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Called to Judge Sin

by Mark Nickles  
11/21/2011 / Christian Living


It may be one of the most misunderstood and misused scriptures in the Bible, heard at times in movies, on television and even in personal conversation: Matthew 7:1 - "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.". Over the years, I've heard many people in and out of the church express their belief that Jesus was saying that we should not criticize any behavior that we believe is wrong. I'll go along with that in one sense: our judgments should not be according to OUR standards. After all, human standards are flawed, being born of sin themselves. Instead, our judgments ought to be based on God's standards, which are found in his word.

With study of the context of Matthew 7:1, we discover that Jesus was not instructing his followers to abstain from making judgment calls. Rather, he was enlightening them on the folly of judging in a hypocritical fashion.

In the third and fourth verses of the chapter, Jesus asks a very potent question: "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? 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?" If you imagine the scenario Jesus is putting forth, it could appear quite a comical method of illustrating an important point. I sometimes even wonder if Jesus acted it out for the crowd. He is the Master Teacher, after all.

Jesus goes on in verse five to use the word "hypocrite" when referring to a person who exhibits such behavior. In the Greek, the word refers to one who "looks through" his or her own sin, that they might point out the faults of others. It is not that they are unaware, but worse, that they ignore their own faults.

Jesus was nothing if not just and fair, and he expects his followers to live and be distinguished by the same sense of love and fairness, giving people the most accurate picture of the Savior possible in our imperfect state.

The best way to do that is in the resulting humility that comes from cleaning the "dead wood" out of our own lives. When someone makes a point of being intimately familiar with their own sin, they will be humbled, and more likely to take a Christlike attitude in bringing attention to others' sin. They will do so with much forethought and love, seeking the best possible outcome for that person, knowing the truth of Romans 14:10 - "You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat." While this verse speaks specifically to the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians of the time, it illustrates an overall message of love and brotherhood, discouraging the despising of other Christians for real or perceived sin. There is a distinct difference between judging right and wrong, and judging a person's worth, which is what was happening among the recipients of the Roman letter. Christians are called to do the former, but the One Righteous Judge will handle the latter at a time of his choosing.

Matthew 7:24 is also valuable in illustrating a proper attitude in the matter of judging sin. Study of the previous verses reveals a context in which Jesus pointed out that the letter of the law alone is an incomplete basis for judging the actions of others. God is, above all, merciful and loving. Therefore, the whole law of God, in it's spirit and design, is to be governed by love and mercy. This principle is also demonstrated in Hosea 6:6, in which God says, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." Quite simply, mercy, love and consideration for our fellow man, along with an inward reverence for and worship of God is more important than keeping the letter of the law.

Despite the above references, the idea of judging still makes many Christians uncomfortable. I believe that is due largely to the times we live in. For quite some time, now, society has put forth the theory that nothing is wrong, if it feels right to the person doing it. More and more, a viewpoint of moral neutrality and indifference is being shoved to the forefront, not just by Hollywood, but by universities, politicians, and, yes, even some churches.

In opposition to that viewpoint also stands 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, in which Paul directs Christians to judge sin among other believers. In verse 13, they are told to "Expel the wicked man from among you." This, of course, assumes that such a man is unrepentant. God's standard demands that forgiveness always be offered to those who confess and repent (1 John 1:9).

There can be no doubt that, from a scriptural standpoint, Christians are directed by God to judge sin. But it must be done within the framework of God-inspired love and a desire to restore errant believers to the Body of Christ, that they might have God's best for their lives.

Mark Nickles is a husband, father of three, and a pastor in Northeastern Oklahoma. Copyright, Mark A. Nickles.

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