Frequently we hear of people misusing Scripture, the usual complaint being that people take small quotations out of context and make them mean something different to what they mean in that context. These pieces of Scripture are often called “proof texts” because they are used to show proof of Scriptural support for one position or another in a contentious theological argument. For example they have been used by both sides in the Anglican debate about the ordination of women, and the elevation of women to the position of bishop, a debate in which both sides have good arguments and ultimately the final choice depends on the interpretation given to certain passages.
I would like to look at the use and misuse of Matthew 7 vv 1 and 2. 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (English Standard Version) and tease out what this passage means. The verb ‘judge’ can mean various things, like condemn, discriminate between better or worse quality, find flaws in some subject matter, or weigh up evidence. English is good to us in this respect: it gives us numerous meaning for some words and we need to ascertain which meaning we ought to use in a particular situation.
The word ‘judgmental’ suggests a condemnatory attitude and is rarely used of someone whose views coincide with our own. Such a person is usually described as being discriminating or having sound judgment.
The judge at the cattle show, or the flower show is looking to find the small differences that make the difference between the specimens being judged, and as such has to have a good knowledge of the subject matter and a keen eye to identify all the imperfections that detract from a truly perfect individual, awarding a different weighting for each imperfection to arrive at a best in show or similar award.
Are Christians not expected to exercise discrimination? On the contrary, I would argue that we are. Indeed there is an argument that by living our lives like the unsaved, we are doing no less than taking God’s name, which we bear in the label Christian, in vain.
The Bible gives us more than adequate instruction about how we should live, somne of it descriptive, some of it presriptive and some of it proscriptive.
It also tells us how we should deal with each other and that dealing with each other includes dealing with sin committed by one Christian against another. If we are not to judge, how then are we able to deterine whether someone has committed a sin against us? Let us not forget that a Christian is not exempt from temptation, and sometimes falls into sin. The difference is that a Christian should not wallow in sin, but, on falling, needs to recognise his or her condition and get out of the sin pretty quickly. Repenting of the sin, and confessing it to God will ensure that we are justified, but that will not necessarily get us in the clear with the civil authorities and we will still have to pay the penalty demanded by those authorities.
When we are on the receiving end of a sin committed by another Christian against us, we need to be sure that we deal with the matter as Scripture requires and not resort to court action straight away. The whole reasoning behind God’s way of resolving our differences is that we be reconciled to each other, but if that is not possible, then the guilty party be treated as if they are an unbeliever and ultimately put out of fellowship. But arriving here is a failure of the process to achieve reconciliation.
Tomorrow is Sunday, a day when many of us will see other believers and workship with them. Let us use it to build up our fellowship by restoring relationships that are breaking or broken and being reconciled one with another.