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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Judgment Day- Part 4

In Parts 1-3 I covered different types of judgment. The focus was on "discernment" and "condemnation". So, what does the Bible say about making judgments? Here's a few passages that I want to tackle:

Proverbs 3:21- "My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight."
Phillipians 1:10- "...so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ"
Matthew 7:1- "Judge not, lest you be judged."

I placed these purposely in this order because I wanted to show that both the Old and New Testament condone judging. The question is though, which one ("discernment" or "condemnation") does "judge" mean in these?

Let's start with Proverbs. As I like to do, let's look at a few verses around the passage.

Proverbs 3:21-24- "My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet."

The first thing that I think should be noticed in verse 21 is that Solomon used two words- "judgment" and "discernment". Since "discernment" has already been used "judgment" must mean something else- otherwise it would be redundant. The rest of the passage talks about what "judging" and "discerning" will do for his son. As we all know, a free society cannot exist in anarchy. Laws must be established. When those laws are broken, punishment must follow. In order for punishment to follow, condemnation must take place on both the action (Step 2 from Part 3) and the person (Step 3 from Part 3). Since Solomon was speaking in the context of being the ruler over a nation, concluding that "judgment" is equivalent to "condemnation" is justified.

Phillipians 1:9-10: "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ..."

On the surface, this one seems pretty easy. Paul is talking about "discernment", no "condemnation" here- especially since Paul does not specifically mention people or actions. Let's assume that Paul is simply encouraging Step 2 from Part 3 (discerning whether actions are worthy of praise or condemnation). Paul would not be telling anyone this if it did not have any value. I don't think that many people would argue against me if I were to state that simply discerning something (anything) has any worth alone. In order for that discernment to have worth, the person who made the discernment must act upon it. If a discernment is made that an action is worthy of condemnation, so is the individual who performs the action. Since I don't think that Paul was just blabbing, I think that in an indirect way he was condoning condemnation.

I chose the Matthew 7:1 passage last because my explanation will help not only with understanding it, but also help my explanation of Phillipians 1:10 to ward of possible objections.

Matthew 7:1-5: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Many people use this passage to say that Christians are not allowed to make condemnations about others or their actions because it is assumed that the judging Christians are condemning the people to Hell (which many are; that I won't deny). If one can't condemn even actions, then I must acknowledge that Paul was just "blabbing" to the Phillipians. Let me see what I can do here...... I did not mention one more distinction in the other parts of this series because I wanted to reserve it for this point. "Condemnation of the person"- that needs to be split. Let's consider a "temporary condemnation of the person" and a "permanent condemnation of the person". "Temporary condemnation of the person" will mean that the condemnation will result in a temporarily lasting punishment. In the same vein "permanent condemnation of the person" will result in a permanently lasting punishment.

When the entire passage is read, we can see that Jesus was reminding people that the same rules that they condemn others by, they will also be condemned by. Consistency and justice require this. Jesus was telling them to be careful about their discernments that lead to condemnation. Paul speaks more about this in Phillipians when he talks about love abounding in more knowledge and insight. Solomon spoke of another important reason to exercise sound discernment in the passage I first mentioned.

Now what does the "temporary" vs "permanent" have to do with all this? It has to do with the fact that many Christians like to condemn people to Hell because of their actions. When a person in condemned for an action, they are punished. The punishment does not last forever. Most only last for a period of time or an amount of funds. This is a "temporary condemnation on the person". I would like to point out that Hell is the result of a "permanent condemnation of the person". It is an eternal punishment; it lasts beyond physical death in this world. Only an omnipotent being is able to know enough about a person's inner-most secrets, thoughts, and desires to make a permanent condemnation. God has granted man the authority to make "temporary condemnations of a person" solely to restrain man's sinful tendencies. Condemning someone hypocritically and attempting to pronounce a permanent condemnation are both tendencies of man's sinful nature. These are what Jesus was pointing out.

Jesus was not telling us that Christians are not allowed to make discernments. He was not telling us that Christians are not allowed to make temporary condemnations of the person that will result in temporary punishments. Jesus was telling us that Christians (and all of humanity) should do this with care, keeping their own sinful tendencies in mind so that they will be more compassionate, merciful, and loving when dealing with those who have made mistakes. This does not mean that we are not to punish. Punishment can be done in a loving way- that's what we do with our children. Its not only to guide the child being punished, but if we have more than one child, the other(s) see(s) the consequences and may learn without performing the offending action and receiving the required punishment.

To finally wrap up everything, there is nothing wrong with judging. Whether one is only discerning or fully condemning, if done in the proper way (and order), it has a positive effect on humanity. The Bible only echoes this conclusion.

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