There is a popular notion that Christ is really nice and polite. He never gets angry or uses strong language. He doesn’t criticize those with whom he disagrees. He welcomes every person and every belief and would never judge. As a result, his followers are called to be nice and polite. They aren’t allowed to get angry or ever use harsh words. They should love and accept everything instead of criticizing and judging.
This is notion surfaces when someone writes a controversial book. As critics rise up, calls for acceptance and the suspension of judgment rise higher. This happens on a smaller level in denominations, churches, small groups, and college ministries. Somebody teaches or promotes an unbiblical idea. Leaders begin making decisions apart from the Scriptures. Sinful actions without repentance are allowed to continue unchecked. Someone says, “Isn’t there something wrong with this?” But they are quickly silenced with assurances that God is love, Jesus wouldn’t judge, and we should just give them a hug and a Hallmark card.
These attitudes are founded on certain assumptions about Jesus. One of these is that Jesus is love and love only. Love defines Jesus; not the other way around. Even worse, this love that defines Jesus is defined according to human (and usually American) concepts of love rather than biblical ones. Since Jesus is love, he accepts and tolerates everyone and everything. Jesus’ ultimate goal is to hug all of humanity, light a candle, and sing “God Bless the Broken Road”. This Jesus set our example on the cross where he suffered the consequences of loving the poor and oppressed and challenging the status quo.
Is this a complete picture of Jesus? Do we just go on loving and accepting until there is no one left to love and accept? When sin, false teaching, ungodly leadership, and more abound are we really to be – for lack of a better word – wimps? Do we follow the supposed way of Christ and just give in for love’s sake?
To find out, let’s take on everyone’s favorite verse, Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” But beware; appearances can be deceiving. This famous saying of Jesus isn’t telling us not to judge. Here’s the rest of the passage:
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
The problem isn’t judging; it’s failing to judge oneself by the same standard. Jesus calls us to examine ourselves and repent of our own sin before we approach someone who is in error or in sin. He tells us to take the speck out of our brother’s eye – in effect, to judge them after critically judging ourselves. We begin with the assumption that we are the worst sinner; this gives us the humility and confidence in the gospel to take on other sinners.
Guided by the Scriptures and having repented of our own sin, we can stop being wimps and carefully correct false teaching, lovingly rebuke sin, and boldly confront ungodly leaders. This is what we see Jesus and the apostles doing in the New Testament.
Jesus instructs in Matthew 7 to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In chapter 10 he says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” In chapter 16 he says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” In Matthew 21, he overturns tables and calls all who buy and sell in the temple courts “robbers.” In Matthew 23 he calls the Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, children of hell, lawless, a family of snakes, and murderers.
Paul says about false teachers in Galatia “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves.” Peter says of false teachers in 2 Peter 2, “These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.” John says in 1 John 3, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” These are not soft words. Where is the tolerance? Where is the acceptance? Where is the hug?
In judging, rebuking, or confronting we must avoid being a wimp, a jerk, or a coward. Wimps sit quietly in the pews, shaking their heads and hoping sin and false teaching will go away by itself. They allow these to destroy lives, families, and churches without lifting a finger. Wimps are strong on love, but weak on justice. Jerks know they’re right and they’re proud of it. They don’t distinguish between real problems and minor disagreements and enjoy pointing out everyone else’s errors and moral failings. These folks are strong on justice, but weak on love. Cowards, unlike wimps, are willing to judge sin and false teaching but, unlike jerks, are unwilling to confront those at fault. They lack the courage to confront the problematic person or group and instead spread dissension and mistrust under the radar. The tragedy of the coward is they end up being just as poisonous as the very thing they oppose.
When sin, ungodliness, and false teaching crop up we avoid being wimps, jerks, or cowards by following the real Jesus. Jesus is both loving and just. He is the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. He spares the woman caught in adultery yet tells her to go and sin no more. He rips into the spiritual leadership of the Jews yet weeps over Jerusalem. He casts out teachers who prophesy falsely in His name yet gives mercy to the repentant tax collector. This is the way of Jesus. He is suffering servant and glorious king. He was not a wimp who just accepted everything, a jerk who looked down on others, or a coward who was afraid to confront. Following Him is not easy, but it is worth it. Will we?