I thought that I would focus this week on the “not judging” part of the One Lawgiver and Judge lesson. After all, the phrase “judge not” is probably one of the most oft quoted and misquoted Bible verses of our generation. It sometimes serves as our “get out of jail free” card.
The discerning of right and wrong, good and evil has been blurred by the misapplication of the phrase “judge not.” The Bible is full of examples of those who called out sin. Remember the work of John the Baptist? Even James, who chides the church for judging, did not shy away from calling wrong what it was – wrong. Listen to the following:
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8
From James’s own words it’s clear that not judging others is not to be interpreted as an excuse to take a pass on the discerning and stating of what is right or wrong. And just as importantly, it cannot be used as a shield to protect ourselves from being held accountable for our own actions and conduct.
Quite the contrary. Wearing the badge of Christ opens us up to inspection by others. Listen to Paul as he gives instruction to the church.
“Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” Titus 2:6-8
You might be asking now, just what is meant by “not judging.” After all, it was Jesus Himself who said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
James gives the clearest clues to what the problem is. He starts his short focus on judging by describing clearly what the error is.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.” James 4:11 NKJV
“Don’t bad-mouth each other, friend.” James 4:11 Message
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” James 4:11 NIV
It’s clear that to criticize others is out of harmony with the conduct of saints, particularly criticism towards each other. To do so would be to signal that you have a standard that you feel others are not reaching. That type of arrogance is the fruit of someone who lacks the humility James addresses in the preceding verse.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” James 4:10
What James appears to be getting at is that understanding who we are (and who we are not) should regulate our attitudes towards others. If my life is submitted to God and God is in control of my life (and I really believe that) I will find no desire to impose my faulty standard of conduct on others. It is only by the grace of God – no goodness of our own, that we are even here.
“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:14
Without a proper appreciation of the goodness of God towards us, our arrogance will rule the day. Being critical of others, even those clearly in the wrong, will be our natural tendency. Without the humility birthed through a realization of the enormity of our own sins, we will find ourselves void of pity and compassion to those who are in the bondage of sin.
This truth Jesus clarified over and over again. Along with the piercing words of Matthew 7:1-5 (Judge not, mote in the eye versus beam, etc.) Jesus also brought the truth home with an insightful story recorded in Mathew 18:23-35.
It’s the familiar story of the man who owed a king more than he could pay. He asked the king for patience and instead the king gave him mercy. As the former debtor was walking in his freedom he encountered someone who too had an obligation. Just like him, this debtor asked for patience, not absolution. But instead of displaying some of the mercy he had received, the forgiven servant exhibits the very attitude from which he himself was spared.
“Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ Matthew 18:32-33
While we usually use this story to illustrate how we should deal with those who have wronged us, I find it equally informative regarding the proper attitude we should have towards those we consider as not meeting their obligation(s) in life.
There are monumental issues facing our societies. Cultural, racial and social unrest simmers beneath the busy currents of life. Myriad injustices that plague all nations cannot be ignored. By the gift of speech, we all must answer if we contribute to the problem or to the solution. For what is in the heart will be spoken by the mouth.
Especially in this our internet age, where criticism of others rules the day, James asks us the question of the moment. “Who are you to judge another?” James 4:12
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
What does the word judging mean to you?
What, if anything, is the difference between judging and criticizing?
What, if anything, is the difference between the judging James describes and discernment?
What, if anything, should be the difference between a Christian’s commentary on social issues versus a non-Christian?
How can one tell if they are being critical or showing discernment?
Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The closer my relationship with Christ becomes, the less I will criticize others. Explain your answer.
We close this week with words from the beginning of James. He pulls no punches here.
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26 NIV
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!