Judge and Jury
Real-live tv entertains us, doesn’t it? It’s all about how people interact with each other. We laugh at their actions and resulting consequences. Maybe we even say what we would have done (or not done) if we were in their shoes. Somehow, watching the lives of others serves to make us feel more alive, more validated in our own feelings, and less self-conscious about our blunders when compared to others. Particularly when we know that we would most likely never meet the people we see on tv. It can distract us from our lives for a brief moment, because we are caught up in someone else’s drama.
Consider this: we are all part of reality tv, with Jesus as the viewer. How does it make YOU feel to be scrutinized? Compared? What would you do differently than the people you see on tv, knowing the Lord is critiquing you?
It’s a sobering thought to reflect on the fact that Jesus is watching our every action, thought, and dramatic moment. He laughs when we laugh, cries when we cry, and is disappointed when we do something out of line from His will.
In addition, the people around us are the equivalent to the people who interact on-screen with the reality show casts. Not only are they able to be part of the action, but most likely they are the influence behind the characters’ actions.
When you think about it, we ALL star in our own show, while playing the supporting cast in someone else’s. That means all of us are fair game, and we are all judged.
Where does that leave us, and what are we supposed to do? Is it wrong to be caught up in the drama of other people’s lives? Is it wrong to judge when we ourselves are being judged?
To answer these questions in a way that builds our faith and keeps us moving closer to God, we must start with what scripture says.
Long before the Bible ever talks about passing judgment on our neighbors, it gives us a history lesson on where judgment came from as a concept in of itself, and how it was (and is) a necessary part of moral, spiritual, and physical life.
- Who was the first judge? (Genesis 15:14)
- What kind of judgment is God yet to oversee? (Revelation 20:12-13)
Eternal judgment belongs to God, while human judges are the ones to judge us while on Earth. Genuine judges are a blessing to God who help His cause.
- Who was the first human judge, and what was his purpose? (Exodus 18:13-27)
Indeed, one man couldn’t do it all alone, and it was advised he split the work among trusted people. It was then that Moses was given the 10 Commandments, and the rules of the land were instituted (see Exodus chapters 20-23). Together, the group of judges governed the people. If they disobeyed, then they suffered the consequences, ranging from monetary or property compensation, to animal sacrifice, and even death.
- Who handled the hardest cases to judge? (Deuteronomy 17:8-9)
As ultimate authorities, priests were expected to have a thorough understanding of the law, and have an upright relationship with God. Unfortunately, this was not always practiced.
Eventually, all of the human judges from Moses through Joshua died, and there came a time when the people had forsaken their relationship with the Lord. Accordingly, God sent new judges for them to listen to, but they ignored the rules and did what was right in their own eyes (see Judges 2:16-19). Exasperated, God withdrew from the people, allowing them to be controlled by other nations. Every time they turned BACK to God, however, they would have peace in the land. So it went throughout the book of Judges.
- Judges became less powerful as the invading groups of nations threatened the Israelites’ prosperity, and they lacked in their faith in God. This resulted in the Israelites asking for ____ to lead them (see 1 Samuel 8, all verses).
Thus, judges and priests reported to the king to ensure the people were following the laws. If the king and his counsel were faithful to God, the laws of Moses were obeyed, and all was well. If they were evil, and made laws contrary to God-ordained ones, chaos abounded.
During Roman rule, the Israelites were desperate for the arrival of whom they mistakenly thought of as their military ruler, whose reign would trump a traditional king’s, because of his ability to thwart out oppressors by force. At the same time, priests and high priests (aka Pharisees) were generally the highest ranked among the Israelites at that time, living off of all the people’s sacrifices and tithes, and in turn giving what they made as needed to the Romans . The legalistic approach to following God’s laws became followed out of force and/or habit to ensure no one faced Roman punishment. Only the worst of the worst were delivered to the Romans. They were wise to heed the words of Matthew 5:25 to “agree with your adversary quickly” so that the judge wouldn’t sentence you to prison!
It is no wonder, then, why Jesus started His ministry with introducing people to a message of hope, one that included cautionary tales about what can go wrong when we pass judgment on others as if they were God. Sadly, Jesus’ unconventional thoughts on God being the true judge was hard for the people to grasp, and repeatedly they reverted to “what the law says” in order to prove Jesus’ validity on His claims. Jesus didn’t end the practice of upholding law, He changed the legal system’s requirements. No more dealing with others in kind based on whatever the crime. Instead, moral laws were inserted into the legal system, so that decisions that were once made to produce obedience in the people toward the authorities and God, were now decided in brotherly love. Consequences that were once harshly carried out without thought to the guilty party were now replaced by the do-unto-others mantra and the concept of forgiving others 77 times 7, even going the extra mile for the sake of an enemy. It also meant that laws once given by God to stop the people from wanting to sin were no longer laws after Jesus sacrificed Himself. No one would face an eternal penalty any longer if they professed faith in Jesus as the foundation for their lives.
Jesus knew all too well how easy it is to pass judgment on others, because He could read every thought the Jews had about Him. His warning to them: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged…judge not, and you shall not be judged.”(Matthew 7:2 and Luke 6:37)
- Who does Jesus love more? (Luke 7:43)
Though a parable, that insight illustrates the love of God and Jesus. Love and forgiveness are tied in with (and in spite of) judging others.
- Is it therefore possible to be an honest judge, and if so, what does that mean?
To judge in the way the Lord intended is not to pass judgment but to know a person’s intent and/or character.
What that entails:
- Timeliness and the reality that all are human with natural emotions (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
- Righteous judgment (John 7:24 and Hebrews 10:30)
- Not showing contempt, while striving for resolution (Romans 14:10 and 13)
- Restraint against self-criticizing (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
- Not judging those who have no knowledge of faith (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
- Accepting and giving out judgment by people whose faith is evident by how they live (1 Corinthians 6:4)
- Showing mercy (James 2:1-13)
Of course, we can’t always guess a person’s intent – that job is God’s. With His help, He can guide us to look beyond outward appearances, automatic reactions, and cynicism, and see people through His eyes. This is only possible through earnest prayer for wisdom, and the desire to grow in faith. God can give insight beyond what people say and do, sometimes giving gut feelings or the urgency to take action in some way that may not make sense to us at all until a later time. It paves the way for leading others to conflict resolution, peace, and possibly faith.
Great care must be taken, though, to NOT be judgmental and presume to know everything about someone or something, or make idle speculation (gossip) about people, whether we know them well or not (see 1 Timothy 5:13). Proverbs 10:18 also refers to this as slander, corrupting all who are persuaded by those one-sided views.
- Does this mean we must get along with everyone and not get irritated at the offenses of others? (Matthew 18:15-17, Luke 17:3, James 5:16, Ephesians 4:15-16, and Colossians 3:13)
Anger is not always a bad thing – it is merely a reaction to a difference in opinion. It can give you the boldness to call out someone who is in the wrong. Everyone is wired differently, so there will always be times when people don’t agree. When that happens with people we know, we are called to be responsible in coming to a resolution as quickly as possible, without giving slander, lies, unkind words, and false assumptions a stronghold. They are the very things that poison relationships.
So in going back to reality tv…you may not know the people you follow on-screen, but you could just as easily find yourself witness to a situation between strangers in a public setting, in which case the same guidelines make sense. We may jest, scoff, or agree with them all, but at the end of the day, none of us are any better than the next person; we are all human. God calls those who believe in Him to be sensible, not looking for trouble, and to be ever alert to opportunities to help those in need. If we are distracted by the choices of others who may or may not impact our lives directly, that just might be our wake-up call to change something about what we are doing so that we are re-aligned with our priorities (which may include turning off the tv!!).
Above all else, here is a poignant reminder from Colossians 3:16: “Let the teaching of Christ and His words keep on living in you. These make your lives rich and full of wisdom. Keep on teaching and helping each other. Sing the Songs of David and the church songs and the songs of heaven with hearts full of thanks to God.”