“Judge not lest you be judged.”
Jesus said that. As a result, is it possible that judging has gotten a bad rap? What did Jesus mean? That we should never, ever form judgments about people? Is that even possible? Keep reading as we’ll seek to learn about this from what the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-23.
In our ongoing study through Colossians, we’re trying to understand what has the writer of Colossians, Paul, so concerned that he wrote this letter. Scholars tells us that there was a false teaching worming its way through that church, a false teaching called The Colossian Heresy. We having been looking for clues, verse by verse, trying to uncover what this false teaching was all about. So far we’ve found two clues, and you can read a summary of them in the previous post, or you can read the previous five-part series starting here, in which we first found the clues and studied them more thoroughly. As we saw in the previous post, we are studying Colossians 2:16-23, which is all about rules and regulations in the church.
Verse 16 starts with “Therefore.” Always an important marker, connecting what was written before with what will be written next. In other words, because of the point Paul was making in verses 8-15, he now is building a case to make more points. Again, let’s briefly review his point in verses 8-15. There he writes that Jesus has won the victory over sin, death and the devil. That in Jesus we have all the fullness, we are lacking nothing. That in Jesus, we have been freed from slavery to our sin nature, freed to live a new life in the pattern, way and thinking of Jesus.
Because of all that, Paul now says in verse 16, “Do not let anyone judge you based on what you eat, what you drink, or what events you do or do not participate in.” This reminds me of the phrase, “Don’t judge me!” We hear that in our culture, including in our Christian culture. Usually it is meant with humor, as a person is getting ready to tell us that they did something that they think we might judge them as being inappropriate or unwise! You see this on social media. “Don’t judge me…I thought I was going to deliver my baby right there in the car, so I drove through multiple stop signs, red lights and broke the speed limit trying to get to Women’s & Babies Hospital!” But “Don’t judge me,” can also be used as a method a person uses to take a kind of moral high ground, hoping to avoid accountability for a behavior they think others will condemn them for: “Don’t judge me…life has been terrible, so I had spent all weekend on the sofa eating ice cream and watching Netflix.” “Don’t judge me,” assumes that there are rules and regulations that people use to judge one another. And quite frankly, we do judge one another, don’t we?
But is that what Paul means? Doing whatever we want, but excusing it away by saying, “Don’t judge me”? In these verses, Paul is giving us our third clue about the Colossian Heresy, and he is saying that there were people in the Colossian Church who were actually doing the kind of judging that he describes. They were judging people for what they would eat and drink, as if there were rules specifying what to eat and drink. They were judging people for the parties the people would participate in, as if there were rules about that too. Were there rules in the Colossians church about those kinds of things?
No! That’s why Paul says, “Don’t let yourself be judged about that.”
How can you actually not let yourself be judged? Just say “Don’t judge me!” whenever someone tries to judge you? By putting your finger on their lips to shush them? If the words start coming out of their mouths, it can be very hard to actually stop the judgment!
You can try to interrupt them, lovingly, graciously, speaking the truth in love to them, trying to explain with humility the loving freedom we have in Christ. But that may or may not work so well. It is important to let people know, “I believe you are being judgmental to me, and it hurts.”
We need to remember, as we have this conversation, though, that there is a healthy, good kind of judging. But because that word “judging” has such a negative connotation, we should use a different word. I propose that we use the word “evaluation.” Paul himself would write that it is right and proper for Christians to evaluate the people in their lives, especially that we should evaluate people in the church. I know it can feel very iffy, the idea that we should evaluate one another. Just reading that might give you an unsettled feeling. But hear what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “What business it is of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’.” In other words, Paul is saying, if there is sin in the church, it should be lovingly and truthfully addressed, because it is not in the best interest of the people or of the church or of the Kingdom of God to allow the sin to continue. So we definitely evaluate and we hold people accountable because we love them!
But that evaluation is very different from being judgmental. Judgmentalism has a bitter spirit and an angry tone, is lacking love, promoting division. Judgmentalism does not listen, is not teachable, but instead has everything figured out before the conversation takes place. Judgmentalism is accusatory, often manipulative and intimidating.
Still, we could get confused here because it seems like Paul is saying one thing in Colossians 2 and saying the opposite thing in 1 Corinthians 5. What is it Paul? Are we to judge people in the church or not? I see Paul as being consistent. How so? Because the judgement he is referring to in Colossians was based on rules that did not apply to Christians.
Check back to the next post as we’ll see why these rules do not apply to Christians.