1 CORINTHAINS 4:1-7
So recently I was driving back from Fort Wayne and decided to stop by Chick Fil A. I was in a bit of a rush so I got my Chicken Nuggets and extra Chicken Sandwich to go (40 miles is a long way to drive to get some Chick Fil A) and I hurried back to my car. I got out my chicken nuggets so I could eat them on my drive back and I discovered that the cashier had forgotten to give me Buffalo Sauce for my chicken nuggets. I may be a minister of the Gospel but I got to admit I was more than a little upset. For those of you who don’t frequent Chick Fil A as much as I do it is simply not right to eat nuggets without Buffalo sauce. But I was in a rush and it was cold outside. So I shook my proverbial fist at that neglectful employee and ate my chicken nuggets without Buffalo Sauce. When I got back home I put my hand in my coat pocket and guess what I found?
Yeah I felt more than a little stupid.
“Judge not, else you be not judged.”
I hear you Jesus. But it is hard. Especially when I am hungry for some Chick Fil A. We use this saying of Jesus all the time to basically say, “get out of my life, mind your own business, don’t judge me.” And indeed, the sin of judgment and legalism is a stain on the church dividing our fellowship and corrupting our witness. But in the next verse Jesus will tell us not to throw our perils before swine and in a few verses he will tell us to beware of false prophets. And in Matthew 18 Jesus gives us guidance of church discipline which does seem to involve some manner of judgment. And Jesus himself will pronounce judgment on several towns in the book of Matthew. So it seems in one part of the Gospel Jesus is telling us not to judge and in another part of the Gospel he is telling us to judge. So which is it? Well I think we can find the solution in what Jesus says in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances but judge by right judgment.” As God’s people we are called to care about the truth but we are also called to speak the truth in love ( Ephesians 4:19). We are called to love but we are also called to discern what is true. This can be a tough balance to strike but I think Jesus shows us how to do it here in Matthew and Paul also has some words of advice for us in 1 Corinthians. So today I want us to understand two things. 1. What is the sin of judgment/legalism. 2. How are we to make a right judgment.
First, what is the sin of judgment/legalism? Well from Matthew we see that “do not judge” could also be translated as “do not make a continual habit out of judging.” What is forbidden here is not all judgment whatsoever but having a quick and condemning attitude towards others. This teaching points out the almost universal human condition of being far harder on judging others than we are at judging ourselves. Jesus uses the analogy of a speck in your neighbor’s eye and a log in your own. The term for log here was used to describe wooden beams that people would use to build roofs. So you can just imagine someone with a two by four in their eye trying to get a speck of sand out of their neighbor’s eye. They will probably knock their neighbor unconscious in the process. This is not to say that our neighbor doesn’t have problems or isn’t doing something wrong. But it is to say that it is hard to deal with someone else’s problems when you haven’t dealt with your own.
Jesus also tells us that the “measure with which we judge we shall be judged.” This could mean two things. If you judge people harshly then they will tend to judge you harshly. It could also mean that if you judge people harshly God will judge you harshly. Some might think this contradicts the teaching that we are saved by Grace and not by our works but this is not so. Instead, how we treat others is a sign that we have received the Grace of God within ourselves. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” And as 1 John 4:20 tells us, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” In other words, grace isn’t an excuse for being a jerk.
Paul elaborates on Christ’s teachings in 1 Corinthians giving us more details on when it is not appropriate to make a negative judgment. As Dave Swavely points out in his book, Who Are You To Judge? , the first reason we are to be slow to judge is we don’t have the full picture. There are things shrouded in darkness as Paul puts it. These things will be revealed Paul tells us, when Jesus returns. Jesus is not just our Savor he is our Judge. The judge of the whole world. And he knows the truth. And because we trust in Jesus’ judgment, because we trust in the ultimate justice of God, we can be slow to judge others. Second, Paul tells us that we cannot know the purposes of the hearts of others. So much pain and misunderstanding is caused when we assume the motivations of others are malicious or evil that Paul warns against us assuming so. Perhaps someone’s intentions towards us are malicious but assuming that from the beginning is the first step down the long and dark road of paranoia. Finally, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to “not go beyond what is written.” In other words don’t add your own words to what the Bible says is wrong and don’t try to make the scriptures say more than they actually do. As Swavely argues when we evaluate people based on nonbiblical standards and suspected motives we are falling into the sin of legalism and judgment (Swavely, pg 8). For example, even though many Christian traditions have seen drinking alcohol as sinful and have pointed out the dangers of alcoholism and drunkenness, the Bible does not say do not drink alcohol. It only warns against getting drunk. So as much as we may like to totally eliminate the problems related with alcohol the scriptures do not give us the warrant to do so.
Indeed, Swavely argues that one of the main points of Jesus’ ministry was to fight the sin of legalism. The Pharisees, the hypocrites, Jesus accuses in today’s passage where known for being zealous for God’s Law. While God gives us general principles to obey his Will, the Pharisees developed rules, what Dr. Robert Coleman calls “fences” so that people could get no where close to violating God’s Word. To quote Coleman, “ if God said we could not work on the Sabbath, then don’t even pick grain to eat, just play it safe. Don’t even heal people because that might be a borderline case.” (Swavely, 94). Now we all need rules and guidelines to protect us. But the thing about legalism is it fences people in, it quenches the Spirit, it makes us afraid to live, it make us afraid to enjoy life. As Swavely notes, the sin of judgment is devastating to the church and to the saints of God. The sin of judging builds barriers and divisions between people. It causes us to sin because when we feel judged so often we do not turn the other cheek but we lash out in sinful ways. And the thing about judging is it starts in the heart. And from this sin flows so many other awful things.
So we have gone over sinful judgment. What does right judgment look like? For that is the type of Judgment that Jesus calls us to. Well Jesus and Paul teach us to make a right judgment we must first examine ourselves. We should practice what Swavely calls a “Holy hesitation” Swavely, provides some “cross examining questions” to consider when we are thinking about making a negative judgment of someone. 1. “is this opinion based firmly on scripture, or my ideas and preferences ” (pg, 32). 2 “Does the formation of this opinion include any judgment about the person’s thoughts or motives? (pg 37) 3. “Am I missing any facts necessary for an accurate evaluation?”( pg 41) 4. “ How would I want this person to think of me if roles were reversed?” (pg 43) 5. “ How can I show the grace of the cross to this person?” (pg 45) The last question is especially necessary. For when we truly understand that while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6), we shall understand the costly treasure that is Grace, and the weight of that grace should crush our pride and humble us so that we can give grace away to others. Whether we are to correct another or hold our tongue that is up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But in either case the key is grace and love.
When I think about someone in my life that I misjudged I often think about Lee. I have referenced Lee in a sermon before. She was the homeless woman I worked during my internship at Forest Hill. Lee was overweight, mentally unstable, with a nasty temper, and smelly to boot. She joined our church, I thought at the time just to get money out of us, like many people do who come knocking on the church’s doors. And indeed through many trial and tribulations, through many ups and downs, the church probably spent several thousand dollars on her. My last day on the job we finally managed to move Lee back into an apartment. Really that’s about all I hoped for her to get a roof over her head. But perhaps a year after I had finished my work at Forest Hill I returned to get some things at the church and I checked in with Charlotte our secretary. She told me something that I could have never imagined, and I have a pretty active imagination. She told me that Lee’s mother had died and left Lee an inheritance. And with that inheritance she had paid off almost every penny the church had spent on her. This news brought me to tears. I had misjudged Lee. I had committed the sin of judgment. Who in your life have you misjudged? Where do you need to speak the truth in love or hold your tongue. It is time for us to judge not else we be judged. It is time for us to stop judging by appearances and make a right judgment ( John 7:24)
In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit Amen.