On April 3, 2014 LifesiteNews.com reported Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois supported a priest in his diocese who refused Holy Communion to a Catholic politician. The politician publicly supports abortion which, according to the Catholic Church, is gravely contrary to the moral law.
When I posted the article to one of my social network sites someone asked me: Is this not judging?
Perhaps one of the most often cited Scriptures used to ‘prove’ Christians have no right to judge others is that text (above) from Matthew 7. But is that what this text is really saying? After all, what would societies look like if no judged the actions of another? Courts would close and prisons would empty its prisoners back into our communities because no one could pass judgment on murderers, rapists, thieves, and other criminals.
A society without authority to judge others would descend into complete anarchy. That is why St. Paul refers to governments as having been “established by God” for the protection of its citizenry (Romans 13:1-6).
But what about individual Christians? Are we commanded to avoid passing judgment on others, especially in the Church? A superficial glance at the Lord’s statement, “Do not judge so you will not be judged” seems to indicate the answer is yes. Yet what does the context of that verse reveal? And what clarification do we find in examining the rest of New Testament scripture? Let's look at that context:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
The Lord Jesus is saying more than a simple “Do not judge.” Rather, He warns us to avoid judging without first examining our own lives. The Holy Spirit further clarifies Jesus’ point through St. Paul: Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things . . . . But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3)
Thus, if we are to judge the actions of others, we must first ensure our own actions are moral and will stand up to the scrutiny of the Lord who knows all things.
Looking back at the Matthew passage, the Lord Jesus continues in verse six: Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine. . . . In New Testament language, dogs and swine referred to non-practicing Jews and Gentiles who did not follow the Law of Moses. Unless Jesus’ disciples ‘judged’ the actions of those who live contrary to Jewish law, this commandment in verse six does not make sense.
But the Lord was not yet finished. In verses 15-16 of the same chapter, He warned: Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. If Jesus intended verse one to be a ‘stand alone’ commandment, then His warning about false prophets is meaningless since we would not be permitted to judge the fruit of others to know of whom we should be wary.
The Father of evil – Satan – ever strives to distort God’s truth by introducing false teachers and false Christians into the Church. That is why the Holy Spirit warns us through St. Paul: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness . . . . (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Unless we judge what others do, we cannot protect ourselves or others against Satan’s schemes. An example of why such judgment is necessary to protect the flock is found in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. One of the men in the congregation was sleeping with his father’s wife, and St. Paul passed swift judgment on him: For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven . . . . I wrote you in my letter not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. . . remove the wicked man from among yourselves. (1 Corinthians 5:3-13)
(By the way, besides protection, another purpose of Christian judgment is the rehabilitation and reconciliation of the sinner. We find this is what occurred with this man because by the time Paul wrote his second letter to that church, the offender had turned his life around and had been restored to the Christian community – 2 Corinthians 2:1-11).
We could examine many other New Testament texts that instruct Christians, for their own safety and the safety of others, to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). But for the sake of brevity I will cite only a few more texts which, if Matthew 7:1 was intended as a ‘stand alone”, would not make sense – and why that passage must be read in context with the rest of Scripture:
1 Corinthians 15:33-34: Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. Unless we use Biblical principles to judge the company we keep, we risk our own morals being corrupted.
2 Corinthians 6:14-15: Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? To avoid being “bound together with unbelievers” one must make judgments.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Once again St. Paul instructs his Christian readers to judge the actions and words of others.
1 Timothy 5:9-10: A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. How could the church put such women on “the list” without judging their lives?
1 Timothy 5:19-21: Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. How could church leadership rebuke those who continue in sin without judging their actions?
2 Timothy 3:1-4: But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. How could we avoid such men unless we judge their actions?
In St. John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus tells us: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Righteous judgment means taking the log out of our own eye before we get busy taking specks out of someone else’s eye. It means approaching our brother or sister in love, and not in a spirit of condemnation – but approaching them nonetheless for their correction. What God said to the prophet Ezekiel is apropos to that point. This is my paraphrase from Ezekiel 33:1-7: If we warn the rebellious of the eternal danger they face, and they do not repent, their blood is on their own head. But if God tells us to warn the rebellious to turn from their sins, and we do not warn them, they will die in those sins – but God will require their blood of us.
When Bishop Paprocki supported his priest’s refusal to permit rebellious Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist, he did so in full obedience to the Holy Spirit’s command to judge the sins of others and warn them of the eternal consequences of those sins. The bishop did nothing less than speak with the authority Christ gave the Church to protect the flock from wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
And individual Christians do nothing less than obey Scripture when we, in love, make judgments of the actions of others and warn them of the eternal danger they face if they continue in willful sin.