My Neighbour Wants to Know Why Christians Are So Judgmental? Matthew 7:1-6
5/8/2019 1:58:45 AM
May 5, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6
The other day after school, I saw 3 boys in SK run across the street from the parking lot to one of the boy’s houses. They didn’t look, they just ran into traffic! But I didn’t say anything! Who am I to judge? Who am I to say what they did was wrong? Nobody got hurt.
Does that sound right to you? On the other hand, what about their parents? Wow, their parents are terrible! They can’t control their kids, the little hellions! Those parents are the worst in the school. I can’t believe them. Does that sound right to you either?
We’re in a series this week entitled “My Neighbour wants to know….” The sermons are taken from questions you’ve submitted to me that either your neighbours have asked, or you’re afraid your neighbours might ask! One very good and, sadly, too often asked question is, “Why are Christians so judgmental?” Doesn’t the Bible say “Judge not, lest ye be judged?” But in my experience, this verse is often used to excuse bad behaviour! “Don’t judge me [let me go on with participating in my bad behaviour]!” We live in a culture, now, that says anything goes as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Judging others is the only “sin” left!
I want to acknowledge the youth Sunday school class who are with us today. I specifically chose to tackle this topic on a day that you’d be joining us because I think this is probably a question you have or will face many times at school, with your friends or even online. In your teenage years, you’re learning how to discern right from wrong. You’re facing a lot of pressure to go along with our culture’s worldview, which means doing whatever feels good and never daring to say that whatever somebody else does is wrong. My prayer for you today is that this message catches your attention that you need to develop your budding sense of judgment, of discernment, as you learn to make choices, and that as you make those choices, you choose to love people who make poor choices!
Today we are going to look at this very passage that says, “Do not judge or you too will be judged.” We’re going to explore the difference between judging, discernment and being judgmental. It’s sad that Christians have a well-earned reputation for being judgmental. What does Jesus have to say about this? Let’s look at the text. Read with me Matthew 7:1-6.
What It Says
This passage is a warning. It is a warning about being judgmental. What does that mean? We’re going to see! This passage is part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount.” At the beginning of this sermon, Jesus said in Ch 5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
There is a repeated theme in Matthew that God will treat us the way we treat other people. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer it says “Forgive us… as we have forgiven others.” Our attitude of heart towards other people will be the foundation for God’s attitude towards us! If we are merciful and forgiving, then God will be merciful and forgiving towards us. If we are harsh and hold grudges, God will be harsh with us!
In Christian terms, if we truly have new life in Christ, we will forgive others, show mercy, etc. To be hard hearted towards other people is inconsistent with the forgiveness God has shown us in Jesus Christ!
When we offer to help others in their struggles, it must be from a stance of humility. This is what Jesus is saying with the illustration of removing the plank or beam from your own eye before trying to help your brother remove the speck from his own.
Anybody ever get a speck of sawdust or something in their eye? It hurts, right? There is a legitimate need here for help on the part of the person with a sawdust in their eye! Yes, we have a calling to help our brothers and sisters in need. The problem is when we help them with an attitude of superiority, when we are judgmental, thinking that somehow the speck in their eye makes them lesser people.
There is a difference between judging and discerning. Judging a person is difference from discerning right and wrong or even discerning who is willing to listen. Consider the final verse about not giving sacred food
to dogs or pearls to swine. Remember, for Jews, both dogs and pigs were unclean animals. There’s a religious reference being made here about not trying to share God’s sacred word, or wisdom with people who are not willing to listen. They will not appreciate it and may even turn on you (as they turned on Jesus!).
How are we to know who is a willing listener and who is a dog? Discernment! Discernment of the person in question. We are not to abandon our discernment! We need to be wise in our timing of when to share with a person, whether it be sharing the good news of Jesus or the strong words of naming sin.
Judging, by contrast, has to do with deciding a person’s eternal destiny, or inner character. It is not up to us to decide if a person is going to Hell! It is not up to us to decide a person is “beyond saving.” Frankly, nobody is beyond salvation! We are all sinners saved by grace. None of us are righteous in and of ourselves. That is, none of us are “good enough” that God looks at us and says, “Yes, you and I are tight. You and I are in a good relationship.” In Jesus’ day, many people, especially the Pharisees, were judgmental about who was in a good relationship with God and who wasn’t, based on their own merit.
We are forbidden to damn not discern. Some of you might be uncomfortable that I used the “d-word.” But this is actually the correct and appropriate use of the word! It is not up to us to “send a person to Hell” in our minds, our hearts, with our words or in our judgment. “We are not to make final judgments on anyone, to speak assuredly of people’s real character, to pretend that we know God’s verdict on other people’s lives in the final judgment.” [Frederick Dale Bruner, Matt Vol 1, p. 272] That is completely up to God! To forget that is to lose humility, to take upon ourselves the role of God, which was actually the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden.
What It Means
So what does this mean? What are we to do with this? At this point, it may be tempting to think, “Well, if we’re following Jesus, I guess we just keep quiet and mind our own business. We’re not allowed to judge.”
Well, it’s a little more nuanced than that. Let’s see how Paul elaborates on this topic for us. Consider what he says in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” There is a significant difference between those inside the church and outside. Paul says it’s none of his business to judge the eternal destiny of those outside the body of believers. That’s up to God! But, for those in the church, we must use our discernment and exercise healthy confrontation when necessary.
We are not to “judge” the eternal destiny of those outside of Christ. We are to warn those inside the body of Christ. Why is that? Those outside of Christ are not going to live like they have the Spirit. They are in God’s hands and subject to God’s judgment. And, who knows, maybe down the road God will bring them to repentance! We are not to judge them even if we see that their behaviour is sinful. Unsaved people will not act like they’re saved. You cannot clean your fish before you catch them! Those outside of Christ cannot be expected to live like Christ-followers. We shouldn’t expect them to. Some of them will have more outrageous behaviour than others. Some will look like “good” people. Others will look like a complete mess. But all of them if they are outside of Christ are equally lost. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Rom 3:23]
Those in the church, however, are a different situation. Yes, we have sinned too, and we also fall short of the glory of God! And that should humble us. But we have found redemption in Christ. We are to keep in step with the Spirit and not grieve the spirit. Those who have been redeemed by Christ are held to a higher standard. Those whom God has rescued and in whom the Holy Spirit lives are not to live with persistently sinful lifestyles.
The kind of judging Paul is talking about in the church is different from what Jesus is talking about in Matthew. Jesus is talking about personal criticism. Paul “is dealing with persistent wrongdoing of a kind wherein someone wants to have it both ways, to belong to the Christian community without leaving his/her former behaviour behind.” [Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, p. 228]
When a fellow Christian is living a lifestyle of sin, it is our loving duty to call them back to walking in step with the Spirit. That means using discernment, or judgment to evaluate their actions. It may even mean judgment in terms of exiling them from community. This is in the case of hard-hearted refusal to acknowledge the wrongdoing, the sinfulness of their lifestyle. Out of concern for our brother or sister’s spiritual well-being, sometimes we must judge their actions and warn them that their trajectory is taking them away from Jesus. And we must do this without being judgmental. We must do this is a loving way- being primarily concerned with the well-being of the offender, hoping that they will be restored. In 2Corinthians Paul makes that exact point about the situation in 1 Corinthians that lead to 5:12-13.
Why does all this matter? How do we apply this? What are we to do with judgement? How do we navigate living in a post-Christian society? On the one hand, many Christians are judgmental! On the other hand, our culture today says there’s no such thing as sin, that right and wrong are a personal choice. “How dare you say what I’m doing is wrong?!?”
As Christians, we have to walk the narrow road of identifying sin as sin, not going along with culture, but doing it in a non-judgmental way! Judgemental – No! Discerning – Yes! As we navigate this life, we must be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” (Matt 10:16) We must use our judgment to know right from wrong in ourselves and in others. But in our discerning judgment we must be gentle like doves with the people we come across in this world. Never can our attitude be one of condemnation. Even when other Christians sin, our attitude has to be one of rescue not damning.
When people wonder why Christians are so judgmental, it’s because Christians have gotten it wrong! They’ve been as gentle as serpents and wise as doves. They’ve spoken out with the wrong attitude of heart.
The culture around us has completely different standards of right and wrong than what Jesus calls us to. We must use Biblical standards to discern right from wrong, not secular standards. We no longer live in a Christian society or culture. So we will see our friends, coworkers, neighbours and even government doing things that are wrong and saying that they are right. We may even be called to speak out for justice, to speak out for right and wrong against these ideas. BUT whenever we speak, whenever we discern, we must always do it undergirded with agape love- that divine, self-giving love, primarily concerned with the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being.
Judgemental is an attitude of heart contrary to agape love. Judgemental evaluates the person, criticizes the person, not just the action. When we see sin, our hearts should break for the person. When we are judgmental our hearts are hardened against the person! So when people wonder why Christians are judgmental, it means the Christians they’re talking about have forgotten or lost their love!
Think of the example I used at the beginning- of watching little boys run through traffic. Is that ok? Of course not! They were using poor judgment. As a Christian, my agape love for them means I need to call out the danger they are in. I need to find their parents and let them know what happened. When I see their parents, I must have compassion for them, not judgment of them.
We must hold our different views firmly in our hand, but also with a gentle heart. When we see sin, when we see wrong being called right, when we see people headed down a path to destruction, it is not loving to go along with them and say it’s all good! How would you feel if your doctor did that when you were sick? “I didn’t want to upset you….” Love means calling out a warning. But we must call that warning in love, out of genuine concern for the person. We must remember the sin for which we’ve been pardoned (the beam in our own eye!) as we identify the dust in another’s eye (or the beam). In humility and out of concern, we name sin as such.
Our love must first earn us the right to be heard. Years ago I saw a story on the CBC about a hospital in war-torn Iraq. There was a Canadian doctor working at the hospital and he was a Christian. He had set up a clinic in the alleyway next to the hospital where he treated children wounded by mines or other unexploded ordinance they’d found. As he worked on these children, he shared the gospel with them! In a Muslim country!
The CBC reporter interviewed the Muslim administrator of the hospital and asked him about the Christian doctor and specifically about “proselytizing” in a Muslim country. The Muslim administrator said, “I think he has earned the right to be heard.”
Expressing our discernment, exercising our judgment, even as we avoid being judgmental, must be done in the context of love. That means it must be done in the context of relationship! First earn the right to be heard, then speak the truth about right and wrong, always holding out the forgiveness and reconciliation that Christ offers.
Why are Christians so judgmental? Sometimes it’s because they have forgotten love! Other times it’s because people don’t want to be told what they’re doing is wrong. As long as we’re responding in Christ-like love, we’re doing the right thing.
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