When Should Christians Judge and not Judge?
Many years ago, it may have been on Christmas Day, I saw a movie called “Tess.” My mother took my family to see it when I was almost 15. This movie, however, which was based on the famous English novel “Tess of the D’urbevilles” by Thomas Hardy, wasn’t exactly conventional family entertainment. It’s a tragedy, set in the 19th century English countryside. The lead character, Tess, is seduced, really raped, by Alec D’urbeville. She gives birth to a baby who soon dies. She later does marry, but her husband, Angel Clare, rejects her after the ceremony but before getting into bed. They trade stories, in which he confesses he had given in to sexual sin. She forgives him. But after she tells her story about her situation, he rejects her, and chooses not to live with her. Although, in the novel, he tries not to condemn her self-righteously, and even technically “forgives her,” he still can’t abide with the negative reputation his wife and their children would have should anyone down the road find out about her story. In the movie, as I recall it, he comes off much more self-righteously hypocritical, for he’s guilty of the same thing he condemns her for and rejects her for. She forgives him, but he doesn’t forgive her. True, he does near the end of the movie, when they get together again. But that’s only after she, being dirt poor, moves in with the man she had had the baby by as his (reluctant) mistress, and then kills him.
Now this story should make us think about a key issue: When are Christians allowed to judge others? When shouldn’t Christians judge others? And when should we do one rather than the other?
We need to consider how to deal with the sins others commit or apparently commit, whether or not they are in the church. And knowing what to say in criticism when is a balancing act. For we don’t want to condone sin, but then we shouldn’t be condemning others either.
S.P.S. Christians have to be careful to neither condone sin nor condemn harshly sins of others.
Now, does the Bible contradict itself on this issue? Does it say in one place we shouldn’t judge others, but then say in another we should judge others? This issue about judging others correctly really becomes a “difficult Scripture” problem.
So I intend to look at one text when Jesus said not to judge others, and another where Paul tells Christians to judge each other. And then we’ll turn to where Jesus dealt with the adulterous woman to show how to reconcile the two.
V. 1: “Condemn” and “judge” overlap in meaning in English and in Greek. The Greek word “krino” here can mean “pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticise, find fault with, condemn.”
Wuest translation: “Stop pronouncing censorious criticism, in order that you may not be the object of censorious criticism, for with that judgment by which you are judging, you will be judged.”
Misused for relativism purposes to condone sin by those who do judge (say) on racist or sexist acts.
V. 2: If harsh on others, others will be harsh on you. Ayn Rand’s provocative inversal of the principle actually correct ironically.
If guilty of same sin as attack others for, such as Tess’s husband was in the story above, we should be especially wary. Or suppose we’re guilty of a lesser version of the same sin, it should restrain us as well. For example, is the mental state of a man cruising the internet to visit porn sites one night really any different from that of a woman one night who, like in Tess’s case, made love to a man she wasn’t married to and then had a baby by him? Just because the latter situation is much harder to cover up doesn’t mean the level of sin is really any less than the man who’s guilty of lusting after women in his heart on a screen. 12-letter “M” word issue.
Furthermore, such sins as pride, vanity, and power lust are much more concealable than the outcome of many sexual sins are, yet they reach to the core of Christian morality in a way that sexual sins don’t. After all, what turned Lucifer into Satan? It sure wasn’t the desire to commit adultery! Or consider alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.
V. 3-4: Notice this section is connected to the prior two verses as explaining them. We see other’s faults more clearly than our own. Standard common weakness, so we see their minor problems more than our big ones. Human heart self-deceiving.
V. 5: We have a duty to reform ourselves if we intend to correct others. The failure to fix all our sins doesn’t mean we can’t say anything about others’ sins, such as through the process that begins with “going to your brother alone.” But we had better be wary of specifically condemning publicly others’ sins if we struggle with the same problem without
improving much. When we name names, and assign sins, we’re on dangerous ground.
I Cor. 5:9-13
V. 9+: Paul here is explaining why someone who committing a type of incest should be put out of the church.
V. 11: Obviously, one has to notice the sins of others, and react to them when fellow Christians are unrepentant about them.
V. 12: Paul is aware of the principle of Jesus’ above, for a close parallel to it appears in Romans. No linguistic solution here, same Greek word for “judge” used, “krino.”
Key issue: The people in the world won’t have a penalty inflicted on them by people in the church: Still have to deal with them, regardless of what sins they commit. For example, you should shake the hands of (say) a customer who is cohabitating and a coworker who is an unreformed alcoholic. To “judge” someone here involve inflicting punishment on them by refusing to let them come to church or by not having normal full friendship with them. God will get around in His time to punishing the people in the world who are sinning, but, says Paul, there’s a need to punish unrepentant Christians who are guilty of major sins.
Illegal capital case, almost a lynching, so Jesus throws the case out of court effectively, not overriding Mosaic law here.
v. 7-9: Jesus doesn’t dispute the guilt of the woman. But he puts into effect the principle he proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount, that you shouldn’t condemn her if you’re guilty of sin also.
v. 10: He doesn’t condemn her, but tells her to stop sinning. He could look into her heart, an advantage we don’t have, so it would appear she was really repentant, not just someone afraid of being punished. He doesn’t harshly publicly criticize her, nor does He inflict some kind of penalty on her, since she already had an acute consciousness of her sin, so that wasn’t the issue. But He doesn’t condone her sin, or pretend it didn’t happen. He tells her to become and stay repentant by not sinning in the future.
Different Greek word, “katakr,” here, “to judge one down, condemn.”
Conclusion: Christians have to maintain a careful balancing act when it comes to judging others. We must be wary of singling people out for harsh public criticism, and that includes gossip, especially when we are guilty of the same sin or lesser versions of the same sin. We must not be like Tess’s husband, who refused to really forgive his wife for the very same kind of sins that he himself had committed. Yet on the other hand, Christians must not condone major sins in their midst or pretend the sins didn’t happen. Many sins others commit can be dealt with by going to one’s brother alone in a spirit of helpfulness, not as an avenging angel. In cases in which serious sin occurs, the ministry does has the authority to disfellowship for it, when it involves inflicting a penalty on someone who’s unrepentant. So let’s neither harshly condemn others specifically for their sins nor condone them by pretending they didn’t happen. Let’s be more forgiving than Tess’ husband Angel Clare was when she first confessed her sin to him on their wedding night.