People these days often say, “Don’t judge” right before admitted questionable behavior, but is judging people’s choices always bad?
I don’t much care for the parable of the prodigal son.
Bratty, entitled younger sibling wreaks havoc on the household until he finally leaves to receive the just deserts of his poor choices. No Daddy and Mummy to the rescue, to cushion him from consequences.
However, he’s barely gone before he staggers back (of course), whimpering about how he’s learned his lesson. Dad flings open the doors and brings him inside. No dressing down for the wasted family fortune. No questions about what he might’ve picked up from all those prostitutes. Not even a stray comment about ‘earning back broken trust’ before we all dive headlong into a massive house party.
It’s enough to make you scream.
“Think of the collateral damage, ya little twerp! You know Dad had to sell off some of our land for your glorified bar crawl? You know how many nights he and Mom spent in tears? Oh, oh wait. No, you don’t. Because you weren’t here.”
The Unholy Swine and the Beloved
When I look at the sort of people God is longing to throw his arms around and welcome into the party, I get angry, if I’m entirely honest. I mean, we’re talking murderers, rapists, pedophiles—yeah, bring those folks right on in!—drug addicts, strippers, the works here.
It’s possible to justify God’s graciousness with a few categories, usually the ones who are victims, like girls who were sold off into the life of prostitution or who are under the thumb of a violent pimp.
The others, though, fall on my steeply declining arc of understanding. I worked with preschool and early elementary aged children for several years, many of them with learning disabilities or who were trying to recover scholastically from an unstable homelife. The idea of a child being abused, physically or emotionally, will have me in a car-flipping rage as fast as you can snap your fingers
A lot of people in church are quick to whip out Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Casual observation: these are usually the same people who are voracious gossips.)
How often, though, have I seen someone allowed into a ministry they had no business serving in? How often has a leader been allowed to run amuck because no one wanted to be the judgmental one who told him or her the truth? How often has someone in Bible study group said something not reflected in scripture and everyone else just awkwardly nods then moves on to the next talking point?
What happened to speaking the truth? (Ephesians 4:15) What happened to watching for wolves in our midst? (Matthew 7:15)
The Bible seems oddly bipolar on this topic. Yes, Jesus talks about not judging others in Matthew 7; but in nearly the same breath, he also says, “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!” (Matthew 7:6 NLT).
Did Jesus just call some people unholy swine? Is this the same Jesus who criticized the Pharisees for being hypocrites while they condemned others?
How do we make sense of this?
Jesus’ Critique of the Pharisees
In Christianity Today, Brandon Crowe notes an interesting distinction in Christ’s critique of the Jewish religious leaders.
“Contrary to what you may have heard, Jesus does not rebuke the Pharisees for giving too much attention to God’s law. Jesus never denigrates or downplays the law of God. Where it looks like he might be (Sabbath controversies, for example), Jesus is instead critiquing misunderstandings and misappropriations of God’s law.”
“Matthew 5:20: ‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’
“Many interpretations of this passage seem to turn it on its head. It’s often thought: The righteousness of the Pharisees points to their superlative rule keeping. If the only way we can enter the kingdom of heaven is to be better rule keepers than the Pharisees, then we’re all without hope. Jesus must mean something else. He’s not encouraging self-righteous rule keeping, but is showing us how far we fall short.
“This approach, however, is misguided. The call to a greater righteousness in 5:20 is a real call to righteous living. This does not come by avoiding God’s law, but by demonstrating a deeper commitment to righteousness than the Pharisees…”
The disciples were rightly shocked and upset by this comment. This kind of commitment isn’t possible with human effort.
It can only be done with the Holy Spirit’s work and deep reverence for scripture.
Theresa Noble echoes this idea in her article on the modern-day Pharisee. “St. Paul was a Pharisee, which is evidence that misdirected zealousness and scrupulosity can be redirected into an astounding zeal for evangelization and holiness.
“This is why I think it is important for faithful Christians to pay attention to the Pharisees and Jesus’ critique of their behavior.”
Grieving the Ravages of Sin
So how do we balance zeal for holiness and not misappropriating God’s commands or putting unnecessary burdens on others?
In a sermon on Simon the Pharisee and Jesus, David Wilkerson commented, “I have been compelled to deliver many a strong word during my years of ministry, words that came against the false and the foolish. I’m not backing away from that, though I know at times I’ve been misguided in my zeal.
“Yet things are going to become so bad, with so much that grieves the Lord, we could easily spend all our time trying to put out those fires. Christ tells us that is not to be our primary focus. Looking away from Simon and his guests, Jesus turned to the woman and said, ‘Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace’ (Luke 7:47, 50).
“Likewise, says the apostle Paul, this is what our focus must be. We are not to judge a fallen person, but to seek to restore them and remove their reproach (Galatians 6:1).”
It’s not wrong to take sin very seriously.
Until we value people like God does, we won’t take sin as seriously as it deserves. Sin ravages the beautiful. Sin murders the innocent. Judging the path of the prodigal son isn’t wrong, but judging the value of the individual is.
Sin separates a child of God from their heavenly Father, and that is worth getting genuinely upset about. Those of us with a Pharisee in our hearts just have to make sure we never lose sight of the people involved, our brothers, sisters and fellow heirs to the kingdom of heaven.