Monday, 22 March 2010

First Remove the Plank....

Judgement! It’s become a dirty word today. Try to make a comment on someone’s behaviour, even in Christian circles, and you’re likely to hear the words, “Stop judging me!” We often associate it with our legal process where sentences are handed out to those found guilty of some crime. They are judged and sentenced. In reality those who are found to be innocent are also judged, then set free. Judgement is part of any judicial process, whether you’re innocent or guilty.

During the process of a trial evidence is presented and weighed. In the past this relied heavily on eye witness testimony. Today we have the added weight of forensic evidence that has been the inspiration of popular TV programs like CSI. Jury trials require ordinary people to hear the case for the prosecution and the defence and then decide which is more credible. They judge, even though they are not the judge! And in a similar way Paul says that one day we will judge angels, 1Cor 6.3. And if that is true, he goes on to argue that we are well qualified to judge issues pertaining to this life.

Like it or not we make judgements every day about many things. What to wear, what to eat, establishing priorities of what to do and who to see. The process is so much a part of our lives that we often don’t even acknowledge that we are doing it. I have five daughters. Imagine what it’s like when they go shopping! “That looks great on you”. That colour doesn’t suit you!” “I love that design”. Each one of these statements is in fact a form of judgement. In these examples they are based on personal preference – our likes and dislikes; our tastes if you will.

Most of us can cope with that kind of judgement. This is because we are clear about our own preferences and so we chose when to ignore the advice of a friend and go with what we like – our preference. Scripture teaches us that there is another level of judgement that has to do with the way we relate to each other. Jesus tells us to “Judge righteous judgement”, John 7.24. This clearly implies there is a good way of judging and a bad way.

One way is quite discerning; righteous judgement. It looks beyond the surface. 1Cor 12.10 speaks of the gift of discerning of spirits. Through this gift it is possible to know when something is from the Holy Spirit, an angelic spirit, a demonic spirit and even the human spirit. Jesus came to heal broken hearts, which meant He was able to discern which needed mending. People could put on a brave face but Jesus discerned their hearts. This ability should be encouraged and nurtured in people.

The other form of judgement is destructive to relationships and should be avoided. It is unrighteous and goes no further than looking at the appearance of someone and judging that behaviour against our own value system. A better word to describe this kind of judgement is condemnation. This is the heart of what Jesus is getting at in Matt 7.1. If we don’t deal with ourselves first, then we can easily slip into a condemning attitude that breads pride and self righteousness. We’ll get back to that later.

Paul said it is the spiritual man who judges all things, 1Cor 2.15. (This is the equivalent of Jesus exhortation for us to judge righteous judgement). So spirituality has a lot to do with the way we can evaluate and judge in a situation. For a spiritual man has his mind renewed to discern clearly. I like the word discern because it takes us to the heart of what good Biblical judgement is all about. To discern is the ability to see through the mist of what a person does, their behaviour, into the heart, where we can begin to understand what has motivated them.

Jesus did this all the time. He could see the faith of the persistent mother, a gentile, who begged for her daughter to be made well and the hypocritical play acting of the scribes and Pharisees, whose hearts were full of covetousness and lawlessness. He could see that Judas had no real care for the poor when he rebuked Mary for pouring a costly ointment on Jesus and the wrong spirit displayed by James and John when they wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus. In all these examples Jesus judged righteous judgement. So let’s take a look at a text that helps us to begin the journey towards becoming those who can judge righteously.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the peck for your eye’, and look a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." Matt 7.1-6

From this text we learn something really important about judging. Now most people miss this. Judgment requires clear vision in order for us to help someone else. The issue here is not to avoid judging but to avoid doing so without some self-examination first. Most of us have experienced what it’s like to get a speck in our eye. It’s irritating. It hurts. Our eyes water and we usually need someone else to help us out. But the person we want should be able to see clearly themselves.

If we have a plank in our own eye we become ineffective in helping others. Jesus is using hyperbole, a form of exaggerated speech. It is an example of Him being funny! It reads like a Monty Python sketch; a man with a beam in his eye trying to operate on a man with a speck in his eye. It’s laughable. And this is Jesus’ point. The person we should be judging first is ourselves. Paul makes the same point to the Corinthians when he says; “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged”, 1Cor 11.31.

The issue isn’t just stop judging, the issue is don’t do it until you are prepared to reflect on your own life and get your issues dealt with, first. The process of dealing with our issues first creates in us a humility that helps us show compassion towards others who have issues too. Matt 7.5-6 clearly tells us to judge. We have to make a decision; who are the dogs and who are the pigs. Remember Paul saying a similar thing to the Philippians; Phil 3.2, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” Later in Matt 7.15 Jesus warns of those who will come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. You can’t just rely on what you see!

To really know a person we must apply the fruit test. So a discerning person is not taken in with a charismatic personality. They wait to see the fruit of a life. The next verses in Matt 7.21-23 help us understand that Jesus is not talking about success in ministry when He speaks of fruit. “Many” will remind the Lord of all the prophecy they have given; demons they have cast out and wonders they have performed in His name. But Jesus discerns their heart and sees the lawlessness within and tells them to depart. This is scary. They have fruit in ministry, but not the fruit of the Spirit that demonstrates a renewed heart and life, Gal 5.22-23. This is what we must aim to cultivate.

Jesus warns us that, ‘with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you’, Matt 7.2. James helps us understand what Jesus means. He says; “For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy”, James 2.12. If the measure we use to judge others is mercy, that is what is used as the measure for our judgement. Judgement without mercy ensures we forsake our own mercy, Jonah 2.8. Think of that for a minute. The way we relate to people now will have a major influence on the way God judges us. Just like in giving, Luke 6.38, we choose the measure!

Conscious of this principle Paul lived by a simple rule, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each ones praise will come from God”, 1Cor 4.5. He understood that some things lay hidden. In the previous chapter he warns that everyone’s work (their ministry) will be tested, 1Cor 3.12-15. And now he is saying the secret counsels of the heart will also be revealed. Things can look impressive for a while. We can be wowed by displays of power. But God wants us to look deeper. No wonder Matt 7 finishes with the story of the wise and foolish builders.

In Corinth there were many problems in the church. One of them was the constant litigation that took place between believers – a very relevant passage for today’s culture. Paul asks a simple question; “Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” 1Cor 6.5. Paul is shocked that believers would rather go before a secular judge and pay money than to appoint a believer in the church to make a decision and to abide by his judgement. Clearly he sees believers as being the best people to make judgements about issues in life.

And Paul’s question stands; “Is there a wise man able to judge between his brothers?” Such a man has established the priority of removing the plank form his own eye first. He has journeyed with God and walks in the fear of the Lord. When he’s called on to judge, he prays. He examines his own heart and looks to see if the very problem he is called on to speak into is an issue in his own life. He when he judges he doesn’t condemn but does so through the filter of mercy. That is his measure, for that is what he has received in Christ.

Here is a prayer from the Psalms that you may find helpful. I have used it many times in my life. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”, Psalm 139.23-24. It is the prayer of a person who wants to take the plank out first; who doesn’t live in self justification or pride but dares to ask God to show them their own heart. For none of us truly knows what drives us without God’s help.

Jeremiah 17.9 says; “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” At times we don’t even know our own hearts, but God does. And He is faithful to speak to the man who wants to listen. So let’s summarise so we can practice what we have learned:

1. Judgement that leads to condemnation is forbidden in scripture. God is the ultimate judge and only He has that right. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it, John 3.17.

2. Judgement that is good and helpful is discerning – it see through to the heart and we should cultivate and nurture it. Not everything should be accepted on face value, including powerful ministries.

3. Obedience is the ultimate act that pleases God and so we should apply the fruit test when wanting to test a person’s ministry. Do they display Christ-like character that demonstrates the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’?

4. Judgement like this can only happen when a person establishes the priority of dealing with their own life issues first before daring to speak into the lives of others. To seek to correct another person when your own life has glaring issues is hypocrisy. Don’t do it!

5. The measure we use when giving any kind of correction or judgement is mercy. In other words forgiveness must be the cornerstone of any judgement – the guilty can go free!

By all means help your brother with the speck in his eye, but take the plank out of your own eye first!