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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, September 27, 2015


Who are We to Judge?


Text: James 4:9-12

Isn’t it interesting how the media handle Christian political candidates in our post-Christian culture? They ask them a question on a hot-button moral issue that requires that they make a judgment. And then they start a firestorm of public criticism. And always, in that firestorm, one of the first things you will hear is, didn’t Jesus say you Christians aren’t supposed to judge?

If there is one verse from the Gospel that people can quote to you these days, it is “Judge not that you be not judged.” You’d think that was the whole Gospel. We live in a culture where tolerance is touted as the highest value. And in support of that value, Christians are told that they are not supposed to judge anybody. When Pope Francis was interviewed on a plane two years ago, he used the expression, “Who am I to judge?” That became the quote heard ‘round the world. The media were speculating excitedly on whether we have a kinder gentler Catholicism taking shape under this Pope, one that is not so critical on moral issues.

Well, I can’t speak for Pope Francis. But I do know that when he made that statement, he was quoting scripture. We just heard it In today’s reading from the Book of James. In verse 12, it asks, “who are you to judge your neighbor?” Let’s take a deeper look at what this means. Can it possibly mean what the post-Christian world wants it to mean—that we Christians are not to express any opinions about what is good or bad, Biblical or un-Biblical, right or wrong? There is no way it can mean that.

Let’s take a look at our reading from James Chapter 4. It is talking about a Christian’s personal interactions. Listen to what it says in verse 11:

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbors? [James 4:11-12]

James starts with a perspective on sin—everybody’s sin, including the sins of Christians. He says that when we break God’s law, what we are doing is sitting in judgment on the law. We are deciding that we have a better way than God. We are judging God’s Law to be inferior to our own law. When you look at it that way, you can see the extreme arrogance of our sin. We move God aside and become the lawgiver.

And when we operate from a position of arrogance, we are in trouble. Suppose I am standing over a person and calling him on his sin. If I am arrogantly going about my own sinful business, I am saying, “Do this because I said so.” It’s the old, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It is the height of arrogance. It is the absence of love. It is the kind of judging the New Testament is telling the Christian not to do.

We find the same thing when we turn to Jesus’ often quoted, “Judge not” discourse in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said,

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. [Matthew 7:1-2]

Jesus is talking about pointing out the sins and faults of others. He is saying, “You are in the same boat as everybody else. You are subject to the same law, and you are a sinner, just as they are. Keep that in mind when you go to tell someone he is a sinner.”

So does Jesus mean we should never judge? Let’s look at what He said next:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your bother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. [Matthew 7:3-5]

We all know this passage of scripture. Jesus was pretty clear: Get your own house in order before you try to clean up someone else’s. He used the word “hypocrite.” He is saying, “Don’t be a hypocrite by criticizing someone else when you are just as much a sinner as they are.”

So is Jesus saying, “Don’t judge at all?” If that were what He is saying, it would mean that –

• You would never tell anyone that the Word of God forbids the kind of life they are living.

• You would never tell anyone that there is a better truth than the false beliefs that they cling to.

• You would never tell anyone that they need to know Jesus if they want to enjoy eternal life.

But that wouldn’t make any sense. This is the same Jesus who told us,

Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:15-16]

To preach the good news is to tell people that Jesus has made a way to save them from their sins. And in order for that to make sense, you have to tell them they are sinners. In today’s world, that is regarded as a judgment.

When Jesus says “do not judge or you will be judged,” he is not saying a Christian should never make a judgment. He is saying that when you tell a person that her behavior is against God’s law, you should tell her that so that she will have the opportunity to repent and be saved. Think of the woman caught in adultery in John’s Gospel. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were ready to stone her. Jesus knew their hearts. He knew they were every bit as guilty as she. Jesus knew they saw their own immoral behavior reflected in her behavior, and they were dying to crush it. Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And one by one, they walked off in shame. Jesus looked at the woman with love and said, “I do not condemn you.” And then He said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) He rescued her from being stoned under the old Law. But He judged her behavior as a sin, and admonished her to change her life.

As I have studied up on this question of judging, I find three takeaway points:

First, we cannot allow those who rebel against God to interpret the Bible for us. You can only grasp the deeper meaning of scripture if you are serious about understanding the faith that Jesus commends. You have to come at God’s Word with a humble heart. If you want to understand the Bible, you can’t be like the person who insists on being told their behavior is perfectly acceptable. Understanding God’s Word requires humility, effort and submission. It requires a willingness to hear what God is saying and surrender to it.

Second, we cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence.

• When the Christians were non-judgmental about Hitler’s Jewish policy, we ended up with the Holocaust.

• When the Christians were non-judgmental about abortion in the 1960’s and 70’s, we ended up with Roe v. Wade.

Satan is at war with God. He is prowling around like a roaring lion devouring souls. He has planted a phony, destructive worldview in billions of hearts and minds. He has spread a culture of death. Somebody has to expose him. We Christians are that someone. When the Bible says, “Who are you to judge?” it does not mean that the people who serve the living God are to remain silent about His Word. His Word is for the whole world, and He has called us to proclaim it.

Third, when the Bible cautions us about our personal interactions with sinners, we must pay close attention. God is giving us advice on how to save souls. Jesus said twice in the Gospel that He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. (John 3:17; John 12:47) He also said He is coming again, and when He does, He will judge the living and the dead. The first time around, He came to save the world. He came to call people to repentance, so that they could receive God’s forgiveness and be redeemed. If Jesus did not condemn, then who are we to condemn?

Can we work with that? Can we be motivated by Jesus’ desire to save people rather than our own desire to condemn them? Can we conceive of our role as His disciples as facilitating and carrying on His work of bringing people to salvation? It will make a big difference in how we approach people with the truth of the Gospel.

If that seems too simple, remember that although we Christians have been redeemed, the vestiges of our sinful ways remain in us. That is why the New Testament is full of admonishment to Christians about our behavior. That is why we hear cautions about judging one another. In several places, the Epistles lay out the deadly sins that destroy church families, things like: discord, jealousy, arrogance, selfish ambition, slander and gossip. (See 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20). If any of those things are in our hearts when we tell someone he is a sinner, then we are running afoul of the true sense of Jesus’ words, “Judge not that you be not judged.”

For who are we to judge? Just to take one example, we Anglicans have a lot to say about abortion. We at Light of Christ have gotten more vocal on the issue in the last couple of years. Do we hope to make a difference? What difference? Do we hope to turn the Supreme Court around? Do we hope to shut down abortion clinics? Or do we hope to turn the hearts of people away from taking a step that will have devastating consequences?

When people hear us, do they hear the love that underlies our message of the sanctity of life? Or do they hear condemnation? The reason many people don’t want to come to a conference about abortion is that they have had one themselves; or they have insisted that their wife or girlfriend have one. And they don’t want to be condemned by our words. Do we offer them acceptance and healing? Can they feel God’s forgiveness in our midst? Can they find a family here that will love them?

Who are we to judge? The answer is, we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, healing and love.

The question I would pose for us this morning is:

• Who are we to offer God’s salvation?

• Who are we to offer God’s truth?

• Who are we to offer God’s better life?

• Who are we to offer healing?

• Who are we to offer God’s love?

We are sinners who have accepted God’s forgiveness, healing and love. That’s who we are. And Jesus has called us to love one another as He loves us. When we love like that, we are not judging people. We are offering them the bread of life.

Now, you know as well as I do that we cannot control how people receive that love. There are many who will accept nothing less than total approval of their behavior, beliefs and way of life. And as far as they are concerned, anyone who doesn’t give them that is not loving but judging. We cannot help that. But what we can do is to be motivated always by wanting them to receive God’s good gifts. And by the way we conduct ourselves,

• by the care with which we handle people,

• and the compassion we show,

• and the way we listen

• and the way we speak,

we can express the love of Jesus. For the love of Jesus and the gift of salvation is what we know best. That is our most precious possession. That is what we have to give away.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar.

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