Currently our church leaders are in the process of seeking to bring about reconciliation between certain church entities and voted church policy. This is a work we all ought to assist through our prayers and vocal support.
But let me pose this question: What would you, as an individual, do if you thought a fellow Christian were straying from safe paths? Matthew chapter 18 is a good reference, but the Bible presents some other factors to consider as well.
Sometimes when someone’s wrong is pointed out, they quickly deploy a certain Bible verse as a shield against the perceived attack. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” This is a verse some use to say that no one has the right to tell them they are wrong. However, we must keep in mind that Jesus would later say through Paul “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness…” (King James Version, Galatians 6:1). So, while we are forbidden from judging, we are also instructed to restore.
What, then, does it mean to judge—or not to judge? We can gain insight about what Christ’s usage of the word means by studying other occasions when He used it. In Matthew 7:1, the Greek word used for judge is “krínō”. We find two more instances of Jesus using it in the book of John:
And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge (krínō) him not: for I came not to judge (krínō) the world, but to save the world (John 12:47).
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn (krínō) the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).
Just looking at the construction of the two verses from John, we see that Christ uses the word krínō as the opposite of the word “save”. By saying He came not to judge but to save, and that He was sent not to condemn but to save, indicates that in some sense judgment is the opposite of salvation. This offers at least some insight into what it means to judge someone in the way Jesus forbade us to. It means to “not-save” them. It means to treat them in a way that hinders, opposes, or neglects their salvation. It would even mean to behave in a way that does not seek to restore them.
What does a right or proper effort to restore look like? How is it different from judging? The difference between judging and restoring lies in the motive, spirit, and method. The motive for which the wrongful act is pointed out, and the spirit and method in which it is addressed, determines if the corrective measure is classed as judging or restoring. Let’s spend some time looking at each of these.
First, let’s look at the motive. Jesus continued His instruction in Matthew 7:1 by saying:
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? …Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye” (Matthew 7:3,5).
Christ came to save (restore) man because He has a genuine hatred for sin and its effects, while maintaining a genuine love for the sinner. Thus if we, being followers of Christ, are seeking to restore a brother, we ought to have a similar motive. If then we have a genuine hatred for sin and are seeking to restore our brother from it, that same hatred for the sin in him should cause us to hate the sin in us. How can one go to a brother claiming to hate the sin present in him and desiring to help remove it, when he has cherished sin in his own life?
The mere fact that the supposed helper has such sin dwelling in his life indicates that some other motive controls him—a motive other than hatred of sin. It may simply be a love of instructing others, or the enjoyment of pointing out others’ wrongs, or maybe the spiritual pride that grows each time a brother or sister is made to see their error. It is this cherished sin —of faultfinding merely for the sake of faultfinding rather than sincerely trying to restore— that constitutes judging. It is this sin that Jesus says is as a beam (of wood) compared to the speck (twig or straw) of our brother’s sin.
All must ask, when they rebuke and point out sin: Am I judging, or seeking to restore? In order to find out, we need to ask these questions: Is my motive right? Is it really sin that I hate? If so, I will put away whatever error is being cherished in my own life before I make efforts to restore my brother.
This subject of judging is clearly and powerfully explained in chapter 6 of the book Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, titled “Not Judging, but Doing.” Reading the whole chapter is highly encouraged, but perhaps the most important passage in this chapter relative to the questing of judging is cited below:
Jesus said, "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
His words describe one who is swift to discern a defect in others. When he thinks he has detected a flaw in the character or the life he is exceedingly zealous in trying to point it out; but Jesus declares that the very trait of character developed in doing this un-Christlike work, is, in comparison with the fault criticized, as a beam in proportion to a mote… According to the figure that our Saviour uses, he who indulges a censorious spirit is guilty of greater sin than is the one he accuses, for he not only commits the same sin, but adds to it conceit and censoriousness (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 125).
A future article will expound on the other two points (spirit and method). For now, we have uncovered practical insight on how to begin restoring those who stray —get yourself right with God before you try to instruct others, and do so out of love for the person rather than a mere zeal for fault finding.