(Last week I posted on Facebook I was wrapping up preparation on my message/sermon “The Habit of Judging” for Sunday. Several asked about it being recorded on video, which it wasn’t. Here is an edited version of my notes in a post much longer than usual.)
We are going to talk this morning about a habit that is universally recognized as wrong, but is nevertheless widely practiced. It’s a habit that most people have when they first become Christians. And what is especially concerning to me is that for too many it’s a habit that becomes even worse after they become followers of Jesus.
This habit that we’re going to consider this morning is a sin. And like all sin it is serious and destructive. It’s a sin that needs to be named and eliminated from our lives. Let’s think together about “The Habit of Judging.”
Text – I Corinthians 4:1-5
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Let’s set the stage by reviewing the circumstances of this passage.
These verses are part of a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church he had established in the city of Corinth. He had been gone for some time, but had heard from members about divisions in the church.
Earlier in I Corinthians 1:11 and 12 he had written, My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
People in the church were rallying around different leaders–apparently mostly Paul and Apollos–as the better preacher or leader. From what Paul writes it looks like they were not just rallying around one leader, but at the same time criticizing and judging the one or ones they did not rally around. And Paul is telling them that is not how it works.
The first two verses of chapter four give Paul’s take on Apollos and himself. The NLT renders Paul’s words “So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ.” It’s as though he was saying he and Apollos weren’t really that important; they weren’t the big wigs some thought they were; they were merely servants—servants of Christ. The church in general, specific congregations, and individual Christians always make a mistake when they make celebrities out of this or that church leader and follow him or her.
Paul wanted his readers to know he and Apollos were stewards. A steward is someone who is put in charge and assigned to oversee and manage what belongs to someone else. Paul, Apollos, and other church leaders are entrusted with the message of God they preach about Jesus. They are not to be concerned about their own interests, but giving themselves to their master’s interest. And note the primary qualification of a steward—faithfulness. The criterion the Lord is looking for from His leaders, and all of His people, is not popularity or success, but faithfulness.
I am struck by what Paul tells his readers in I Corinthians 4:3, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court.” I don’t know about you, but in all honesty I have to tell you that too often I do care how I am judged by others.
I read an article this past week for pastors entitled Four things you wish people knew about you. One of those things is “Pastors tend to want to please people, especially people in their church.” I confess I am among those as most pastors are. Every week after I preach, and I’ll probably do it on the way home today, I ask Jan, “How was my preaching today?” How about you? Do you care if others judge you? I think most of us do. But not Paul; what mattered to Paul was what the Lord thought. I wish I was more like Paul. Of course I care what the Lord thinks; I just wish I cared less about what people think. But like Paul, you and I are not ultimately responsible to any human being or group of human beings, but to God Himself.
With those circumstances before us, let’s next look at Paul’s instruction in verse 5: “Judge nothing before the appointed time.”
The fact that they were judging him prompted the Apostle to tell them not to judge. The Contemporary English Versions translates, “So don’t judge anyone.” It reminds me of one of Jesus’ best known teachings in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1 and 2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” What do Jesus and Paul mean when they tell us not to judge?
I think it would be appropriate first to mention a couple of things the Bible is not forbidding. For one thing, the instruction not to judge has nothing to do with the legal system and courts of law. Years ago I was summoned for jury duty and when the prosecutor learned I was a pastor, asked me if Jesus’ teaching “Do not judge” would prevent me from finding the accused guilty. I said no because that is not what Jesus meant. Nor in this teaching are Jesus and Paul suggesting we suspend our capacity to discern right and wrong—good and evil. For the most part we know the difference between right and wrong and that is not judging.
What Jesus forbids and what Paul forbid is a negative and critical spirit that results in the condemnation of others. It’s an attitude of always critically and harshly assessing other people’s motives and actions. It’s the practice of constant faultfinding. Max Lucado writes, “The key word here is judges. It’s one thing to have an opinion. It’s quite another to pass a verdict. It’s one thing to have a conviction; it’s another to convict the person. It’s one thing to be repulsed by the acts. It’s another entirely to claim I am superior or that another is beyond the grace of God.” There is no place for a judgmental outlook in the life of a Christian.
Finally, let’s wrap up our study by considering why both Jesus and Paul give us the instruction not to judge others.
The Bible teaches that we are not to judge others because Jesus will do the judging. Remember what Paul wrote at the end of verse 5, “Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” In verse three Paul has indicated he didn’t even judge himself. He knew he was not perfect, but he was willing to wait and let the Lord judge him.
We are not to judge others because when we judge we are not impartial. The reality is that we often judge others simply because they are not like us. As a rule we are generally comfortable with what is familiar, and uncomfortable with what is unfamiliar. So out of our discomfort we have a tendency to judge the unfamiliar. Just because someone doesn’t agree with us, or just because someone doesn’t like something we like, is no reason to judge them. And that is especially true with fellow believers in the body of Christ.
One of my favorite challenges for us as Christians is in Romans 12:16 where the Apostle Paul challenges us, “Live in harmony with one another.” I’m sure musicians reading this know what harmony is. It is not the same as unison. When we all sing the same notes we are singing in unison. But when we sing different notes that blend we are singing in harmony. And in the body of Christ we are to live in harmony—not the same, but blending together.
Not only are we not impartial, we shouldn’t judge others because we never know all the facts or someone else’ motive. In order to rightly judge someone we would have to know all there is to know about that person and the situation; and that just isn’t possible for us. Thinking we know more than we do often leads to judging others.
The last reason I want to suggest as to why we shouldn’t judge is because it so often makes us hypocritical. That is Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:3-5 He continues, 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We usually aren’t aware of it, but often we criticize others to make ourselves look better. Most of the time we exaggerate the faults of others and minimize our own—and that smells like hypocrisy. We all are sinners, we all mess us, and we all fall short. We must guard ourselves from ignoring that in order to judge someone else.
As we conclude let’s remind ourselves that there will be a judgement. At the judgement everything will be exposed; what was hidden in the darkness including our motives. But note also what else Paul says about the Lord’s judgement, “At that time each will receive his praise from God.” Those of us who are in Christ, who have chosen to follow Him, will not be judged for our sins, but rather will receive praise. And remember the criterion will be our faithfulness—what we have done with what the Lord has given to us in terms of ability and opportunity. We can look forward to the affirmation from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
I love the anonymous poem The Choice –
I saw them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town,
With a yo heave ho and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and the sidewall fell.
I asked the foreman if these men were skilled
as those he would hire if he were to build.
He laughed and said, “Oh, no indeed,
Common labor is all I need,
For they can wreck in a day or two,
what builders have taken years to do.”
So I asked myself, as I went my way,
which of these roles am I to play?
Am I a builder, who works with care,
measuring life by the rule and square;
or am I the wrecker who walks the town,
Content in the role of tearing down?
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