How not to judge. Lot’s of good Luther stuff in this one.
We make judgments all the time. Whether to get whole milk or skim, whether to eat an apple or a banana, what car to drive, what type of gas to put in it. Life is full of little decisions, little judgments. There is a right way to judge, and a right way to use the brains given by God. What brand of toothpaste do you prefer? What color should you paint your house? What should you feed the family for dinner? The list goes on and on.
Judging, in and of itself, is not bad. The problem Jesus talks about here is judging others. Not simply making a decision, but passing judgment on their actions, their motives, their behavior. That you are not to do.
There is a time to judge. God gives offices to the world, and those offices judge things. Parents must evaluate and respond to the actions of their children – if they are behaving well, they should be rewarded. If they are behaving badly, they should be disciplined. Judgments are made by parents and they are pleasing to God. Peace officers decide whether or not to arrest a person, district attorneys decide whether or not to charge them with crimes, judges and juries decide guilt or innocence, and set sentences. Sometimes a person is even sentenced to death for their crimes. Those are all judgments about a person, and about their actions. But those who are judging are doing so from their God-given office. Even a juror for a trial is serving in office – that’s why jurors are sworn in. And making judgments from that office is not only allowed, but required.
However, as Luther notes in the 8th commandment, there is a world of difference between judging as part of your God-given office and making private judgments. Seeing the actions of another, even if they are sinful actions, and then making a personal judgment and declaring that judgment all over town. In other words, gossip. That, no one is allowed to do.
Luther says it best, so let’s just listen to him for a moment.
Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his. But if you know it, do nothing else than turn your ears into a grave and cover it, until you are appointed to be judge and to punish by virtue of your office.
But you say: Shall I not say it if it be the truth? Answer: Why do you not make accusation to regular judges? Ah, I cannot prove it publicly, and hence I might be silenced and turned away in a harsh manner. “Ah, indeed, do you smell the roast?” If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to make answer, then hold your tongue.
All of this applies to private judgments – that is you personally. But public judgments must be made. The government must punish criminals. And so also the church must speak God’s Word. Now, this is often misunderstood. Who are we to say anything against sinners? Aren’t we also sinners? Well, on our own we are people with no right to do that. But the church is given by God not only the authority, but the duty to speak God’s word. Judgments must be made. When Paul and Silas go toBerea, and preach that Jesus was the Christ, we are told, that the Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The people of God have a duty to hear the word preached and to examine it, to see if it is so. Don’t just assume everything from the preacher is correct because he has a fancy gown or preaches from a pulpit. Go, look at what the Scriptures say. Is what the preacher says the same as what God reveals in His Holy Word? If so, then by all means believe and cling to that word of forgiveness spoken to you. But if not, then, if he is your pastor, speak to him, gently correct him. Point out to him what God’s word says. And then watch to make sure that he changes his preaching and corrects himself. If he doesn’t then move ahead to make sure that God’s Church is not taught false doctrine. And yes, sometimes that means that shepherds are not really shepherds, but are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who have come not to care for the flock, but destroy it. As this congregation knows all too well, sometimes the people must judge their pastor and remove him from office. But they do not do it according to their own private opinions or judgments, they do it according to what is in the Word of God, and they do it according to their office as the baptized people of God – as the church.
Also, the church has a responsibility to note where the world is sinning. And yet,. the church does not condemn the world. Paul talks about this very thing in 1 Corinthians. He says:
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.
The church certainly speaks God’s word of Law, and that law judges sin. And there are many who will say, “What intolerant people you are, speaking against people like that.” But the church doesn’t speak against people, and the church does not preach about the sins of those outside the church. We as the people of God know that the world will not listen to our preaching. We know that the church will be ignored. Yes we speak God’s law to those in the church, and we judge the actions of those in the church. And if someone persists in their sin, if they will not listen to God’s word, they are removed. But we have no thought that the world will change it’s ways because the church has called sin a sin. We pray that those outside the church would see their sin and repent. But we are not called to judge or condemn them now. We are called to bring to them the good news of forgiveness. For that is what you have been given. Jesus death on your behalf has brought you pardon for your sins. Sometimes we say forgiveness, sometimes we say pardon. It basically means the same thing. When the criminal has been convicted, and put on death row, and every appeal has been exhausted, there is only one hope – a pardon from the governor. Not because it is deserved, but because it is merciful. That is what every member of the church is given through Baptism. You are pardoned for your sins – forgiven. You are made God’s child, instead of his enemy. You are given life instead of death. You are no longer live under judgment.
That’s why you don’t judge. Because in Christ you are already forgiven, you are already pardoned for your offenses. You know that you have received mercy that was not deserved. You have been forgiven for sins that merited death itself. The sins others commit against you are not worthy of notice compared to all you have been forgiven.
That is why we pray, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Because, having been forgiven, we can now forgive others. You live, forgiven and forgiving. Not holding others to account, because you know that Christ has not held you to account. You have been given the freedom of new life in Christ. Christ has prayed to his father for you, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, and now, you pray that for those who sin against you. Not counting their sins against them, but forgiving.
And that forgiveness is the proof that you have been forgiven. Again, Luther speaks so well to this:
This sign is therefore attached to this petition, that, when we pray, we remember the promise and reflect thus: Dear Father, for this reason I come and pray you to forgive me, not that I can make satisfaction, or can merit anything by my works, but because you have promised and attached the seal to it, that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by You. For as much as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, appointed as external signs, do what you say, so much also forgiving others is a sign to confirm our consciences and cause them to rejoice. And it is especially given for this purpose, that we might use and practise it every hour, as a thing that we have with us at all times.
Thanks be to God. Amen.