While on the subject, I thought it would be a good idea to look at a difficulty often associated with the Christian community–the issue of judging. As believers, we have all heard and probably repeated Matthew 7.1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (NIV). And while we all know that we shouldn’t judge and certainly don’t want to be judged, the Christian community has often been accused of and is guilty of being very judgemental.
We have some justification, it seems, because we are told in Matthew 15.18, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. ” (NIV) On the basis of this verse, it appears that we have a responsibility to watch each other and correct each other.
Many believers have a difficult time reconciling the two passages and often solve the problem by ignoring one or the other. This creates all kinds of difficult and painful situations for individuals and congregations. In places where the responsibility to help each other is ignored, anything goes–there are no limits, no attempts to help each other reform or change things which are at odds with the faith because we can’t judge each other.
Where people choose to ignore the words about not judging, an equally bad situation develops where everyone is watching everyone and the slightest infraction is pointed out. Some communities go even further and assign punishment for every infraction. Living is such communities doesn’t enhance spiritual growth because everyone is too afraid of everyone else.
Rather than choose between the two passages, we need to look at them together and in context. The passages are not at odds with each other but are looking different things. Taken together, they provide the Christian community with a positive way of helping each other grow in faith.
We need to realize that as believers, we are part of the Christian community and have responsibilities towards each other. The first responsibility we have to each other is to love each other as Christ loved us (John 13.34-35). As we engage in this relationship of Christian love, we will see things in ourselves and others that are not congruent with our faith in Christ. Others looking at us will see things that we overlook intentionally or unintentionally.
When we look at these things in others or they look at the things in us and use them as a way of building ourselves up, we are judging. The command to avoid judgement is really a command to keep us from putting others down so that we can look better. It is a warning not to relate to each from an assumed superiority. Judgement looks down–and looking down on people is not part of Christian love.
We will see things in others that need work–sometimes, God will show us these things and sometimes we will see them because we have struggled, are struggling or will struggle with the same thing. Whatever we see, we need to remember that all of us have our sins and our struggles and therefore are in the same boat. We may not have the same issue, but because we too are not perfect, we are in the same boat.
Our approach to people is not one of superiority but one of love and concern that loves the individual more than we are upset by the issue we see. Whether the individual changes or not, we are to love them as Christ loved us. It is easier to do this when we remember all the things in our lives that are not yet perfect and that Christ has not and will not stop loving us because of those things.
Christian responsibility in the community means that we are concerned with helping each other and being helped by each other. It is not judgemental to offer help to someone in need when we remember our own need. It is judgemental when we begin to see ourselves as better and therefore not in need of help. We need to develop strong caring communities where all the members can have the love and support they need to grow in faith–sometimes, we are giving the help, sometimes we are receiving the help but always we are loving each other as Christ loved us.
May the peace of God be with you.