Tag Archives: sin

The Christian Art of Judging Others

 

Jesus said, “Judge not.” That’s about as much of the Bible as many non-Christians can quote. It has proved useful, considering the number of Christians that use it, or are cowed by fear of being condemned by it.

As always, the context makes it a bit clearer:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

That last sentence seems to conflict with the idea of the “not judging” as an absolute rule. Looking elsewhere in the scriptures:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Pretty harsh, considering that the Jewish people were prohibited from entering the home of, or inviting in, Gentiles and tax collectors.

“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life.” Ezekiel 3:18-21

The wages of sin is death, but if you do not warn the wicked then you could pay that wage. Ouch.

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Timothy 5:20

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:1-4

And there are of course more on this topic. But the point of the sampling here is that if you take the first two or three words from Matthew 7:1 in isolation, it is a pretty gross misunderstanding of the point.

We are called to be perfect like our Heavenly Father, and he who is loved by God is corrected by God (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). So it is an act of love and charity to correct when we see someone doing something wrong. Is it wrong to tell a child not to play in the street, where they are in danger, or to try to talk a friend out of suicide? How much worse is it to keep silent when they do something that will kill their soul?

The Scriptures paint a pretty clear picture that we are not to “judge not,” but to in fact, under penalty of sin, admonish, rebuke, and counsel someone who we know is committing a sin.

There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to give counsel, admonition, or to correct someone. Surprisingly, one of the most detailed and helpful passages I have ever read on this topic comes from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai:

“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leavetaking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

“This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”

This passage has a certain factor of surprise in that the pagan samurai warriors had such a careful and compassionate way of describing the correction of faults, especially when there are those among us Christians who rely on shame to correct not only strangers, but their family, their friends, and even their children.

There are several things we need to be mindful of when we are charged with the task of correcting someone else:

Judge the act, not the person. There are no good people; we have all sinned. If someone is doing something obviously and publicly wrong, address the thing they are doing wrong.

Watch out for being verbs. Remember these from grammar lessons? “Am” “is” “are”? If your statement has one of those as the main verb, it’s a sign you are making this about the person, not the action. “He is a thief,” is passing a judgement on the person; “He stole that watch,” or, “He is stealing by pirating movies,” is describing the action.

Give counsel privately. Matthew 18:15-17 describes the process of escalating an issue, but insisting that counsel is private. No where does it list public condemnation. Correct others’ faults’ as you want them to correct your faults. After all, that seems to be the point of Matthew 7:1-2.

Do not assume. So often people are accused of sins they did not commit, or the thought processes they employed, the alternatives they rejected, or their intentions. Stick to correcting the act itself, if it is in fact wrong. Ask questions of the person if you are concerned about what might be going on, and offer to help remedy any injustice they might be suffering. And absolutely do not go discussing your assumptions with others who have no need to know.

Give advice, not shame. The samurai’s advice made this point repeatedly – the goal is not to make the person ashamed, it is to remind them (or inform them) that what they are doing is wrong. Doing it in public, telling them how they should feel about their actions, and getting emotional about the issue are all ways of inflicting shame. State the problem, and give them a reason to hope they can correct it.

Remember, it is not about you. If the person you are correcting is doing you harm and persisting, it is time to set some hard boundaries. Treat them as the Jews treated a Gentile, or shake the dust from your sandal and walk away. As God told Samuel, they are rejecting Him, not you (1 Samuel 8:7).  In fact, using your own faults if you have a similar struggle, is a humble and encouraging way to suggest a change is needed.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, and Charity

A graphic recently came up on facebook with a quote from Christian comedian Mark Lowry.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!”
– Mark Lowry

Since it’s hard to trust the truth of these things, I double checked and the quote is on Mark’s site. 

It’s certainly a nice, tolerant sentiment. But as I commented when I saw it on Facebook, it’s not a biblical or charitable sentiment.

(For the record, the only attribution I can find on “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” is Mahatma Gandhi. So no, the quote isn’t found in the Bible.)

The war for our souls is indeed personal. The eternal revolution for the Kingdom of God is within each and every one of us. But at the same time, just as we should look to our own battle, we should not neglect our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.

The quote is “hate THE sin.” Mr. Lowry’s error appears to be assigning ownership of the sin. “Your sin,” “my sin.” Sin is an act of will that cuts us off from God. To jump to an extreme, if one person murders someone, murder is the sin. It doesn’t become “his sin.” It’s an act he committed. His act, but still the sin of murder. The expression “There’s so many of you” belies this sentiment; there are many of us, but comparatively very few sins.

I don’t believe Jesus spoke idly. When He he rendered judgement in the case of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), He dismissed her persecutors but still admonished her, “Go and sin no more.”

Jesus cleansed the temple, condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, told his followers to judge by the fruits, and gave them counsel on how to address sins of others (Matthew 18:15+) . The whole parable of the good Samarian was a clarification of who your neighbor was (answer: even your worldly enemies) – a question raised by the second great commandment to “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”

So if you hate the sin that you commit, don’t neglect to loathe it because it is destroying the eternal life of someone else.

And that’s just from that nice fellow Jesus in the New Testament.

When we go back to the Old Testement, God clearly instructs the prophets that they will be accountable for not guiding others. (Ezekiel 3:18, for instance).

It is certainly not charitable to tell people that God hates them (which is a lie, Jesus died for everyone, a sacrifice of love). But it is also uncharitable to tell them that you don’t detest “their sin,” simply because it affects their soul and not yours.

So love your neighbor as yourself, for God loves them as well as you. That includes not only the LGBT community, but the serial killers, the rapists, the murderers, the thieves, the prostitutes, the politicians, the child molesters, the pornographers, the dictators, the socialists, the capitalists, and even other Christians.

Who ever said charity was easy or nice? No one in the Bible, that’s for certain. Neither did those ancient warriors, the samurai.

In the Hagakure (quoted in The Way of the Christian Samurai) it is written:

“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leavetaking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades , correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”

Now if a pagan warrior can show this much compassion and charity but still counsel his brother about “his” sin, how can you as a Christian do any less? Certainly not by condemning and damming a person, but neither by dismissing someone else’s sin as their own problem and reserving all judgement.

Hey, it’s not called the narrow way for nothing.

 UPDATE: An online friend pointed out Augustine’s The City of God (Book 14, chapter 6):

“Wherefore the man who lives according to God, and not according to man, ought to be a lover of good, and therefore a hater of evil. And since no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice, he who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice, nor love the vice because of the man, but hate the vice and love the man. For the vice being cursed, all that ought to be loved, and nothing that ought to be hated, will remain.”

This post originally appeared in an earlier incarnation of the Eternal Revolution blog.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.