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Judge (for) yourself Last update: April 2013

The Bible says that we should not judge another, lest we be judged in the same way. Scripture also says that we should 'expose darkness' if indeed we are children of light.

Can you do that - are you willing and able to refrain from unrighteously judging another while committing to expose ungodliness at the same time? Most of us choose to do one or the other. We might be committed to expose ungodliness, or we might be committed to not judge another. But we struggle to do both at the same time. And so, generally speaking, we see judging and exposing as mutually exclusive alternatives. The result being that we tend to ignore those passages in Scripture which do not suit our point of view. We tend to cherry-pick what we like from Scripture and then leave the rest to others who have "received the gift" (of exposing or of not judging). Or, so we argue in order to excuse ourselves.

But that is not quite how it should be. Following Christ is not like a buffet meal where you get to choose which parts you like and which parts you are allowed to avoid if you so wished. God is not double-minded. Neither does He expect us to be.

When we look at what has been demarcated as 'the New Testament' we see the Gospels in which Jesus brings an enlightened understanding of the Law of Moses. We already know that He did not trash the Law of Moses but preached the correct interpretation of God's intention with it. He came to perfectly fulfil it, not abolish it, so that Christians may live through faith, not works (noting that "living through faith" is synonymous with "doing works befitting repentance"). Then, in the Epistles - letters written by the Apostles to the early churches - we see various instructions and guidelines given, which true believers are expected to observe and cherish.

But, such is the Bible that some passages seem to contradict each other. We will look at a passage from the gospel of Matthew in addition to Paul's epistle to the Ephesians:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

From these verses many Christians are convinced that true Christianity represents a lifestyle that accepts all people and all things. They believe that discriminating in thought and word against another's ways constitutes an unrighteous judgement of another, which Matthew 7:1-2 above clearly prohibits. So strong is this argument that a message is preached from the pulpit and believed en mass that silent acceptance and even endorsement of non-Christian beliefs is what God and Christ really expect from us. Refer Vatican II's Nostra Aetate (read the entire document or click here for excerpt at the bottom of the page), which I struggle to see as a Christian message.

In my reading of it, the message of Nostra Aetate encounters difficulty when it is confronted with Scripture, which I will show below. Nevertheless, for the most part it prevails in the hearts of many - preachers, priests, elders, members and 'church board executives' alike - as years of reinforced error simply refuses to let the light of the Word enter in.

Still, this is not the central theme of this article - instead, the question around judging another as it is seen as a contradiction to exposing darkness is. Therefore, let us examine what the Spirit says through Paul:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:6, 8-11 NKJV)

In other words, 'do not side with darkness by walking in ignorance but side with light by exposing error ('deception brought by men/women through lifeless words')'.

Let's look at the above once more - this time the whole passage: Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light. (Ephesians 5:6-14, emphasis added)

God, through the writings of Paul, refers to those who are ignorant of His truth as ones who are asleep. From Ephesians 5, He exhorts them to "awake". God calls people who walk in error or who walk in ignorance "dead".

Compare Paul's "dead in your trespasses and sins" elsewhere. Clearly, God does not want them to remain as they are, walking and talking in ignorance. He wants them to awake. He wants them to come alive. That is He wants for them - to awake and come to the light. For their walking and their talking spreads or reinforces the kingdom darkness, not the Kingdom of light. God is light and He wants us to demonstrably side with Him in His light. And so, to some extent at least, He relies on us, in the love of one for another, to 'wake up those who are asleep'. To bring alive those who are dead in the same way Jesus and John the Baptist and Barnabas, Peter, Jude, Timothy, Paul and others did.

Now, let us return to the above passage in Matthew 7 where we will see that it is not helpful to cherry-pick passages from Scripture in order to align them with our own preferences in following Christ. In the verses that follow Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus makes it clear that His desire is to expose error, and also for His followers to go about it in a very specific way: we do it by first judging the 'darkness' within ourselves so that we may qualify to do a good job in judging the 'darkness' within another.

Note, He is not saying 'do not judge another - period'. And, importantly, He is speaking in reference to believers. When we judge darkness, in this passage at least, it is the prevailing darkness resident in a fellow believer. It is error and ignorance Jesus is speaking about. And He has no time for it. We are not looking at the peron or the character of the person but the ignorance or error prevalent in him or her. In Paul's words, we are looking at "arguments" or "human reasoning" (even philosophy) that do not tie up with God's Word.

Amazing, therefore, that some theologians pride themselves (pun intended) on the measure of human resoning and philosophy they display. A phenomenon apprently prevalent since the days of Peter and Paul.

Jesus is saying, 'My followers judge the fruit of My other followers by first equipping themselves through self-examination'. Again, He does not say 'sit idly and watch while another suffers from the effects of error'. Now, let's return to Matthew 7 and consider the verses that directly follow the "judge not so that you will not be judged" verses above: And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5).

Note also that it is not us who are doing the judgement when we bring the light of His Word into a situation. It is the Word of God that does the judging, not us. Though the Word can be (ab)used to hurt or embarress another we should not summarily be distracted by the likely response of another.

In very simple terms: our choice is between the truth of God's Word and the feelings of another believer whose best interest is being served. Jesus showed many times that He always chose God's truth over someone's feelings. He never, ever compromised on God's truth and His followers do not do that either. Let it be said that choosing to abstain from correcting error may very well equate to choosing error over truth.

Note also that Jesus always used different language depending on the individual He was speaking to and the severity of the error. As followers we should do the same.

Returning to the book of Ephesians, the Spirit of God lets us know the urgency with which He expects us to act: Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. (Ephesians 5:11-17, The Message)

Godly love

The pursuit of love - godly love - has many interpretations. Some define it as simply bringing truth (Scripture) and not practically lending a helping hand, for 'God will feed them', whilst others perceive love as practically lending a helping hand but leaving truth for God's Spirit to explain as He sees fit, mostly through any 'other means' except them, for they are not willing.

The story of the 'Good Samaritan' mostly backs up the latter view above and many stick to it is the only benchmark in demonstrating God's love through 'works of kindness'. It tells of a man who, through no fault of his own, finds himself in dire need. Having fallen pray to ruthless thieves he is at the mercy of three men who pass him by one after the other, the last of which - a Samaritan - being the unlikely source and example of brotherly love.

(Interestingly, Jesus does not relate to the injured man as "neighbour" but to the Samaritan instead, who is found to correctly represent God's love by offering mercy in a demonstrably physical manner. To His disciples - His true followers - Jesus says, "go and do likewise")

But, the story does not end there for if it does we will have assumed that men (and women) can only ever be in physical need. We will assume that people are one dimensional, only ever having physical needs. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul explains that all people comprise three clearly different parts: spirit (first), soul and body. Looking at the story of the Good Samaritan it becomes clear that helping another physically is a means to demonstrate God's love. And, helping another regarding an emotional or spiritual issue constitutes His love as well. Thus, it has to be said that helping another depart from their erroneous ways by bringing the light of God's Word into a situation is just as much showing His love, if not more so.

When we consider that our spirits, not our bodies, are that which will survive death, it brings into perspective the tremendous importance of, like the Good Samaritan, helping another's spirit - wounded, bound, having gone astray - come to the goodness of His Word - the freedom, the joy, the nourishment of His light.

The key to correction

God's love comes through us when we are willing and able to judge another's error without condeming them and helping them to the truth by first examining our own lives and judging ourselves. In this way His love comes by His Word through self-examination, not condemnation. If we want others to help us (depart from our error), is the loving thing to do then not also to help them depart from their error as well - 'do unto others as you would like to have them do unto you' (Luke 6:31)?

Sometimes it is clear that Christians do not want to correct others simply because they themselves do not want to be corrected. And the reason? Self-righeousness? False humility? Pride? Perhaps. The key to correcting others is first wanting to be corrected by others, if and where indeed the Word testifies to your need to be corrected.

Following Jesus' example?

In conclusion, let me say that helping another - such as a brother or a sister or a husband or a wife - come to the light of God's Word is not only good for the other person who may walk in error. At the very least, it helps the Body of Christ in at least two godly ways:

1) by judging him/herself before they bring the truth of God's Word, as Jesus instructs, they may come to a conviction of their own error (the 'plank in their own eye'), which then they are able to confess and ask forgiveness for, leaving God no need to judge them, and

2) they may actually help turn another from error towards serving the Father in truth. Of these Scripture, says the angels of God rejoice every time a sinner repents. Does this sound like serving God in love? I think it does.

Is Nostra Aetate really error - who cares?!

Allow me to illustrate: in this article I have said that the Roman Catholic Church's official church directive Nostra Aetate is error - 'empty words of deception'. I have based my judgement on my reading of Vatican II that the Catholic Church does not consider Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and others as 'not the way' (error) in the same way as Jesus describes himself as the only way to God (the way, the truth, the life). Again, it is not for me to decide who and how God should judge or accept. It is only for me to trust in what He says in His Word in regards what is error and what is not?

Further, it (Nostra Aetate) does not take into account that, Jesus says (not me), none of the mentioned religions' proponents could possibly have heard from the Father: Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me (John 6:45). And, Jesus also says, He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. (Luke 11:23). Accordingly, those religions which do not endorse Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus says (not me), have not heard from the one true God and Father and are certainly against Him. When, therefore, I read Nostra Aetate it denies Jesus' teaching. Thus, it is error.

I have made a statement concerning spiritual matters of truth and I have backed it up with what I believe to be appropriate Scripture, and, I will expect a brother or sister in Christ, because they love me, to bring correction to me from God's Word, if indeed that is what God's Word says about Jesus not being the only way to the Father. Because, if I am in error, the loving thing to do from the example of the story of the Good Samaritan, is through appropriate Scripture to help me on my way. In the absence of any legitimate correction it is reasonable to conclude that either I am correct in my assertions or that my Christian brother or sister do not love me enough to bring me back from my erroneous ways.

The third option is that they are not interested in the topic and thus ignorant as to the correct answer. This is understandable as it pertains to meaty doctrinal issues such as say the relatively modern Doctrine of Predestination, but not to fundamental matters such as Jesus (not) being the only way to the Father. As I see it therefore, there can be only two possibilities: Either a person agrees that Nostra Aetate is error and will help correct it, or that I am in error, at which judgement a loving person will set me straight. There is no 'opting out', sitting on the fence, possibility here.

What we can see from Scripture is that God is clear and decisive. He does not necessarily over-complicate matters - on the contrary, He asks a simple trust that what He says in His Word is true and that He will perform it. On this matter as well, I believe He is clear - those who are 'not with Him are against Him'.

And so, as I see it, these are the key questions;

1) will you and I expose ourselves to the scrutiny of others or are we too proud to amend our ways, and,

2) are we willing to be a neighbour to a friend or a foe who may be in spiritual need?

If we answer Yes on both accounts, and we follow suit, then, perhaps, we may call ourselves a "follower of Jesus", because, in addition to preaching the Kingdom to the poor, setting the captives free and healing the sick, that is what He did all the time during His earthly ministry. If we cannot do that, then we best not to fool ourselves thinking we follow Jesus, because clearly we do not.

In the end, we shall ask ourselves, whether or not we are our brother's keeper? Jesus says, those who do the will of the Father - those who think and speak and do according to His will (His Word) - those are His brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:50). If we want to be His brother and sister and mother, and if we know that all Christians should walk according to His Word, why then shall we not bring His Word to a fellow believer who is disobedient to it? For that is what we want for ourselves, isn't it?

 

Excerpt from Nostra Aetate:

Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.

Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites.

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

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