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Two kinds of judging
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Two kinds of judging

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Have you ever been confused concerning the question of a Christian's right or obligation to judge, or to refrain from judging? Have you ever felt ill at ease when you either heard a believer judging someone or when it was obviously needed, refraining from doing so? I certainly have, and because of personal experience and listening to scores of saints, an article addressing the issue seemed in order.

Two Traps

Too often Christians fall into one of two traps relating to the issue of judging:
  • One is to refrain entirely, giving as a basis Christ's words of ''judge not lest you be judged''.
  • The other is to render a verdict on every person and situation that comes to one's attention.

Clearly both approaches are defective.

However, both judging and not judging are included in the New Testament mandate for believers. Any solution to the problem then, must include both parts in the picture. A solution which does not solve anything is to ''shave the pieces of the puzzle to make them fit''. This approach involves the implicit or explicit denial of one or the other. In fact, many Christians surrender and emphasize one aspect of the paradox to the exclusion of the other; but the result is always some serious defect in their Christian walk. Let's examine the results of both.

    Don't judge anything or anyone

On one hand is the saint who fights under the banner of ''judge not lest you be judged''. This person does quite well at not condemning and not passing verdict on either fellow Christians or on the unredeemed. This aspect is positive. However, when spiritual discernment is required, or an evaluation is demanded, or a stand for or against something is called for, the ''non-judging'' saint is usually unable to come through and take sides lest such a stand judge the opposition.

Such a person is left defenseless and has no ability to rebuff any person, teaching, or practice which might in fact be contradictory to the New Testament. Thus the ''non-judging'' Christian is left in seriously defective position when it comes to the necessity of discriminating between right and wrong.

    Judge everything and everyone

The second type is the Christian who errs in the opposite aspect. This individual is convinced that he or she is called to be judge, prosecuting attorney, jailer and executioner. Such a person totally ignores or explains away the biblical injunctions concerning not judging. This type of Christian specializes in beam and mote extractions (always in someone else's eyes!) and thinks himself competent to perform all manner of spiritual surgery.

Blanket condemnations await those who fail to meet the high standards of his or her assessments. And as if God needed some of His court caseload reduced, this person has already helped Him out by committing to eternal judgment vast multitudes of individuals.

A two-part solution

What then is the solution to the problem? If in fact the matter is a paradox, and not a contradiction, where is the resolve to be found? There are two major parts of the solution.

The first is in understanding the various words used in the Bible to describe judgment, judging, etc. A quick look through a concordance, especially one that cross-references to Greek and Hebrew words, will show that in fact many of these words mean ''appraise,'' ''discern,'' ''evaluate,'' and ''discriminate.''

Many modern translations are helpful because they render these words as such, instead of lumping them all together, as the King James Version does, and using the term ''judge/judgment'' for all of them. If you have a question of this nature, check the word's meaning in a Bible dictionary or other help. This will help to clear up possibly two-thirds of the problems relating to the issue.

The second part of the solution is to correctly understand what kind of judgment Christians are supposed to render. The answer to this is in comparison with the judgments of God.

God judges in the temporal arena, and the eternal. In this life God will judge a person's actions, but always (except when the person has irrevocably rejected Him) holds out the chance for turning back and repenting. Only on the Last Day, at the great white throne judgment will God pronounce eternal judgment on a person, forever determining his or her destinies. From this judgment, there is no appeal or second chance.

The Christian, on the other hand, is never given the right or the responsibility of eternally judging anyone (unless they have clearly rejected Christ permanently). Christians cannot correctly weigh action, motives, opportunities, nor know all things about any individual: God alone is capable to do so.

However, Christians are to make decisions (appraisals, discernments, and even take corrective actions). But even judging in this aspect is intended to be remedial, and leaves the door open to the person for repentance and reconciliation. Any judging on the part of a Christian which does not, is a false aspect of Christian judgment. We are called upon to ''judge righteous judgment'' (John 7:24) and failure to do so is to be negligent in a crucial aspect of our Christian calling.

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