I received a letter the other day from a woman whose son I had discouraged from pursuing a relationship with one of my daughters. Indeed, I did more than discourage the boy. I flat out forbade him from having any contact with my daughter. Even then it wasn't an open and shut case; the boy snuck around behind my back and did about everything he could to persuade my daughter to defy my wishes and run off with him to be married. By God's grace my daughter was wise enough to inform me of his ongoing clandestine operation and I was able to bring the whole situation to a definite conclusion.
The letter from the boy's mother (the fellow in question is nearly twenty-three years old, but I cannot really call him a man or a young man because of his adolescent attitude and conduct), took me to task for "doing a disservice" to the Lord with my behavior. She assured me that "her" God loves all of "His children" and that as a pastor I should too. The lady had determined that my heart was not right with God and that I was not qualified for the ministry because I passed judgedment on her son. The distraught mother went on to suggest that I get to know her son and ask for references from his friends. The rest of the letter continued to hammer home the idea that I was unchristian and should "consider another line of work" because of my attitude toward her son.
Well, the fact of the matter is I had judged her son, and found him wanting as a suitor for my daughter. I interviewed the boy twice, spoke with local law enforcement, our townspeople and, yes, even his friends. Everyone I talked to agreed; the kid is a drug user (and possible pusher), with an extensive rap sheet, and a reputation as a sexually promiscuous, rabble rousing trouble maker. Granted, his friends didn't put it in those words. They simply said that his sort of behavior is common in small town Idaho and so I shouldn't be so worked up about it. The boy himself admitted that he had "had some problems in the past" (just before I brought the hammer down on the whole situation the police had found drug paraphernalia in the boy's car while investigating an accident he was involved in), but he firmly stated that it was mostly the fault of the cops and the townsfolk because they wouldn't give him a break. So, armed with the aforesaid information, I judged the boy's character deficient and told him to stay away from my daughter.
The reason so many people take Jesus' teaching out of context is because they don't like to be held responsible for their actions. The offender doesn't want to be called to account for his behavior and his acquaintances (or relatives), don't want to be held responsible for the malefactor's conduct either - nor do they want to be required to change their own actions or attitudes in relation to the delinquent. Yet Jesus never intended that we should refrain from coming to conclusions concerning a person's behavior and character. Indeed, at the same time that He told us not to judge, He also told us that we would be able to verify (i.e. judge), the content of a person's character by their actions; "therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matt. 7:20). The point is, when Jesus told us not to judge He was instructing private individuals to refrain from condemning an erring brother. In other words, private individuals are not given leave to pass judgment in the sense of passing sentence on another. Ironically this is exactly what the mother of the wayward boy did. She judged my character to be lacking and sentenced me to another line of work (I've never met the woman or talked with her - in fact as she pointed out in her letter, she doesn't even know my name). Pronouncing sentence is the prerogative of God and His delegated authorities (Matt. 18:15-20, Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Cor. 5:1-13), which of course involves judgments concerning another's conduct as well. "Private" individuals are supposed to deal with their own sin so that they can minister to their brother rather than condemn him (Matt. 7:1-6). Indeed, it is incumbent upon us to judge so that we might minister to those who are going astray. As we read in Leviticus 19:17:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.
Rendering judgment about a brother's behavior and bringing a rebuke is an act of love. King David addresses this same sort of situation when he says:
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.
In other words, once one deals with sin in his own life he is able to minister to others who are struggling with sin as well. This doesn't mean that you must be sinless in order to minister to a brother or sister. It means that you are doing your best in the grace of God to live a life of obedience to Chrsit - including confession of sin when the need arises. Yet, unless we judge, there is no way to conclude that someone is guilty of sin and thus rebuke or teach them.
When I decided that the wayward boy was not a suitable match for my daughter, I was well within the bounds of Christ's teaching on the subject of judgment. I would have been more than happy to disciple the boy and help him move forward in a relationship with the Lord Jesus. But he wasn't interested in that. He told me that his Church is the back country and that the true Jesus is a friend of his who died in a car accident a few years back. Truly my heart goes out to the boy. Beyond doubt he needs to repent of his wickedness and submit his life to Christ. But until he does so and builds a reasonable track record as a godly young man as well, in my judgment he has no business chasing after my daughter.
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