I attended a meeting last night where the proposals of the Methodist church in the UK to introduce same sex marriage were discussed, with a view to whether it was something that the church I attend could accept. The discussions were lively and varied, but the point that I keep hearing as I attend these meetings around the country cropped up once again. A member of the small group I was in quoted Matthew 7 which says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
I am surprised at the number of Christians who misinterpret this verse and use it as an excuse not to challenge any ungodly behaviour. When Jesus said this, he wasn't telling us that we can't assess someone else's choices and recognise when they are wrong in God's eyes. Let's be honest, Jesus himself evaluated the behaviour of other people and recognised when they were unrighteous and contrary to God’s will, we just have to look at the example in Matthew 21 where Jesus overturned the tables in the temple.
However, it’s important to look at the following verse in Matthew 7 to try and get a better grasp of what Jesus meant. It goes on to say, “for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
To me, this indicates that Jesus is not telling us that we can never point out sinful behaviour to others, but he is encouraging us to have compassion and to be humble in every situation where others are struggling with sin, to treat other people in the way we would want God to treat us. God is not saying to us that we can judge the weakness of the one who sins. The truth is that we all struggle with temptation, isn't that why the Lord’s prayer includes the line “save us from the time of trial?” God is not saying that you are better than them, God is not saying that they are not welcome in church and God is certainly not saying that they are a worse sinner than you are. But let’s be clear, what God’s word does tell us is what sin is and that we should flee from sin in all circumstances.
I interpret Jesus’s words as an encouragement to us all to act in a godly manner towards those who are struggling with sin (which will be all of us at one point or another in our lives). I consider now how God judged me when I first walked into a church, he looked on me with mercy and compassion, with love and with a recognition of the potential that lay dormant inside me. Yes, of course he saw my sin, of course he knew that my sexuality was an idol and that I was living in sexual sin, but that didn't stop him loving me and it wasn't the first thing he pointed out to me on my journey to salvation. He wanted a relationship with me first, and he knew that by building that relationship with me I would recognise myself that he should take precedence in my life above all earthly things and desires.
By the same measure, we should not judge people as they walk into our churches; there are too many heart-breaking stories of members of the LGBTQ+ community being told they are not welcome in church or being subjected to abuse or homophobia; we must be careful that we don't end up being judged by the same crushing standards we might apply to others. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk about sin. As God's holy people we should stand for righteousness, we should be godly and that means we can “judge” with humility, recognising that without the grace of God we too could be in a situation where we are apart from God. And by “judge” I mean that we recognise behaviour that is contrary to God's word. We can then speak lovingly and compassionately and support that person to both recognise what God's word says about their actions and then to help them overcome the temptations that have led them into that sinful behaviour.
Arrogance sets us apart as we lord it over the other person with a holier than thou type attitude. That is the type of judgment we must repent of and avoid. Humility sets us apart as we recognise that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
How do act humbly? I would suggest very prayerfully, in line with biblical teaching and with love and compassion, recognising that God will use that same measure with us. We should not be fearful of speaking God's truth, Jesus himself said, “go and sin no more”, arguably the most loving words In the Bible, words that I'm so grateful he used in my life. But there is a biblical precedence for gently correcting and guiding God's people, I encourage you to study these verses and prayerfully consider how you judge others and ask God if there is any attitude or mindset that you need to change when it comes to how you judge others.
Some useful Bible verses:
· Colossians 1:28
· 2 Timothy 4:1-4
· Hebrews 13:17
· James 5:19-20
· 1 Peter 5:2-3
· Revelation 3:19