Summary: Judging other people is dangerous because it lulls us into a false sense of security, blinds us to our own faults, and usurps God’s role as judge.
We Christians can be such "dorks" sometimes. We have a tendency to build our own little holy huddle, with our own special words and secret handshakes. If a person shows up who doesn’t know our special words, they feel like a fish out of water. No wonder so many unchurched seekers are deeply attracted to Jesus Christ but repelled by the Christian Church.
When I talk to my unchurched friends in the community I usually hear two complaints about the Christian Church. The first is that the church is full of hypocrisy, and the second is that churches tend to be very judgmental. In fact, I think the Bible verse "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matt 7:1) is probably the Bible verse most frequently quoted by irreligious people to Christians.
Sometimes we even try to defend our judgmental attitudes. We point to biblical examples of people who proclaimed judgment, people like the Old Testament prophets Amos and Elijah, people like John the Baptist in the New Testament. We say, "I’m not being judgmental; I’m just telling the truth."
Yet the judgment game is a dangerous game to play. Why should Christians avoid a judgmental attitude toward other people? We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called GOOD NEWS FOR OUR TIMES. Last week we looked at the mess the entire human race is in, and we saw that the root of this mess is our rebellion against our creator. This universal human rebellion has unleashed God’s judgment in our world, and because of God’s judgment we’re captive to our own desires, drawn to unnatural behavior, and live in a society characterized by moral chaos. When we talk about how bad human sin can be, it’s very tempting to be judgmental, so today we’re going to look at three reasons why its spiritually dangerous to judge other people. In Romans 2:1-16 we’re going to see why judging other people is so dangerous spirituallly.
1. A False Sense of Security (Romans 2:1-4).
After presenting a vivid description of human sin, Paul sets his sights on those of us who are tempted to be judgmental. There’s a sense in which Paul set us up in chapter one, because he described human society at its worst, and those of us who aren’t as bad as we could be were silently applauding his description. In fact, chapter two of Romans is for those of us who liked chapter one a little too much. In chapter 1 Paul told us that all humans are without excuse before God because we’ve all rebelled against our Creator. Some of us silently thought when we heard those words, "Yeah, that’s true of most people. But I’m a law abiding, home-loving, family values, clean-living, decent person. Surely Paul can’t mean me." We conclude that Paul’s talking about bad people, but not good, moral, upstanding citizens like us. So here Paul turns his attention to the moral person, to the good, upstanding church member.
Now it’s vitally important to define the word "judge" in v. 1. This is the exact same word Jesus uses in Matthew 7:1 where he says "Judge not, lest you be judged." In fact Paul is probably alluding to Jesus’ teaching there (Dunn 1:80). "Judge" is a legal word that means "to judge a person to be guilty and liable to punishment" (Louw and Nida 56.30). As Paul’s using this word here, he’s talking about setting ourselves up as a judge over another person.
Paul’s talking about a judgmental, arrogant, hypercritical attitude that makes ourselves to be better than the person we’re judging. Paul’s not talking about making moral judgments. After all, in the previous chapter Paul made the moral judgment that all humans are under God’s judgment. In chapter one Paul made the moral judgment that certain attitudes and actions are sinful. You see the opposite of being judgmental isn’t tolerance of everything but it’s humility. People who exalt tolerance as the supreme virtue are usually extremely intolerant of people who don’t share their belief in tolerance. For example Tufts University celebrates its tolerance of diversity on campus. But earlier this year when the Christian club at Tufts refused to allow a practicing lesbian become president of the Christian club, the university did a very intolerant thing and banned the Christian club from campus. The leaders of the Christian club said they simply were following the Bible on this issue, and they’d do the same thing with any person involved in sex outside of marriage. Now eventually the University had to reinstate the Christian club, but that case is a prime example of just how intolerant tolerance can be.
So this passage isn’t telling us to suspend our moral judgment. If you hire a new baby sitter and she shows up to your house with green hair, a pierced nose, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and a six pack of beer in her hand, it’s not judgmental for you to decide not to leave your kids with her. If we witness a person run a red light and plow into another car, it’s not judgmental of us to tell the police officer what we saw. It’s not judgmental to say, "having an affair is morally wrong" or "stealing is immoral." Paul’s talking about a judgmental, hypercritical attitude that exalts ourselves as judges over people. That’s what Paul is condemning here.