MYSELF THE JUDGE by PAUL UGOAGWU
Intro by Edith Ohaja:
The scripture “Judge not” in Matthew 7:1 has become so popular among believers and unbelievers alike that it is commonly the cause of many controversies. What exactly does the Bible mean by this command?
This article answers this question and shows how the writer, a believer and pastor of many years’ standing, learned through personal experience to obey this injunction. But more than that, it gives a balanced scriptural perspective on it to enable us avoid abusing the principle behind the command. It is, therefore, an excellent resource for Christian leaders, teachers and preachers. So, do read, share and be blessed!
We pray continuously increasing fruit upon the ministry of the writer, our brother Paul Ugoagwu, and God’s abiding presence with his family in Jesus’ name.
(Related: Miss P and I)
MYSELF THE JUDGE
It was one night in 1993 that I finally trusted Jesus to be my Saviour. It had been a long rebellious battle with the Holy Spirit. All through secondary school, friends, teachers and some family members had exposed me to some level of Christianity. My mom, for instance, was an ardent member of a ‘white garment’ church. And although my dad ignored church most of the time, he encouraged us to be Anglicans. It was our National Youth Service Christian teachers however who were Scripture Union members that influenced me the most. These ones had better understanding of the Bible and shared the scriptures with us relentlessly.
Add to that the growing influence of Deeper Lifers* in South West Nigeria where I grew up and you would get a picture of what Christianity was like in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. Holiness, prayer, a fasted life and discipline-ruled. These teachings and doctrines were the things I resisted most as an unbeliever. You could say they were the very things I feared I would suffer if I became a Christian. They were also the very doctrines I believed I must reconcile myself with in order to become a Christian.
It was no surprise then that when I eventually became a Christian, I saw Christians from my Deeper Life, Foursquare and Scripture Union lens.
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I can’t tell exactly when I became a judge of others. Yes, I judged people a lot. I judged and condemned people I categorized as ‘baby Christians’ – those who were still struggling with the things I believed I had outgrown. I crucified ‘carnal Christians’ that pursued worldly pleasures and materials. In my local church, I was in charge of taking testimonies at some point. I remember my indignation at some testimonies coming from people I believed were ‘secret sinners’. These people, I felt, were making up stories about divine healing or miracles since they couldn’t possibly be genuine converts.We should not condemn people because they differ from us in non-essential ways. Click To Tweet
I became very churchy as well. I attended all my local church programmes faithfully, but shunned other congregations. I was very punctual. I stayed in church much later, sometimes till late afternoon. I was a member of every group – prayer and intercession, Christian drama, editorial and publishing, outreach, follow-up and visitation, youth, etc. I was happy I was working hard for God. In my eyes, there was no reason for you to be absent from the church. No family matter superseded a church programme – not even the birth of a first child, a registry wedding, naming ceremony, birthdays, thanksgiving, bereavement, holiday or work.
Without knowing it, I trusted more in the outward signs to determine who was a Christian or an infidel. In my book, if you wore make-up, used gold and silver jewelry, had braided hair, wore loud colours, attended parties, did sports, drank alcohol or had too many male or female friends, you could not be a ‘serious Christian’.
I was dismissive towards members of newer churches whose pastors or general overseers wore jeans, T-shirts, designer suits, and whose wives grinned beside them in portrait pictures. I condemned them as worldly, carnal, sinners, and hell-bound. This I did without having personally met any of these church leaders or attended any of their fellowships. In my mind, only a select few of us preached and practised the true gospel. We were the holy ones. The rest were doomed.
I am sure that I was not alone in this narrow mindset. The very things I resented as an unbeliever were the same things I practised religiously as a born-again Christian. I was a holier-than-thou believer, a hypocrite. I was like the Pharisees of the Bible who mounted roadblocks on the way of salvation. My narrow view of Christianity served to alienate believers instead of uniting them. Many people stayed away from our office fellowship and house fellowship just because they saw us as spiritual hangmen. I was intolerant, inflexible and myopic.
(Related: The Gospel According to Me and My Church)
I learnt later through experience and deeper study of the Bible that we are all fallible. Daily, we face temptations and trials that inevitably stain us. Our thoughts are not always holy. Our motives are not always pure. Many born-again Christians feel that sexual sin is the real sin. The rest of the party like lying, cheating, holding grudges, cursing, prevaricating, deceit, lusting, inordinate ambitions, being unkind, selfishness and wickedness are simple transgressions. So long as we do not physically commit sexual sins, it is okay to grandstand and sneer at others for their sins. Inevitably we begin to judge all these ‘other people’.
Through the grace and the love of God, I am learning to reason differently. Each Christian is at a different and unique stage of their spiritual journey. Some have attained a level of maturity that others are still struggling for. In practice, we all differ. Some Christians hardly fast. Others lead a fasted life. Some Christians move freely between parishes and denominations exposing themselves to all the diversities and peculiarities of Christian teaching and practice, other Christians stick to one local church.
In addition, some Christians ‘take a little wine for their stomach’s sake’, others abstain from alcohol completely. Some Christians are prayer vigil freaks, some can’t go through one hour of uninterrupted prayer during the day. Some Christians are good givers, some give sparingly. Some Christians are fashionable, some are not so stylish. Some churches take Holy Communion every Sunday. Some take it every month. Some Christians weep and mourn each time they take it, some celebrate it soberly.Correct others humbly, watching yourself too because you're not perfect. - Gal. 6:1 Click To Tweet
A big chunk of the challenge we face today comes from judging others. When we judge others, we should examine ourselves carefully because we might be guilty of more grievous misdeeds, yet we excuse ourselves from them. As human beings, Christians or not, we keep improving. Perfection is not a fait accompli, it is work in progress. As we mature, we gossip less, we criticize less, we empathize more, and we understand better. This is what the Bible says about judging others:
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
The truth is that we are all striving for perfection. Paul says in Philippians 3: 12-15:
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things.”
Do you have faith? Great! But others may not have attained your level of faith. Are you a great giver? Fantastic! And please do more! But avoid criticizing unduly those who have not attained that level of grace. Do you shun worldly possessions, lead a fasted life, are you blameless on obvious matters? It is a good level you have reached. But you will do well if you help others attain it without judging them.
Many young believers are afraid to come to us for counseling for fear that they would be condemned. People are battling daily with divorce, separation, abortion, abuse, rape, addictions, immorality, misfortune, depression, poverty, sicknesss and sin. They want to pour out their minds. They want encouragement. They want guidance. They want mentoring. They need prayers. They need a listening ear, a strong shoulder to cry on. But they are afraid to approach some Christians for fear of condemnation.Being judgmental can scare away young believers who need counsel from us. Click To Tweet
My experience working with young people (teenage boys and girls) revealed that many of us so-called mature Christians are daily shutting our bowels of compassion against this group as if we were never young before. Young people are vulnerable, impressionable and prone to mistakes. When their young eyes dart around for a helper, someone who understands, most times it is a moral judge who shows up. So they bury themselves deeper into their guilt. That’s another poor soul condemned to his lonely world!
So what am I saying? That we should turn a blind eye to transgressions, particularly persistent and blatant wrongdoing among believers? Not at all! That we should live in open sin and celebrate it because we are all striving for perfection or that we should begin to twist the Bible to claim that many things it clearly condemns as abominations are now justified because the world is evolving?
Of course not! We should all abhor sin and come to God in repentance when we err. We should decide that we want to live God-honouring lives and His grace will give us increasing victory over sin. After all, the same Bible that says, “Judge not”, also gives clear instructions about those who claim to be believers but live in unrepentant sin or preach damnable heresies thus:
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV)
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.'”
2 John 1:9-11 (KJV)
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
For sadly, there are some today who profess to be Christians but they neither believe in the Bible nor the triune Godhead and the deity of Christ. Some do not believe in the concept of sin and repentance either because in their words, “Jesus has paid it all at the cross”. And these doctrines are spreading like wildfire because they portray Christianity not as the narrow path depicted in the Bible but as a broad way with no need for righteous living and accountability.We should correct people when they go against the clear teachings of the Bible. Click To Tweet
So to be clear, I am neither advocating that we take lightly any attempt to abrogate the authority of the Bible and the fundamental teachings upon which Christianity rests nor am I canvassing for a reinterpretation of the Bible or watering down of Biblical standards to accommodate unbridled permissiveness. But I am asking that we acknowledge that there are diversities in the body of Christ, as I identified earlier, and that we have compassion on those who have not matured in the faith like us (especially the youth) and humbly correct them when they err. Galatians 6:1 says this on the latter:
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” – (KJV)
That is why Apostle Paul summed it up in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. I will conclude with the last verses of that chapter (11-13).
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (Emphasis mine)
May the grace of our Lord Jesus abound with us as we adopt the loving pattern espoused in this piece and may we all be ready to go with Him when the trumpet sounds. Amen.
*Deeper Lifers refers to members of the Deeper Life Bible Church.
(All Bible verses in this article are from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible except where otherwise stated.)
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Paul Ugoagwu is an advertising practitioner and filmmaker. He is also the President and co-founder of Life Transformers – an evangelical ministry that organizes and executes open-air crusades for rural churches. He was once a Youth Pastor and leader in the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria. He currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and children.
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