In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.
Monday, 25 November 2013
Can we judge? (Matt. 7:1-5)
The statement of Jesus – ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’ – is one of the most frequently quoted statements of Jesus. Yet I would say that it is also one of the most frequently misquoted statements that Jesus made. Often it is cited in circumstances in which a person(s) wants to avoid appropriate criticism. It is often used in self-defence to prevent any external assessment by others. Of course, such a usage means that we should never judge whether an action is right or wrong.
Jesus does tell his disciples to make judgements. In verse 6, he commands them not to throw their pearls to the swine, and in order to follow this command they have to decide who the swine are. He tells his listeners in John 7:24: ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.’ So the teaching of Jesus here cannot be used for tolerating every opinion and action found in another person.
We find the same emphasis elsewhere in the Bible concerning the necessity of making judgements. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul tells his readers that instead of taking one another to court over trivial matters they should appoint a wise member(s) of the congregation to assess the problem. And in 1 Corinthians 10, a chapter in which he has explained the dangers of associating with idolatry, Paul says in verses 14-15: ‘Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.’
The apostle John commands us to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1). This is an obligation on all believers, not just those who are in authority in a church. Whatever else this commandment from John indicates, it clearly demands that we judge whether a prophet or preacher is telling the truth or not.
Once again, Jesus is criticising the common practice of the Pharisees. They had set themselves up as the persons who decided what was allowable in the lives of God’s people. Over a period of time they had produced a large set of rules that covered most situations that God’s people would face in life. Inevitably, it became impossible for the followers of the Pharisees to do anything right. At the same time, they were being harassed by their leaders who themselves had massive faults that prevented them functioning in a helpful way.
Jesus is reminding his disciples that the citizens of his kingdom operate on different rules. His use of the term ‘brother’ suggests that he has the members of his family in mind. The context of the verse concerns hypocritical judging as opposed to honest judging, and in verse 5 Jesus indicates that honest judging can take place: ’You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’