Proper Placement of Judgment as Christians
By the Reverend Eugene (Gene) W. Fort
Certain people I have known, particularly those with evangelical backgrounds, prompt me to write based on their frequently recited justification or disclaimer: “I do not want to be judgmental but . . .” where the “but” can be followed by quite an assortment of observations. The observations that the individual wishes to comment on to the hearer might be interpreted as a judgment. By the preface “I don’t want to be judgmental but” the teller feels absolved from the possibility that their observation contains even a small judgmental finding.
Perhaps the impetus for this disclaiming or justifying phrase comes from Scripture: Matthew 7: 1 – “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (KJV) Somehow the thought must come that if judgment is withheld – there will be no judgment toward the one offering the comment, observation, or judgment. Since these are Jesus’ own words, it is of value to consider the teaching with care.
Matthew 7:1-5 – New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “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? 4 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? 5 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.
Based on the last thought in verse 5, the intent Jesus had in this teaching was NOT to have us suspend making judgments but rather to make judgments in the context of our own righteousness – without the “plank” in one’s own eye. To not judge does not forbid the practice of carefully discerning appropriate (and inappropriate) practices. Jesus does not forbid all evaluations, observations, or judgments of others, for ultimately the one who feels grieved and humbled over his own sin can help remove the “speck” from others.
Since the passage or teaching was delivered to the Disciples, the interpretation should factor in the context of the community, a merciful community, that compassionately corrects, not condemns members. The disciples do not exercise God’s right to determine one’s ultimate destiny – one’s salvation or condemnation. In this respect the teaching warns against the arrogance of pride where one views oneself as “better than others.” Self-examination and self-correction provide the context for merciful corrections of peers.
Recently I noted the following post by a friend on Facebook as I had already begun to evaluate the place of judgment in the life of a Christian.
[One select Facebook Post in response to my friend’s posting.] “If people realized that often what we judge, we become, they might not judge others so easily or often.”
The above sample response assists in building the case that people take this teaching as an excuse not to appropriately judge, to take perhaps the easy way out without judgment, rather than undertaking the hard work to search one’s own life, actions, and motives for corrective actions. As of this writing eighteen friends of the poster have clicked the Facebook Like button. In a small measure, these non-scientific results along with the select comment simply corroborate my initial evaluation that Jesus’ teaching is most commonly not followed.
At some level, judgment prompts some to respond in revenge. It must be learned that when the action or thought pushes the envelope toward revenge or toward avenging some wrong, the manner of judgment has been exceeded and usurps the place of God Himself, again an issue of pride. As the passage of Romans 12:19 reminds Christians: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” [English Standard Version, ESV]. Calling the Romans 12:19 passage a “recalling” or “reminder” results from the fact that Romans 12:19 quotes a passage from Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 32:35). By noticing this boundary line, vengeance, and realizing it as a limit not to be touched or approached, the upper perimeter of judgment is in place.
The other perimeter of judgment, as already pointed out, is total non-judgment. The goal would be then to operate within these limits in merciful community. What attributes are found in the proper placement of judgment for Christians?
To initialize Christian comprehension concerning the problem of judgment, we are given insight by the words of the “crafty serpent” speaking to Eve: “You will not surely die, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5) The serpent’s statement did not point out that good and evil would be seen as the same. There was no promise of differentiation. In the fallen world, where Satan is the ruler, there is no seeing the contrast between good and evil, even substituting evil for good.
Next in considering the proper placement of judgment, Christians must traverse into redemptive history recalling the individual recorded and credited as the wisest, Solomon. When God offered to Solomon any gift he desired, Solomon stated and asked: “You have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” (I Kings 3:7-9) The importance of this gift, credited to Solomon as wisdom, marks a significant place in redemptive history.
Perhaps you respond saying “I’m not a King or ruler like Solomon appointed by God – so why concern myself with wisdom, ruling, or judging others, or even judging myself?” The New Testament Book of James, written as a letter to all Christians everywhere about A.D.48, instructs: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) Recalling from the teaching from Jesus our aim is to remove “planks” from our own eyes and in love to help brothers and sisters in removing the “speck” in their eye.
Another distinct way to comprehend the issues of judgment and proper placement for Christians is found in St. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11). So what is this discernment Paul prays for? Discernment is being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure – an act of perceiving something. A discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom and be of good judgment, especially in matters often overlooked by others. For Christians particularly, the word “discernment” may have several meanings. It can be used to describe the process of determining God’s desire or call in a situation for one’s life. Discernment used for one’s comprehension, with components of insight, wisdom, discrimination, and perception takes also a strong spiritual element.
Extending the thoughts concerning discernment, Christians must embrace digging past mere perceptions and superficial relationships to deep and detailed judgments. These judgments must be based on truth, on differentiation between good and evil, and honest encounter with God himself. In this relationship the fruits of righteousness bloom into abounding love.
The Gospel is truth from God. Christians have not invented the message of truth. Christians should not judge themselves or others with their own human speculations. Christians should rather be bearers of God’s Word — His revealed truth. Christians are trustees of God’s Gospel and stewards of God’s revealed secrets. Therefore, judgments must be rendered in truth, extensions of God’s word revealed.
Does making good judgments relieve a Christian from being concerned with having “skeletons” or “planks” of their own? The quick answer is no; however, the application of good judgment begins with one’s self-examination. Saint Augustine, as an example, is known in part for his extensive writing of confessions. In the Sacramental Church, the Sacrament of Penance, commonly called confession and absolution, is a process to assist in self-examination and removal of the “planks” or sins that beset one from God. Rather than not judging easily or not judging at any level, the process of self-examination is to be commended to all Christians as a means to fully experience Jesus’ teaching “to remove planks from our own eyes and to remove specks from our brothers.”
The Reverend Eugene (Gene) Fort worked as an Electrical Engineer for twenty-five years prior to entering full-time ministry. A Summa-Cum Laude graduate from St. Michael’s Seminary in San Clemente, CA, he was ordained in the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Known as Pastor Gene to patients, he developed the clinical program and offered pastoral care in a holistic family practice, Three Streams Family Healthcare Center. He was captain of the Evangelism Consultants Team in the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, and was chairman of the Diocesan Evangelism and Renewal Department under Bishop William Weinhauer. He continues to have keen interests in renewal ministries, Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, Kairos Prison Ministry, and Epiphany. Interest in contemporary music, particularly contemporary Christian Music, has influenced Gene’s involvement in worship leadership. Sometime catch Gene and ask him about the mantra “Rock for God!”