The favorite Bible phrase of atheists and unbelievers is “judge not.” They like to use it to harshly judge Christians who point out that certain activities popular in our current culture are sinful. We are not to judge these actions as wrong. They, however, are free to judge us. We are hateful and unaccepting, and to them are therefore among the worst of people. They hate Christians who uphold Biblical values and certainly do not accept them as valuable societal citizens. Remember when Governor Cuomo told pro-lifers that there was no room in his state for them?
It is a great burden to know which people to judge as unacceptable. But to remain culturally relevant one must have the right enemies. They cannot be in good standing with those on “the right side of history” and also have an accepting attitude toward the people who are still stuck in centuries-old ideas. So the burden is great to be vigilant about who to condemn.
In a way it is a bit humorous to see this play out. But there is something about it that strikes a vaguely familiar chord in the heart of observant Christians. There is a burden of judgment that we, too, may carry, and sometimes that is too great of a load to bear.
When we see people who claim to be Christians yet engage in activities that we believe are wrong, what do we do? Some things can be by-passed. Others are not as easily overlooked. What kinds of things do we finally say are too great a compromise to accept and over which we cut off fellowship? This is sometimes considered to be a problem with conservatives. But that is not only their problem.
My friend Doug Robinson recently related that some of his acquaintances want him to drink to prove he is not legalistic. He refuses on the grounds that he will not be put in the straight-jacket of doing something to prove his freedom in Christ. He will not bow to the legalism of modern day “liberty.” Imagine the burden of judgment, though, that these are under who so minutely examine the lives of others to see if they measure up to their liberalism. It must be weighty.
Some of the burdens of judgment we bear really are difficult. How can I fellowship with a professing Christian who has lifestyle different than mine? Am I compromising by accepting him? If I have a good relationship with him does that mean that I condone what he is doing? Should I confront him with what I think is wrong?
These are not small questions. However, we are not left in the dark if we consult the scriptures. The Lord Jesus told us to use judgment. “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Here Jesus gives us more information than is in the popular phrase taken from the Sermon on the Mount that says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). Jesus did not contradict Himself. We are to make choices. But decisions are not to be based on our observation but rather are to be righteous judgments. We cannot invent our own standards. That is too heavy a burden to bear. Our standard for making these kinds of choices is the Bible itself.
The Bible makes it clear that there are some who profess Christ with whom we are not to fellowship. The inspired pen of the great Apostle Paul wrote, “I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner” (1 Cor. 5:11). Elsewhere he urged separation from those who bring a false doctrine about Christ, those who are idlers, and those who are divisive. The critical point of the scripture is that these are professing to be brothers in the fellowship of Christ. It does not urge us to separation from non-Christians. What it does is show very clearly that those who do these things while claiming to be Christians are not in the fellowship of believers. The desired result is twofold: it puts pressure on the erring one to repent and reform his ways, and it is a witness to the world that being a Christian and engaging in these actions are mutually exclusive.
The burden of judgment is somewhat alleviated by these Biblical guidelines. If these errors are not involved, then we are not instructed to make a judgment to separate. Yet we often feel pressure to make judgments about people regarding other things. Why do we take on this burden? Perhaps we put unnecessary weight on ourselves.
Some of us are very hard on ourselves because we tend to use a stringent set of internal rules. We judge ourselves. We may use strict criterion, some which relate to how we feel about those who do not measure up to our ideals. If I don’t judge them then something is wrong with me. Paul recognized this internal trap. Inspired by God, he gave an answer that should benefit us who are very strict on ourselves. “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self” (1 Cor. 4:3). In not passing judgment on himself Paul was free from the negativity of what others said about him. That takes away a huge burden. He was willing, by faith, to trust his reputation to God. The burden of judgment is just too heavy for us to bear. We can leave that to God. “For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4).
As a young man I was invited to speak in Santa Cruz, CA, at the chapel portion of a soup kitchen outreach to transients. An unkempt youth with long hair arrived claiming to be born again. I made an immediate judgment that the fellow was a bad addition to our company. While I held back from him, he spoke to the older Christian man who was in charge. I was increasingly convicted as I watched this conservative Christian gently and openheartedly welcome the youth and listen to his profession of faith with respect. I felt small and petty. I was convicted because my judgment was too great a burden for me to bear.
Jesus did not come to condemn the world, “but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17b). We will lighten our burdens if we show others what God says about sin and condemnation and turn our attention to giving the gospel answer to sins that are so prevalent today. After all, the sinner “is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18b).
None of this, though, will enhance our reputation with those who reject our Lord. They will continue to judge us. No big deal. We appeal to God.