Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 18 - Judging

We are in chapter 18 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.  I have told you before that this is not so much a book review as it is meditations and thoughts inspired by reading Bonnhoeffer.  This means of course that the ratio of Bonhoeffer's thoughts to my own varies from week to week.  Sometimes I am not sure I understand what Bonhoeffer's point is, and so I give you a different one.  Sometimes I think I understand, but am quite sure that I disagree.  This is one of those weeks and so what you are getting is mostly my own thoughts.

Matt chapter 7, verse 1:

1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Jesus here is laying down an absolute prohibition against Judging one another.  I have never been sure entirely what to make of this passage.  If “judging” is merely to refuse to accept openly sinful behavior then this saying of Jesus’ would be in contradiction to many other passages of Scripture.  James 5:19 and 20 says, for example,

Brothers, if anyone among you err from the truth, and if anyone turns him back,

know that he who turns back the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Additionally, as people in the Brethren tradition we have traditionally placed a great deal of emphasis on Jesus’ own words in Matt 18 that explain how to resolve conflicts between Brothers.  The culmination of the Matthew 18 process is excommunication: exile from the community of faith.  This certainly seems like Judging to me, and would seem to contradict Jesus’ ethic expressed here.  Is there any way to resolve the conflict?

Perhaps we need a better understanding of what Jesus means by “judging”.  My Strongs says the word “kreeno” simply means to distinguish, which does not seem very helpful.  It goes on, however, to list synonyms: to conclude, to condemn, to damn.  This seems to me to be a little more germane and helps to explain what Jesus is telling us here. 

What is your attitude towards your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Do you examine their faults with a critical eye, eager to find them wanting?  Do you ascribe motives that you have no way of knowing?  Are you eager at all times to help others deal with the sins in their life, all the while ignoring your own?

Perhaps we can most clearly see this mindset when it comes to looking at the motives of others.  I want you to be honest with yourself as you think about this.  If someone does something that you are not quite sure about, do you make suppositions about their motives?  “He must be doing that because he is in rebellion.”  “She obviously doesn’t care about the Church.”  Or an all time favorite: “he is probably doing that especially to annoy me!”  When we look at others do we condemn them in our own minds?  This is, I think what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Judge not”.  This also is perhaps what Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 13 when he said “love … thinks no evil”.  Are you looking for the evil in others?

We can learn a lesson about how to confront sin by looking at Jesus' example.  A woman was caught in the act of adultery and dragged before him so that he could affirm the Law and condemn her, in this case to a literal death by stoning.  Jesus response was not condemnation: he asked merely that the one among them without sin cast the first stone.  As those who were willing and eager to condemn and damn the woman melted away, Jesus talked to the woman directly.  He did not justify or excuse her sin: instead he pointed her to the path of repentance (“neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more”).

So when should we apply Matt 18?  How do we avoid judging while still confronting sin when it needs to be confronted?  I would like to offer three signs for you to consider in your own life.  First, are you more concerned by sin in others life than your own?  Jesus says we are hypocrites when that is the case.  If you are eager to confront others sin but understanding of your own, you should stop.  Instead of going to your brother or sister with their sin, you should go to confess your own and seek their help in pulling the plank out of your eye. 

Second, are you judging others’ motives?  It is so tempting to do!  And yet, to do so is to elevate ourselves to the position that belongs to God alone.  Remember that we will be judged by the standards that we use to judge others.  Are you willing to have your every action scrutinized with an eye to finding fault?  We are so willing to accept our own excuses for our behavior (I was tired, I didn’t mean it, I didn't understand what I was doing) but are even more inventive in imagining the worst of reasons for others' behavior.

Finally, what is your attitude toward the person you are confronting?  Is it to a rescue or an attack that you are undertaking?  Is your intent to destroy or to restore?  James 4:11-12 says Do not speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against his brother, and who judges his brother, speaks against the Law and judges the Law. But if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law, but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you who judges another?

This morning and every morning may God grant us both the Agape love for our brothers and sisters that sees the best of them in every situation and the courage to clearly oppose the sin in our lives together.