We humans are remarkable creatures in many ways, not all of them good. In particular, we have an amazing capacity to rationalize our morality, seeing others' shortcomings and ignoring our own. It is difficult to “judge rightly,” as the Bible calls it. (John 7:24)
Well targeted was Christ’s command to pull the log out of our own eyes so that we can see clearly the speck in our brother’s. We even judge each other on judging. We quote, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” but fail to remember the rest of the quote that says we will be judged by the standard we use to judge others.
It is in His very next words that he talks about logs and specks. Thus, more than telling us not to judge, He is commanding us to judge ourselves first, or, as Michael Jackson put it, start with the “man in the mirror.” It is important to realize that Christ tells us explicitly here to judge ourselves first (remove the log) before judging our brother (removing the speck)—He implies that yes, we are to remove the speck, but only after a true self-evaluation. Again, Jesus confirms this in John 7:24 when urging us to judge rightly.
Having foreign objects in the eyes is painful, so by removing our own, it gives us first hand wisdom in the necessity of being as careful as possible with another’s.
People tend to use this passage to get themselves off of the hook—saying, “since I’m not judging anyone else, no one can judge me and I can do what I want.” Nothing can be further from the truth, for Christ Himself is the ultimate judge, so it behooves us to help each other out, so that we can find ourselves fit for every good work.
This is what Peter means in his first epistle when he talks about love covering a multitude of sins. It is in the context of building each other up, helping each other stand strong and firm in the faith. Similarly, Paul calls us to use discernment because ultimately as heirs with Christ we will judge the world. (I Corinthians 6:2-3) In this context, I understand the judgment Christians will be doing is in the sense of being magistrates or managers/rulers in the new kingdom, according to our ability, not in the sense of the final judgment.
In this spirit then, we as evangelical Christians struggle a lot with contemporary issues. Why do we condemn ‘alternative lifestyles’ when we allow each other to shack up, or turn a blind eye to promiscuity and pornography use among Christians? We can’t pick and choose what to call sin, as God has already done that. We make ourselves scribes and Pharisees of the worst sort, by selectively ignoring the bad behaviour we enjoy doing, and condemning that which holds no temptation for us.
Similarly, we hold the world up to Christ’s standards, and yet fail to meet it ourselves. Christ was never condemning of people who were living worldly lives, but had the harshest condemnation for those who claimed to follow God, but didn’t live it, all the while trying to force others to hold the same standard.
In a pluralistic secular society, we need to be exceedingly cautious about how we attempt to have a free society, yet one that conforms to Christ’s standard. In short, are we going to battle to see who’s morality is dictated to all, or seek to have fair laws that protect the liberty of all, including the liberty to persuade others that Christ’s standards are the best.
In Galatians, Paul talks a lot about the law versus grace. When people have the spirit of Christ living within them, they have no need of the law because they are already doing what the law requires of them. But when people do not do on their own what is right, an external force is required to keep order.
Thus, logic demands that if we want more true liberty, smaller government and fewer laws, we need to exert better self-control, and encourage/persuade those around us to also live that way. If we cannot live godly lives of true Christian freedom within the Church, how in the world can we expect Washington to do it for an entire secular nation?
This logically leads to some very uncomfortable political conclusions, and it is worthwhile to wrestle with them. Truth is no respecter of persons, and therefore is rather inconvenient—the two-edged sword, as the author of Hebrews calls it. In a fallen, secular world, this is our only course of action. If we want something to be declared wrong legally, we need to understand why it is right or wrong regardless of the worldview of our fellow citizens, and be exceptionally discerning about it.
Christ taught several versions of a parable about this, the most common of which is the parable of the wheat and tares:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
So, as Christians living in a secular society, we are in a mixed field, and, in effect, need to deal with it and live with it, lest we do more damage than good, even in our good intentions. The beauty of the Gospel is that in its transformative power, weeds can become wheat. This is all the more reason to not be so quick to pull the weeds.
In closing, a favorite passage from Lord of the Rings conveys this truth:
"What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature [Frodo declares] when he had a chance!"
"Pity? [Gandalf replies] It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that [Bilbo] took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."
"I am sorry" said Frodo. "But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum."
"You have not seen him," Gandalf broke in.
"No, and I don’t want to," said Frodo. ". . . Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."
"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, or good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many -- yours not least."