Friday, February 8, 2008

Judging, Correcting, Rebuking

I have been thinking recently about the whole issue of judging people, or saying things that can be construed as judgement. I rather wonder whether when we are corrected or rebuked we confuse it for judgement, and use that as an excuse to not hear something that we really really need to hear. Of course this could also have to do with the balance of “grace and truth” that is used. Too much truth without grace is hard to swallow.

Scripture is quite clear about not judging people. Jesus said, don’t judge or you’ll be judged (Mt 7:1, Lk 6:37). He also says we need to deal with our own “plank” before worrying about our brother’s “speck” (Mt 7:3-5, Lk 6:41-42) but it is interesting that He then says, “then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye” which means that He does intend for us to correct each other, as long as we’ve got our own house in order. Given that none of us are ever going to be perfect in every issue in this life, I’d hazard a guess that this means when we judge others for the same thing we ourselves fail at Jesus isn’t happy. For example, someone who puts in a dodgy tax return and judges someone for stealing their wallet. I think what Jesus is really objecting to here is hypocrisy. Given that we are all sinners, all fallen to some extent we are always hypocritical when we judge others for being sinners and fallen. This is picked up further in Romans 2:1-3, which says that we condemn ourselves when we pass judgement on others, because we do the same things. Hypocrisy is the issue, and we will not escape God’s judgement for doing this.

Sometimes the process of removing a speck from our own eye is hard-fought and painful, but the learning and value of that experience is inestimable in terms of its helpfulness for ourselves and others. I think it is also interesting that the next verse in Matthew (7:6) says to be careful about who we share these things with, to not “throw your pearls to pigs” and that if we do, “they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces”. How often does that happen! You tell someone something because you’ve learnt the hard way that living a certain way isn’t good and you just want to save them the pain of learning that the hard way, and yet they turn and bite you because you have “judged them”.

Within the church, Paul instructs that we SHOULD judge each other when someone is in gross sin. He is responding to the case of the man who was sleeping with his step-mother, and says not to associate with sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, slanderous, drunkard or swindling people within the church (1 Cor 5:9-11). He goes on to say “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 man from among you."” (1 Cor 5:12-13). There clearly is a place for judging people within the church and taking action when they are not living according to their professed faith. The purpose of doing this is so that “the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5) So this is to be done for the GOOD of our Christian brothers and sisters, not out of hypocrisy and not because it makes us feel good. Paul says that we should be “filled with grief” (1 Cor 5:2), but yet take action.

In the Pastoral Epistles both Timothy and Titus are instructed to correct and rebuke people:

  • “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2)
  • “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
  • “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Tim 5:20)
  • “… Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13)
  • “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Titus 2:15)

In terms of eternal judgement, that clearly is only for Jesus to do:

  • “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” (John 12:48)
  • “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

So this is something we do need to do, but with humility. Some key passages to think about when looking at how to do the grace bit of “grace and truth”:

  • “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:12-13)
  • “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom... But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13, 17-18)

God bless,

P.S. I love being rebuked - that's how I got saved ;)

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