Wednesday, 21 July 2010

‘Are we being discerning or judgemental?’ (part 1)

Supposing you have a friend who is doing things that you know are wrong.  It troubles you and you are unsure what to do.  Should you challenge them about these things?  You don’t really want to because they might react badly.  Supposing you do have the courage to speak to them and they simply tell you not to be so judgemental?  Do they have a point?  Should we keep our opinions to ourselves?

I hope that if you ever find yourself in that position what I am about to say will give you guidance about what to do.  In these two blogs I am going to look at Jesus’ words ‘Do not judge’ and ask what he really means. It is my opinion that there is much confusion about this command.

What does Jesus mean when he says ‘Do not judge?’ What exactly is he forbidding?

Well we might think that he is forbidding making negative personal assessments of people.  But I actually think that there are times when we are allowed make negative personal assessments of people.  Your daughter might offer to babysit my children.  I will have to make an assessment about whether I trust her to do that task.  I might be of the opinion that I can’t trust her.  I haven’t necessarily sinned in reaching that conclusion.

Similarly, when Paul instructs Timothy about appointing overseers in the church he lays down some personal criteria about the sort of character they should have.  If Timothy was to assess someone for that role and not appoint them because he had concerns about them he would surely have being acting responsibly.  There is a difference between being discerning and being judgemental.

We might concede, ‘Okay, there are times when it is right to make a negative personal assessment of someone.  But surely it is being judgemental to approach someone and tell them what they are doing is wrong.’  Not necessarily so!

In Galatians Paul writes: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong (Gal. 2:11).  Peter had begun to separate himself from Gentile believers for fear of what certain Jews would say.  His actions were contradicting the gospel and Paul was compelled to speak to him about it. When Paul writes to Timothy he says that one of the things that Scripture is useful for is rebuking people (2 Tim. 3:16)!

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul writes about church discipline.  Church discipline may involve making a negative personal assessment about someone. ‘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 immoral brother.”  We can’t expect that those who are not Christians to conform to Christian ethics, nor is that our concern.  However, the church has a responsibility to maintain holiness in the community and to discipline those who are claiming to be Christians but are committing serious, unrepented-of sin.  It is worth noting at this stage that the New Testament reserves the ultimate sanction of excommunication for three things: a flagrantly immoral lifestyle, major deviations from the truth (heresy), and a loveless, fundamentally divisive spirit.  So be warned if you are a gossip or you regularly speak of people harshly.  I should also point out that expelling people from the church is done in the hope that this will encourage them to repent and be restored into the fellowship.

So it is not necessarily wrong to make negative personal assessments of people.  There are times when we need to. We might call this being discerning rather than being judgemental.  Discernment might call us to challenge someone about their lifestyle or for the church to discipline someone.

So we are still left with the question, 'what is Jesus forbidding when he says that we must not judge?'  I hope to answer that in tomorrow's blog.

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