, there you have it. Jesus Christ commands us to not judge. If you do that you're flying in the face of His known will. The problem with this reading of the verse is that it is not the only thing our Lord ever said. In fact, He seems to say the opposite, in John 7:24-
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge a right judgment.
Since we believe the whole Bible is God's Word and that God does not contradict Himself, we're eager to harmonize verses that appear to disagree with each other. I think the verses can be harmonized, but we have to beware of forcing an unnatural meaning on one or the other in the pursuit of tying up loose ends.
What matters far more than harmonizing our Lord's two commands is.obeying them. We have to find some way of both judging in John's sense and not judging in Matthew's.
This is not that hard to do, and next week, I'll try to show you how to understand and obey both without doing violence to either. For now, though, I want to explore the meaning of the word, 'to judge', and to show that, sometimes in using it, we're not talking to each other; we're talking past each other.
What does it mean 'to judge'? It means 'to form an opinion'. We use it this way every day in grave matters and in things less serious.
Men in black robes, for example, form an opinion of the man accused. He is guilty-they say-because there was a dead body on the floor, a knife in his hand, and the dead woman's blood all over him. Or, they form another opinion: He is not guilty because the woman was in San Francisco at the time, he was in New York, and besides, she's not dead! The judges are doing what they're called to do: they're forming opinions; they're passing judgment.
Your eighteen year old daughter comes to you and says, Hey mom, I found a way to save money: I'm going to the church costume party as Eve. After waking up from your faint, what would you tell her? If you were a dignified mother, you'd say something like, Sweetheart, I believe you've had a lapse in judgment! You're telling her she's formed the wrong opinion; she has judged unwisely.
Every opinion you have is a judgment; some are better thought out than others, but that's what you're doing: you're passing judgment. When you voted last month, you passed judgment; when you salted your potatoes last night you passed judgment. When you got dressed this morning you passed judgment.
Judgment, therefore, is not a moral duty so much as it is a necessary condition for living in a world where there is more than one thing to do, say, or think.
The question, therefore, is not, 'Will you pass judgment?', but rather, 'What kind of judgment will you pass?'
At this point, someone is sure to say, 'It's okay to judge things, but not people'. There is some truth in what they say. Only God is fit to pass a final judgment on anyone. This is because only He knows them well enough to say what they truly are. He knows the saintly pastor who keeps a mistress on the side. He also knows the rough-hewn and socially awkward man whose heart burns with love for Christ. Only God has the final say. And for that, we are thankful.
But, to say God has the final word, is not to say we must not pass any judgment of any kind on anybody. You know this as well as I do:
Your daughter comes home from college trembling with excitement: Daddy, I've met the perfect man: he's 27 years old, fresh out of medical school, with an offer to work at Stanford Hospital; he loves the Lord, volunteers at the Rescue Mission, and treats me like a queen. He comes from a great family and they've welcomed me with open arms! Oh, Daddy, what do you think?
That's one scenario, here's another: Daddy, I've met the perfect man; he's sixty-five years old and has only two years left on his sentence. He's been married five times and only killed three of them. When he gets out, he wants to pimp me for a couple of years, so we can get the money to go into drug dealing. Oh, Daddy, what do you think?
Does Daddy have the right to form an opinion? If he prefers the young doctor to the old criminal, is he being judgmental? Or is he judging one man would make a better husband than the other?
Daddy not only has the right to form an opinion; he has the duty. One part of being a good father is to help your children marry well. If Daddy thinks the doctor is a better choice than the killer, he owes it to his daughter to tell her so and to tell her plainly.
Is the man playing God-passing a final and infallible judgment on the two men? Of course he isn't. The doctor may be a monster in disguise and the criminal may repent of his sins and be a model husband. But-knowing what he knows-the father can and may and should tell his daughter what judgment he has passed on the two men.
To say it's right to pass judgment on you daughter's future spouse is a lot different than saying it's good to pass judgment on a fellow Christian, a member of your church who is not living an obedient life-and doesn't mean to.
Can we pass this kind of judgment as well?
If by 'judgment' you mean pass final judgment on them, of course we cannot, and we don't want to. But, what if God has told us to pass a fair judgment on our brothers and sisters who won't live His way? What if He has said things like-
If he won't hear the church, let him be to you as a publican and a heathen.
Put away from yourselves that wicked person.
Withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks disorderly.
Is this 'judging them'? Sure it is. But, if things have been looked into with care and if multiple witnesses agree, and if the people have no interest in repenting, 'the judgment is the Lord's'. It is He who is passing judgment, not we.
JUDGING AND JUDGING
One last thing. When a person says, 'Don't judge me', we have to understand what he really means. Has anyone ever said that to you after you've judged him in a positive way?
Suppose my wife and I have a fight. I'm so mad at her I storm out of the house and spend the night on your couch. Next morning at the breakfast table I tell you my tale of woe-how mean she is to me, how patient and generous I am to her, and so on. At the end of my story, you tell me: 'You're 100 percent in the right'. This is a judgment, isn't it? You have listened to my story and formed two opinions: (a) I'm good, and (b) my wife is bad. Maybe not always, but on this point, I'm in the right and she's in the wrong.
After hearing your assessment, how likely am I to say, 'Stop being so judgmental'? Not very. Because the judgment you passed was in my favor.
This, I believe, is what people really mean when they say things like, 'You have no right to judge me'. They mean, 'You only have the right to say.I'm in the right'.
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