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Saturday, 7 February 2015

To Judge, Or Not To Judge

Sermon Summary for Advent III 2014 presented by Fr Matthew Kirby

"judge nothing before the time"  (1 Corinthians 4:5) But compare this with "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed ... do not ye judge them that are within?" "Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?" [1 Corinthians 5:3,12b and 6:3]. From the same letter! And, of course, (Matthew 7:1), "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

Can't God make up his mind? Or St Paul?
The very fact these apparently contradictory verses are so close to each other warns us to pay careful attention. St Paul knows exactly what he is saying, and is doing this deliberately.

Where we are told by the Apostle to "judge nothing", the context is presuming to Judge as God does, knowing the very heart, knowing everything, and thus being able to condemn or justify the person themselves definitively: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God." Jesus actually warns us not to judge others with a different standard to ourselves: "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam 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 7:2-5]. This is so easy for us to do thoughtlessly.

Where we are told we should judge, we must begin with ourselves, as our Lord just reminded us about the plank. St Paul says, in reference to preparing for Communion, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." [1 Corinthians 11:28-29].
Then we must approach the situations of others with honesty and courage. We cannot judge as God does, but we can judge to be truly sinful the manifest, outward sins of others. And, if we have the authority, we may even have to pronounce sentence, for example, excluding the obstinate sinner from the Church. St Paul harshly criticises the Corinthians for failing in these duties. Why? Because if we do not honestly pronounce as evil what certainly is so, we actually harm the sinner by suppressing the truth. They are unlikely to repent if unchallenged, if their wickedness is ignored. He tells the Corinthians to "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." [1 Corinthians 5:5.]


However, whenever we merely correct others for what we have discerned as sins, we must do so gently and humbly, remembering our own weakness and acting for the good of their soul. "And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." [Jude 22, 23]

So, what is the overall balance?
* We are to judge ourselves first, other second, with consistency.
* We are permitted to judge mentally, and to speak forth that judgement when and how it can be done charitably.
* We are generally to judge sins, not to condemn sinners.
* If in the appropriate position of authority (whether in the family, church or world), we are to judge honestly and apply consequences fairly.
* And we are always to remember the limited and fallible nature of our judgements in everything we do and say. 

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